A labor of leisure These days, you really have to work at enjoying a relaxing weekend

July 03, 1993|By Nancy Imperiale | Nancy Imperiale,Orlando Sentinel

The weekend -- never have two days meant so much to so many.

Can't you just smell the burgers on the grill, feel that hammock against your overworked back, hear the kids tossing a ball and laughing happily?

Snap out of that fantasy!

Face facts. If you're like most families, your weekends probably go more like this: Too weary to buy burgers on Friday, you put it off until all your neighbors and your neighbors' neighbors are also buying burgers. The weekend is halfway over when you finally emerge from the store. You're too hot and tired to fire up the grill.

Still, there's the peace of the hammock -- at least until your son tosses a ball at his sister's head.

As his teasing, her crying and your spouse's yelling fills the air, you ask the ceiling fan: "What went wrong? How come other families seem to enjoy weekends? Are we leisure dysfunctional?"

No way -- you're just normal.

Families these days simply have to work harder to goof off.

For starters, experts say, we need to learn not to expect so much from weekends.

There are all the things you want to do. There are all the things your spouse and kids want to do. There are all the things none of you want to do, but have to do.

That's a lot to ask from 48 measly hours.

In the end, you'll end up having done something. But it may not be anything you wanted to do at all.

Too often you'll end up pondering, on Sunday evening, where the weekend went.

"It seems like you work very hard and you're very exhausted and in the end you don't have anything to show for it," is how Winter Park, Fla., mom Chris Kelly describes her efforts to keep up with laundry, Little League and leisure pursuits on the weekend.

This divorced mother of four has learned to escape, and relax, by going camping with her kids.

Oddly enough, all the work of pitching a tent, making camp and foraging for food doesn't wear her out.

"Camping is so much work, but it's just different," she said. "Somehow it's not an exhausting kind of thing.

By contrast "it's very hard to relax in your home. There's always something that needs to be done."

Getting stressed out about spare time may seem like a modern phenomenon. But it's not.

TC The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, in the late 1800s described a symptom he called "Sunday neurosis" to explain why so many of his patients had mental breakdowns on Sunday. It's the same principle behind the "holiday blues" usually discussed around Christmas -- the generally recognized failure of expectations to meet reality when it comes to longed-for leisure time.

Right this minute you may be envisioning a weekend of bass fishing that may conflict mightily with your spouse's fantasy of shopping sprees and your kids' visions of cartoons and swimming pools. Or maybe the kids are of different ages and have conflicting fantasies themselves.

Unfortunately, these conflicting expectations, needs and demands are all-too-often forgotten as you sit at your desk, daydreaming about what you'll do come Friday night.

"You're looking forward to the weekend all week long and then, when the free time comes, you confront all the possibilities you were looking forward to and you're overwhelmed," explained Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a University of Chicago professor and author of "Flow," a book that studies how people plan and execute leisure time. "You don't know what to do, and you begin to feel depressed."

Lynda Dennis seems to have the opposite problem -- too much to do.

"I'm a taxi," said the 37-year-old mother of two from Longwood, Fla. A typical weekend includes driving son Sean, 10, to two baseball league games, daughter Kirsten, 7, to dance class, and dropping by the dry cleaners, grocery store and other necessary places she put off visiting during the week, when she works as finance director.

"It's pretty crazy. There is no weekend. I get in bed Sunday night thinking, 'I don't think there were 10 minutes this weekend I enjoyed just for me.' "

Mr. Csikszentmihalyi called Ms. Dennis' situation common, too.

"You kind of bite the bullet and decide, 'OK, I'm going to organize myself.' And every minute of the day you take kids to ballet and riding horses and piano lessons -- everything is completely booked up. That's a solution of sorts -- at least you don't become depressed about the weekend."

"On the other hand," he said, "it becomes almost an obsessive compulsive way of getting yourself to do something just so you don't sit there and worry about what you should be doing. You end up on this treadmill of anxiety."

What's the solution?

"The key is to have things to do, but stop to smell the roses along the way," said Mr. Csikszentmihalyi. "Make another job out of it. The weekend job is to amuse yourself."


Here are some ways to enjoy the weekend:

* Share the work. Couples who share chores tend to enjoy their leisure time more, studies show.

* Share the fun. Parents may plan weekends with kids in mind, at the expense of their own fun. Instead, try sharing trips. Go someplace the kids want to go this weekend; next weekend it's your turn to choose the outing.

* Get out of the house. Nothing is less relaxing than a home full of laundry, dishes and other household chores. Pencil in some weekend time for fun. The housework will always wait for you.

* Don't do too much. While some weekends might be fun because they're so full of things to do, it's also good to take a break and do nothing. Once in a while, scratch the baseball games and dance lessons and have a picnic instead.

* Do your own thing. Working parents, especially, feel compelled to spend every free moment with the kids. But it's also important to do your own thing, whether it's reading a book or taking a hike. You'll return a refreshed, happier parent.

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