My 6-year-old son, Dashiell, climbs into my bed every morning and asks, "Is it a school day?" On Saturdays, I get to tell him no. He cheers, but my heart is racing. The truth is, Saturdays make me tense. They are supposed to be relaxed, easygoing, "who wants more pancakes?" days. But instead, by 11:30 the boys have been to both tae kwan do and soccer practice; I've bought and wrapped presents for back-to-back birthdays; Dash is begging for TV time; Conrad, our 8-year-old, is pouting because no one wants to play Pok?mon with him; and my husband, David, and I have given each other the stink eye over who is going to Home Depot and who has to manage the birthday-party car pool (guess how that turned out).
It's not Saturday. It's Sadderday, the day when all of our personal agendas crash like trains arriving at the same time on the same platform. How does something that's supposed to be so good go so bad? "The day is loaded with expectations. Everything -- from chores to sports tournaments to time to unwind -- is on the schedule," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., clinical assistant professor of human behavior at Brown University and author of The Secrets of Happy Families. There had to be a better way. So to nip the whole Sadderday Syndrome in the bud, I decided to explore the predicament for my own family's well-being -- and maybe for your family's as well.
It's Friday! Friday! Got to Get Down on Friday!
Can you guess my favorite night of the weekend? Around nine o'clock, when the boys are tucked in and the free time seems to stretch out before us like a view of the ocean, David and I snuggle on the couch with beer and popcorn and catch up on missed episodes of Grimm. The later it gets, the guiltier we feel, but we simply can't stop. We'll look at each other sheepishly as the credits roll, wondering how tired we'll be if we watch just one more. The show takes place in Portland, Oregon, but we are transported back to San Francisco, where we first met and our weekends allowed us all the time we wanted to sleep, eat brunch, and make love.
Our Friday dates are romantic, but suddenly it's 5:30 Saturday morning, and Dash is crawling into our bed, asking for pancakes. I try to buy time, but within a half hour I'm awake, mad at myself for thinking I can be both a night owl and an early bird. I find myself scolding more than I do on a rushed weekday morning, and I feel guilty when my patience wears thin after Dash insists on breaking eggs and misses the bowl. "It's natural for you to long to have your old life back when your kids finally show some signs of independence," says Peter Schaeffer, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York City. But as long as our kids are still getting up at dawn, we need to strike a compromise between the parents we want to be in the morning and the fun-loving grown-ups we long to be at night.
So, I cooked up the Two Bad for Us rule: We would make sure the boys went to bed at 8:30 and we'd watch just two episodes, have two drinks, and then turn in. When the next Friday rolled around, our party was over at 11 but it was just as much fun. True, Dash woke me up with the sunrise asking to break some eggs, and yes, I was still sleepy, but I was ready to start cooking.
Think Before You Click "RSVP"
I was at a soccer game one Saturday, and my friend Sheldon and I were comparing how many times we'd drive across town that day. I was going to make 11 trips shuttling the boys to their events. He beat me with 16, but he has three kids. "Why don't we just say no?" he asked. "Because nobody wants to be left out," I said, but something inside me said that wasn't the whole story.
It's true that most kids don't want to be on the sidelines of socializing, but as parents we don't seem to teach them that saying "yes" to every party and activity has a downside. I had learned this the hard way the previous Saturday at 3:45 when Dash was playing with the kids on our block and I called him in to get ready for a party. To my surprise, he pitched a fit right in the middle of our driveway. He yelled that he didn't want to go, he was tired, and he didn't like the birthday boy anyway. I asked him if he was hungry. He said no and stomped off, only to come back and say to me, "Mommy, I am just hungry for home."