The exhaustion of doing nothing

I’ve been writing a lot lately about weekend time management. I know that sounds like an oxymoron — weekends are the time we don’t have to manage! But given the feedback I’ve gotten, I decided to try that supposed idyll of the relaxed weekend: a day where we didn’t leave the house.

So, on Saturday, we had nothing planned. Well, that’s not entirely true — my husband and I were going out late (like at kid bedtime) for our anniversary dinner. But we had nothing planned for the kids to leave the house, and in fact the kids did not leave the house all day or get out of their pajamas for big chunks of the time.

It was… rough.

The baby refused to take her morning nap. It’s a little early to be transitioning into one nap, but it could be happening. The problem is that kids don’t come with signs that say “Hey! I’m giving up my morning nap now!” So you keep trying and dealing with the screaming until you realize it’s just not happening. So there was that. The older kids fought a lot, to the point of getting group time-out for a biting and hitting incident. There were unclear lines of communication on which parent was responsible for the kids at which point and who was “on” for longer which led to some parental sullenness. At one point I was lying on the floor in the basement, exhausted, with the kids throwing stuff at me. The minutes ticked by. If I ever feel like life is passing me by too quickly, I will recall the Saturday in which we did not leave the house.

I can see that if you face a difficult commute every day, there’s a certain appeal to not getting in the car. I also can see that if I did not have three children ages 5 and under, life would be different. Parents with older kids talk of the children disappearing to play video games for four straight hours. My children definitely cannot entertain themselves for four hours. My life will be very different when they can — and when that happens, perhaps a Saturday spent at the house reading a book while they play Nintendo will seem better.

But until then? We’re doing something every weekend day. Something has to be less exhausting than nothing.

Photo courtesy flickr user Dan4th. This is roughly what things looked like in my house at 11 a.m. Saturday.

12 thoughts on “The exhaustion of doing nothing

  1. I need to get out of the house at least every third day to stay sane, but I have introverted friends who can spend weeks alone with their children in their television-and-video-less households, and their young (introverted) children are happy with it.

    I think it isn’t what is inherently more exhausting or easier, it’s that children are creatures of routine so deviating from that routine is challenging.

    *I* want to go back to work because I do not like my own company for weeks on end…

    1. We might be those introverted people 😉 though I still find it easier to take my 3yo on errands with me rather than sit in the house all day for more than one day at a time. She can entertain herself for maybe 45 min at a time, but not a lot more than that.

      I have noticed when it’s just her and my husband, they rarely go out and they don’t seem too bothered by it. So maybe it’s just me, and my need to “get things done”.

      And we’re reluctant to park her in front of the TV for more than that amount of time as well, unless it’s dire and we’re sick or sleep-deprived and really need the time.

  2. I am someone who has a long commute and so I developed a habit of not doing much on the weekend as I felt too tired. Then I realised that I felt that I was missing out on my own life and started to add in more fun things. I love my garden (which backs on to woodlands) and found that the longer I spent working out there on the weekends, the happier I was and the more energy I had when Monday arrived. I’m now experimenting with doing more things and it seems to be continuing the positive effect. I love your concept of thinking of all of your waking hours over the weekend as a block and thinking of devoting some of it to things that rejuvenate you – a longer yoga session, visiting family, enjoying sports. There still seem to be lots of hours for everything else (eg I love cooking leisurely meals at weekends, which I don’t have the opportunity to do on a weekday). Taking this approach really works for me and I have now scheduled trips for at least one day of each weekend until the end of October -let’s see how it works out.

    1. @CJ – I think that’s a good image, missing out on your own life. There are things we want to do, and many of them can’t happen for logistical reasons during the workweek. Vacations are great, but there’s only so much you can do in 2-3 weeks per year. Weekends are when the fun happens.

  3. So obviously it doesn’t work for you. Try it some time when you don’t have 3 restless kids. My oldest is very good at entertaining himself (without video games) and the youngest isn’t crazy about being in the carseat for any length of time (though she’s better about it than the oldest was). We’ve also never been big on scheduling, so as Twin Mom talked about, there’s no routine to deviate from at our house.
    And not planning something is not the same as not doing anything. We often do things on unplanned days, but they’re spur of the moment. It’s all about not having the mental load or looking at the clock. Though there is a benefit to occasionally not having to get dressed.

  4. Actually, come to think of it…
    What you did WAS a planned weekend. You planned to do nothing and to stay at home. We never do that.
    In a truly unplanned day, if you feel restless you go out and do something. The whole point is that you have the freedom to not think about things and to do whatever feels right. So we went to the HOA park on Sunday. DH did some yardwork. I read part of a paper for a referee report and part of a novel. Legos were played with, supervillians created, merlin missions reread, sleeping in occurred. We made a casserole. Folded laundry. Cleaned a couple bathroom sinks. Figured out the medical bills. Talked a bit about cash savings. I wrote a few blog posts. All in all a very good day. There’s something special to getting things done even when you don’t have to. Without pressure.
    Saturday had things planned (a new restaurant, grocery shopping, helping the school robotics team), and it was a good day too, but not as relaxing even though we probably didn’t do as much.

  5. I’m all for some lazy days, but inevitably I find by 10:00am if there is not a plan, then everyone and everything starts to fall off the rails. This was especially true when our kids were littler like yours, but even now I think it helps all of us to have a sense of purpose to our day.

  6. When it gets like this (this happened on Saturday afternoon, down to the lying on floor having things thrown on me) we throw the kids in the stroller with some sippy cups and snacks and GET OUT. anywhere. usually we end up the park, or we’ll think of some errand, or just go on a long walk if the weather is nice. If its been particularly bad, we park the stroller at an outdoor table somewhere that serves drinks.

  7. I can’t take mine in the house all day and love Sesame Place all day etc. If stuff doesn’t get bought (and errands can be run on the way I picked up diapers and wipes in between kids bday parties and SEsame day Sunday) I can’t also take the judgements either about like omg your kid watched tv. Should they watch tv or video all day, hxll no but a little here and there seems fine. Honestly up to 2 hours a day seems fine and even beyond that. Forbidding it seems worse. We need an 8-day week. One day to recover from being a kxck axx parent and 5 days and 45 plus hours to be a kxxk ass professional. Since that won’t be happening anytime soon, might as well just try to make yourself — and your kids happy ! Energy seems as important as $ in doing this.

  8. I’m introverted, and I love nothing better than a day completely at home. But when the kids were young, it did go better at home when we kept to some kind of routine. Didn’t need to be a “watching the clock every minute” kind of routine, but just an expected order of what would happen next.

  9. I completely agree that weekend days when nothing is planned is exhausting. On Saturday I had a number of things to do during the day (coffe over breakfast, a birthday lunch) and then did some big picture planning and reading in the night. However, during Sunday, we slept in and then did very little the rest of the day. I was absolutely exhausted by Sunday afternoon and had no energy to do my preparation for Monday’s work. I think part of it was that I lamented the fact that I hadn’t ‘done’ anything, so the idea of bringing forward the working week was even more disastorous. Am definately going to try and devise at least three ‘anchor’ actvities for weekends as you suggested in another post.

    On a connected note, I had meant to get to bed on time on saturday night in order to do things on Sunday morning, which did not happen. So can definately see how your various theories fit together!

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