Maybe it was the weekend I drove five hours with my husband and our 4-month-old son, went to a bluegrass festival, visited friends, shopped for groceries, finished writing an article, baked cookies, and could barely lift my head by Sunday night. Or maybe it was the one when I cleaned the house with my husband, hosted relatives, played tennis, took our 7-month-old daughter to the park with her brother (then 6), did four loads of laundry, baked popovers?and could barely lift my head by Sunday night. At some point it dawned on me: Now that I had kids, I wasn't having weekends anymore. I was having two-day weeks - seven days' worth of activity crammed into 48 hours.
"New moms tend to have this sense of panic and scarcity on the weekends," says Jeanine O'Rourke, LCSW, a therapist near Philadelphia who helps women adjust to postpartum life. "It's 'How am I gonna do quality time with my family and unwind and clean out this closet?' Everything's competing for the same interval of time."
Weekend angst hits moms of all kinds, though the flavor varies. "I work full-time, and my daughter is in daycare during the week, so on weekends, I'm torn between just being at home and playing with her, fun outings like the zoo or the park, and errands like grocery shopping," says Erin England Acosta of Orange, California. Amy Tiemann, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, recalls a different dilemma: "On weekends when my daughter was a baby, probably the hardest thing was wanting to spend time with her and my husband as a family, but also wanting some time to myself because I was home full-time." For moms who work from home, the conflict between "me" and "us" can get further complicated by an urge to start that spreadsheet before the visit to Grandma's.
Well (big surprise here), you can't do it all in two days. But with a little planning and creativity you can do enough to keep body, soul, and family together - and have plenty of fun while you're at it.
If you're like me, it's easy to spend Saturday and Sunday doing things at random. (Eew, the living room looks awful: time to vacuum! Yikes, we're outta cereal: time to shop!) Before you know it, the weekend's over and all you have to show for it is a clean carpet and a box of Grape-Nuts. Want a more satisfying break? First, tame that weekend stack o' scut work by squeezing in extra chores and errands on weekdays. "My husband works later in the day than I do, so once a week he gets up early and runs most of the weekly errands," Acosta says. "That makes weekends less stressful." Amy Karhu of Scarsdale, New York, tosses laundry in the washer on weekdays before heading out the door with baby John Charles. "Then I throw everything in the dryer when we return." She fends off weekend deep cleaning by doing quick, regular cleanups during the week. "Whoever invented the Swiffer mop and duster and those Clorox wipes is a god!"
Next, on Friday night or Saturday morning, ask yourself, "What will have me saying by Sunday night, 'That was such a great weekend!'?" says Amy Kovarick, a life coach, mom, and stepmom in
"What would make your baby think, 'That was the best weekend ever'?" Kovarick asks. "Probably just a fun bath, with Mom and Dad laughing with her! Or lying on the bed and being tickled!" Or - for 8-month-old Raine Hollingsworth of Tuscaloosa, Alabama - sitting with her parents on the living room floor, watching the family dog chase a ball. Says her mom, April: "All we need to have fun is each other."
So feel free to put the zoo and other glamour destinations on hold - and be grateful that, for now at least, your kid is a cheap date. When your family does venture forth on weekends, chances are you can skip the nap anxiety that often plagues new moms. Many babies do fine snoozing in a car seat or stroller, or even missing the occasional nap - especially in the early months, before a real schedule sets in. Seven-month-old Leila Gonzalez of Micanopy, Florida, has taken countless car-seat siestas, says her mom, Jennifer Fong. "When she's asleep at home, I turn on some music - classical, rock, jazz - so that when she naps outside, she won't be as disturbed."
2-for-1 family time and a chore "When our daughter was a baby, my husband and I would make focaccia or lamb cacciatore on the weekend," says Tiemann, Ph.D., author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family. "That's live entertainment, having Mom and Dad cooking in front of you. They're stirring and looking at you and waving - there are constant opportunities for interaction." Other good chores to do together: raking leaves, washing the car, or building those Ikea chairs that have been in their boxes since your second trimester. family time and friends Forget that pre-kids standby - meeting pals at a restaurant - and ask them to join you for a playdate or picnic instead. It'll probably be more relaxing than two hours at the Olive Garden, where you may wind up passing around a squirmy baby more often than the breadsticks.
