Elizabeth Elizabeth is a divorced mother of two elementary-aged boys. She is a former English professor and lay minister who now manages the office and communications for a local church. When she's not working or writing, you'll usually find her cooking for her loved ones or hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores. Contact her by e-mailing her at Elizabeth@mumblingmommy.com.

When I think about how I need a day off I think about this quote: “We’re very very busy and we’ve got a lot to do and we haven’t got a minute to explain it all to you […] and we’re talking every minute and we don’t have time to rest and we have to do it faster or it never will be done and we have no time for listening or anything that’s fun.”

Sandra Boynton “BusyBusyBusy,” from the Philadelphia Chickens

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I have a busy week coming up: classes to teach, errands to run, papers to grade, kids’ appointments, and packing up for a trip this coming weekend. So what am I doing today to get ready? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

We Need A Day Off

Like fellow blogger Katie, I mostly work from home, and it’s difficult for me to take time off from my two jobs (teacher/mother). It’s not that I can’t — it’s that I feel guilty when I do. A recent article called “Is Motherhood a Job?” pointed out that being a mother is a full-time, round-the-clock job, whether you also pursue paid work or not. A popular viral video released before Mother’s Day emphasized this, too, by conducting mock interviews for a “job” that has long hours, no vacation, and no pay. While it’s nice to have our hard work acknowledged, I find so much emphasis on the “work” of motherhood a little depressing. Don’t we ever get to kick back and have a little fun, too?

The difficulty is, our work is never “finished.” There will always be more laundry or dishes to wash, more lunches to pack or homework to supervise, more runny noses to wipe. Throw in my professional work, and it’s easy to get into a cycle where taking “time off” from one job leads to feeling guilty/stressed for leaving the other one unfinished.

Weekends have been my time to “catch up” with work and housework, since my husband can take over much of the child care and cooking on Saturday and Sunday. My weekends are often spent grading papers, preparing for classes, and tackling a mountain of laundry. While he and the kids relax, I push myself to work through a lengthy “to do” list, thinking that will make my weekdays easier.

Until recently. A couple of weeks ago, I read this piece on why we need a weekly Sabbath that made me reconsider my weekend priorities. But this is not a religious issue; it’s a health issue. Stress, lack of sleep, and no downtime affect our mental and physical health. 

Also, being “on” round-the-clock does not make you more productive or efficient. In fact, many studies have shown that taking time off from work — any kind of work — actually makes us more productive and creative. This is not just for people who work desk jobs; this is true for anyone who juggles daily tasks and responsibilities — which is pretty much every adult.

I realized this firsthand a few Saturdays ago. My husband took the kids to the zoo all morning, and I stayed home to work. I spent the morning grading and the afternoon running errands and doing housework. By evening, I was tired and cranky. My husband and kids were happy and relaxed after their fun day out, but I was not. My husband was confused — hadn’t he taken the kids out to give me a break? He asked, why was I still stressed out?  The answer: even though he’d given me a break, I hadn’t taken it.

Meanwhile, my husband had lost his phone at the zoo, but it was found and returned to the main desk. So we needed to go back there to get it on Sunday. For a moment, I felt annoyed with this unexpected errand. But when I woke up on Sunday, I realized this was an opportunity.

Our city’s zoo sits in a beautiful, expansive city park. There are no playgrounds, but it has open fields, gardens, trees, water features, and miles of trails for walking or biking. For once, I was not scheduled to teach my older son’s Sunday school class, so I thought of the Sabbath article and said, “Let’s have a picnic.” So we did.

We spent a few hours just relaxing in the park, playing with the kids and watching the world go by. It’s a busy park, and we saw families on pedal boats, babies in strollers and bike carriers, individuals and couples ambling slowly and taking in the view. There were many, many dogs. An equestrian group rode through, and the kids got their first up-close look at horses. We played horseshoes and blew dandelions. The kids rolled in the grass and played “ghost” with the picnic blanket. It was lovely.

By the time we went home, we were all relaxed and in good spirits. I realized that this is what I needed that weekend: time off from “work” to just enjoy my family. I decided that I needed to make this a priority every weekend, for my sake and my family’s.

He knows how to relax on the weekends.

From now on, I need a day off during the week as my “Sabbath.” I’m still working through the details: will it be Saturday or Sunday? Will I take a whole day or two afternoons? What am I “allowed” to do? I’m trying not to make a long list of “rules,” because that’s not the point. It’s a matter of priorities: play first, work later. Say “yes” instead of “later” when the kids ask me to play with them. Read a book; work on a craft project. Relax and enjoy my family.

Since I need a day off, the one rule I must follow is to stay away from the computer and phone — those centers of busy-ness, distractions, and information. Instead of fretting about what I’m not doing, I allow myself to be open to thought, randomness, and un-productivity. (I even drafted this article on paper on my day off — paper! I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything longer than a grocery list on paper.)

At the end of my weekly (I need a day off) Sabbath, there will still be dishes in the sink and laundry in the baskets. There will be papers to grade, groceries to plan, and e-mails to return. But they can wait. The world will not end if the dishes, laundry, or work gets done tomorrow instead of today. One of my favorite Bible verses says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The main character in Office Space, Peter, would agree: “I did absolutely nothing. And it was everything I thought it would be.”

Do you ever need a day off? If so, what do you do to ease your mind?

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: busy