We used to dread Saturdays. Somehow this day of rest and relaxation had become the most stressful day of the week.
When the weekend rolled around my husband and I – both college professors – tried in vain to squeeze in our paper grading, lesson planning, researching, and writing commitments around our toddler’s two naps. On top of all that, we also tried to take care of the household chores: cleaning, laundry, yard work, and grocery shopping. Bedtime would roll around, the house would still be a mess, and we weren’t any further ahead in our work commitments than we had been on Friday afternoon.
Even worse, we were viewing Betty’s demands for attention as distractions from these commitments (rather than the other way around.) Luckily, we soon came to realize the fundamental mistake we were making and instituted the tradition of what we termed family Saturday. Family Saturday means no work, no chores, and no excuses. We get out of the house and do something fun together. It might be an organized event, like attending a puppet show, or it might just be taking a hike along the James River. Whatever it is, all four of us (baby Julian joined the gang last year) are involved in the experience.
By giving up on Saturday, we saved Saturday, and – besides the obvious advantages of having fun together and making memories as a family – we have discovered some unexpected benefits of structuring our unstructured time:
1. We’ve increased productivity.
I’m not quite sure how or why, but somehow we’ve been more productive since giving up working on Saturdays.
Maybe it’s because we no longer entertain the fantasy that we’re going to get anything productive, that is to say work-related, accomplished on Saturday, so we budget our workflow more carefully during the week. Maybe a day of fun gives us more energy and fuels creativity. Or maybe our priorities have simply been put in order and we’ve cut down our commitments to the ones that are truly important.
2. We’ve discovered our town.
The first few family Saturday outings were easy – we just went places we’d been meaning to visit, such as the Children’s Museum of Richmond and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. We soon discovered, however, that we were going to have to get creative, especially on days when the weather was less than ideal. I started paying attention to events listings in local publications (like RFM), and began compiling wish lists of activities (Pinterest has been a useful tool for this). As a result, we’ve gotten to know Richmond and its environs and we now feel more like natives in our adopted hometown.
Now, not every outing has been a resounding success. We’ve attended several festivals that might better be described as gatherings, and discovered that farmers’ markets are best visited in the summer. But even when family Saturday proves underwhelming, we can always redeem the day with a cupcake.
Some family Saturdays are low-key by design; a trip to the mall counts, as long as we go together. We can even bend the rules about doing chores as long as we tackle the project as a family and there’s some kind of fun factor involved. In late spring, for example, family Saturday was spent planning and putting in our vegetable garden. In the fall, we head out to a local farm to pick our own pumpkins.
3. We’ve adopted a healthier lifestyle.
No one would ever describe either my husband or myself as outdoorsy, but family Saturday gets us outside for at least part of the day. We get exercise, sunshine, and fresh air, which, given our hundred-mile round trip daily commute and hours spent hunched in front of our computers, is sorely needed.
4. We’ve rehabilitated other days of the week as well.
Once Saturday became family Saturday, Sunday took on new life as the day for grocery shopping, getting chores done, and cooking a nice meal (and finally facing the items at the top of the to-do list). Meanwhile, by paying attention to upcoming family-friendly events in the area, I’ve also gotten us involved in school night outings and activities as well, including Monday night story time at our local library. Yet somehow our responsibilities, at work and at home, are no less manageable than they were before. If anything, we’ve gotten better at prioritizing and setting attainable goals.
5. We’ve enfranchised our children.
There isn’t much that a four-year-old gets to decide for herself. Bedtime, bath time, the contents of her lunchbox – they’re all decided by executive order. Family Saturday gives her a chance to contribute opinions and to see her ideas implemented. It was Betty’s suggestion that we go to the Metro Richmond Zoo, which led to the purchase of our season pass. We sometimes have to veto her ideas – hiking a rocky trail with a newborn baby just isn’t going to happen – but for the most part she gets an equal say in our decisions.
6. We’re ready for future Saturday commitments.
Even if my husband and I are un-athletic, unskilled spectators ourselves, we’re still, I hope, laying the groundwork for our kids to develop a variety of interests, be it in archery, beekeeping, glass-blowing, or whatever else strikes their fancy. And when the time comes for us to commit our Saturdays to soccer games and piano recitals, we’ll be ready. We won’t feel as if the kids’ activities have taken over our day, because the day already belongs to the kids.
I’m sure there are parents of older children out there laughing at my naïveté. They know that the day is coming, sooner than we’d like, that the kids won’t want anything to do with us. I remember very well being dragged against my will on outings when I was a surly teenager (and I made sure to keep my headphones glued to my ears to signal that I had no interest whatsoever in family togetherness).
Once we make it safely to the other side of the tween and teen years though, I hope that the kids will look back and remember their childhood as happy, that they will have identified interests that will keep them out of real trouble, and that, when they have careers and families of their own, they will know better than to let the former take precedence over the latter.