How to Actually Enjoy a Weekend With Your Kids


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Photo: Evgeny Atamanenko (Shutterstock)

Weekends are a time to rest, recharge, goof off, engage in your hobbies, and have fun. Oh, unless you have kids. Then they are a time to beg them to go outside, referee sibling brawls, entertain them every moment they’re not plastered to a screen, and count the hours until they go back to school.

If you have children of a certain age (let’s say below 10), you know firsthand how hard it can be to actually enjoy a weekend. Gone are the days of sleeping in, lingering over breakfast with your periodical of choice, and well, doing much of anything you want to do.

You’re a parent now. And without the structure of school, your offspring look to you to be their playmate, encyclopedia, snack bitch, and cruise director. And parents, wanting a break themselves, can’t seem to catch one. But there are ways to make those work-free days a little less chaotic and hopefully, more enjoyable.

Do housework on Friday night

I know, this sounds terrible. But hear me out. In addition to this alleged “relaxing” weekends are supposed to be for, they come with a never-ending list of household chores: laundry, house cleaning, mail sorting, garage organizing, paper filing, meal prepping—basically anything you don’t have time to keep up with during the week.

But here’s the thing about young kids: If you’re home and available, they want you to play with them. Pretty much all the time. Even if you created three siblings for the express purpose that they would entertain each other. Kids are notoriously bad at waiting, and rarely let you finish tasks in an orderly fashion. They want to play board games, draw with chalk, build Legos, make jewelry, and do airplane rides. All with you. (Which, albeit exhausting, is fun, and you don’t want to miss it.) Do as many chores as you can on Friday evening before the weekend hits so you’ll have more time and attention to give your kids.

Get out of the house early

Picture it: It’s Saturday morning, everyone wakes up refreshed and happy. You drink your coffee, the kids watch a little TV, you have a late breakfast, they play peacefully for a bit, and boom, it’s already 11 a.m. No one’s dressed, not a tooth has been brushed, and you feel the vibe subtly shift from companionable coexistence to button-pushing crankiness. You know it would be best to get everyone out for a change of scenery—but by the time everyone’s ready, it will practically be lunchtime (and nap time for the 4 and under set). Which means now you can’t go anywhere until at least 3 p.m. (Insert panicked cursing and scrambling to get kids out the door in nine minutes flat.)

Is the day irretrievably ruined if you don’t get up and get out of the house right away on a weekend morning? Of course not. But it can be easier to motivate and set a positive tone for the day if everyone doesn’t stay indoors, on top of each other, well into the afternoon. (Bonus: Morning activities can make you feel less guilty about lazy screen time in the afternoon.)

Don’t do too much (or too little)

Even the most extroverted kids can tire of getting ready for and attending a constant stream of activities: shuffling from soccer practice to piano, to their brother’s little league game, the grocery store, followed by a visit with grandpa. Kids are easily taxed by over-scheduling and transitions between activities. They need downtime from the rigors of learning and school rule-following, so pencil in at least some do-nothing time every weekend.

However, while it sounds great for us to have large blocks of uninterrupted free time, it can backfire with a house full of children. While I wholeheartedly support the value of kids experiencing boredom, when they’re young, they kind of suck at it. (Unless you live on a farm with plentiful trees, creeks, chickens, horses, rope swings, etc., in which case I imagine your kids spend entire happily feral days exploring nature. If this is a fantasy, don’t ruin it for me.)

In my suburban house, boredom can quickly devolve into whining, sibling bickering, or devising ways to “entertain themselves” that involve me measuring, mixing, frustration-managing, or performing some fine motor skill they don’t yet have. So don’t pack weekends too full. But, unless you have preternaturally even-tempered, self-sufficient children (or a bucolic farm), don’t leave them empty either.

Let each child pick and direct an activity

Children crave connection, attention, and power. If connection is broken, or their attention and power buckets are dangerously low, they will act out to try and correct the imbalance. In addition to spending simple quality time connecting through conversation or physical affection, give them the opportunity to fill their attention and power buckets by playing on their terms for a certain period of time.

Set aside 15 or 30 minutes (or more) for each child and let them take the lead. They pick the game, the rules, the likely nonsensical pretend scenario. And you be the quintessential improv partner, saying “yes, and,” building on what they create, without any correction or attempts to take control.

Kid swap with your partner

Have you experienced the joys of kid swapping? Not taking someone else’s kids for the weekend—though that does sound nice—but carving out a designated chunk of time when one parent will take all the kids out of the house so the other gets “me time.” And vice versa, so both parents get a few hours to do what they want. 

When I first started parenting, I wanted us all to do every hike, every playground trip, every everything as one cute family unit. Ten years and three kids in, I no longer think this way. Sure, family excursions to a museum or group outdoor picnics are great. But so is lying on the couch watching a cheesy rom-com you never let yourself indulge in, simply because for once, you’re home, you’re not working and the house is blissfully quiet.