It's time to take back our weekends

Weekends are so over-scheduled nowadays that they drain us more than they rejuvenate. That needs to change.

Weekends are marked by one thing in my family – the kids’ weekly request for waffles at breakfast. They want piles of hot crispy waffles, topped with peanut butter, yogurt, maple syrup, and whipped cream, with home-canned peaches on the side. It has turned into a ritual over the years. While I mix the buttermilk batter, they scurry about, eager and uncomplaining, setting the table and watching the timer. My husband makes coffee and we all sit together to eat for a delicious, lingering half-hour.

The peacefulness usually ends there, as we plummet into busyness by mid-morning. Extra-curricular activities, house-cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking for the rest of the week dominate the remaining hours, but now I look forward to that little request for waffles. It is a respite from the rush, a rare blip in time when we’re not scarfing down food and yelling at each other to hurry up.

Imagine if more of the weekend could be like waffle time, if the entire two days were given to eating what we want, no matter how long it takes to make; to spending time with the people we love; to staying put, still, quiet. This is what a weekend should be, but sadly many of us have lost the ability to enjoy our weekends.

In a Guardian article called “Who killed the weekend?” (also the topic of her most recent book), Canadian writer Katrina Onstad points out that weekends are eroding steadily for everyone. What was once a major victory for organized labor groups in the early 20th century – two days off work – has lost its proud demarcation. There are many reasons for this, some attributable to insecure careers and the lure of handheld technology that makes it tough to step away from one’s job.

But, as Onstad argues, we also do it to ourselves. We book up those two precious days with non-essentials, like play dates, tutoring, shopping, and TV. These activities are fun, releasing dopamine in our brains that makes us want to keep doing them, but the end result isn’t so appealing – consumer debt or a sense of depression and inadequacy after spending hours immersed in Hollywood’s skewed version of reality.

Even hobbies, which Onstad says are excellent activities to cultivate, have been tainted by the incessant drive toward economic value. What’s the point in doing something if it’s not earning us money?

“The Protestant mindset has a firm grip in the culture: live to work, not work to live. We get competitive about our busyness because it makes us look wanted and worthy – supply and demand. It is hard to shake the ingrained value that time must be utilitarian and occupied, which is why taking two days off can seem suspect, or a bit like failure.”

The good news is that, when we pull our heads out the sand, we’ll realize that allowing weekends to be unscheduled and stress-free has countless benefits. It creates space for children to develop interests spontaneously. It opens up time for unexpected visitors and impromptu meal-sharing. It means you can take an afternoon nap if you’re sleepy, go on a long bike ride if the sun’s warm, or whip up a batch of those cinnamon buns you’ve been craving for months. Most importantly, you’ll show up at work on Monday feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and inspired – and isn’t that the best thing for your employer?

My family's 'waffle time’ is the beginning of our serious efforts to dial back the weekend. The more my husband and I talk about needing downtime, the easier it is for us to turn off our phones, pull our kids out of extra-curriculars that eat into precious weekend time, invite friends over for casual get-togethers, and not be such perfectionists about completing the ever-growing list of household tasks. It makes us better parents, more productive employees, and a happier couple.

Tags: Holidays | Work

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