Three words: Ditch the guilt. Moms tend to feel pangs about doing something for themselves on the weekend - but they shouldn't. "It restores your energy," says Valorie Burton, a life coach in Annapolis, Maryland, whose latest book is How Did I Get So Busy? "When you've got more energy, you have a more positive attitude - and then you're a better mom and a better person to be around." How to get more "me" time? Delegate - to your mate, your mom, whoever can pitch in. If you're the type to hover while your hubby changes that Huggie, leave the house, pronto. (Experience is the only way he'll get the hang of things, after all.) Go have your hair cut or hit the gym. If you choose the latter, don't worry when you lack a big chunk of workout time. "Some is better than none," says Cathy Moxley of Germantown, Maryland, an exercise physiologist, mom of three, and author of The Busy Mom's Ultimate Fitness Guide. Interval training - where you alternate, say, three minutes of jogging with one minute of sprinting - makes the most of a brief workout.
To avoid resentment, be sure your spouse gets "me" time, too. Many couples adopt what Tiemann calls a "split family weekend": you scrapbook on Saturday morning, say, and he plays racquetball on Sunday afternoon.
2-for-1 "me" time and a friend Invite your sister or best friend to shop, exercise, or even do errands with you, Burton suggests. "Just say, 'I need to shop for X, Y, or Z - do you want to help me pick it out?" "me" time and warm fuzzies Moxley recommends lying on the floor and "bench pressing" your baby; doing squats while hugging him to your chest; and (fuzziest of all) doing forearm push-ups while he lies on his back below you - then kissing his nose each time you come down.
To Do or Not to Do
When it comes to weekend chores, errands, and projects, the experts agree: Put down that copy of Martha Stewart Living and back away slowly. "You have many chapters in your life, so don't stress yourself out by taking on too much when your kids are young," says Bria Simpson, a life coach and mom of three in Ridgewood, New Jersey, who wrote The Balanced Mom. "Figure out what you must do now, and put off any big projects you can, such as remodeling." Unless cooking is your main weekend event, rely on easy meals and foods (a roast chicken, say) that you can recycle in dishes throughout the week. Decorate less elaborately for holidays. Above all, don't clean so much. If the dust bunnies drive you nuts, or spark fights over whose turn it is to Hoover, consider hiring a professional. "It absolutely saved my marriage," says O'Rourke. On a budget? Experts suggest bartering for services or hiring a kid from next door.
For jobs you or your spouse finds crucial, it helps to list and divvy them together, Kovarick says. "Then it's a partnership," she says, rather than a case of one parent (usually the mom) nagging the other. Do errands early in the day if you can. "I make a detailed list the night before, and we get up and out by 9 a.m.," Acosta says. "Fewer people at the stores means in and out faster!"
2-for-1 errands and playtime "To make errands fun, I let my daughter think she's making choices at the store," Acosta says. "'Do you want apples? Should we get red or green? Let's count them - one, two, three red apples!'" Kovarick suggests packing a couple of baby toys to amuse your kid while waiting in line - and maybe a picnic blanket so you can play or read a few books on the grass outside together while, say, the cobbler fixes your shoes.
Time to Breathe
When stuff you want to do falls off your weekend list (and it will), calm reflection can help, says psychologist Diane Dillon, Ph.D., a New York City mom of three and coauthor of Mommy Mantras: Affirmations and Insights to Keep You From Losing Your Mind. "At all times, I have a weekend list of fifty things that I'd like to do," she says. "Just things like writing in the baby book and downloading all the new baby photos. None of that got done this past weekend, which made me feel stressed-out." So she took deep breaths and repeated a favorite mantra: "Lighten up, and limit drama." As a result, she says, she felt more in control. If you work at home, experts say, apply this mantra to weekend business as well. Give yourself defined work time and R&R time.
One Saturday a while back, I did almost nothing. Lounged in my PJ's with the family. Ate store-bought cookies. On Sunday I power-walked down a shady path in our town known as the Huckleberry Trail, with now 8-month-old Lily strapped to my chest. Big bro Davey biked ahead of us while my husband jogged beside him. Now and then, we spotted people we knew and paused to say hi. Family time and "me" time and time with friends: Holy cow, I thought, it's a three-in-one! The best, most rejuvenating kind. Sure, I hadn't done half the things I'd hoped to that weekend - those Ikea chairs were still in their boxes - but that was okay. By nighttime, I knew, I'd be lifting my head just fine.
Babytalk contributing editor Melissa Balmain is a writer and mother of two in Blacksburg, Virginia.