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Leisure's Influence On Family

In addition to investigating the impact that the family has on children's and adults' experiences of play, recreation and leisure, researchers have also examined the impact that leisure interests and participation has on family satisfaction, family interaction, and family stability or cohesion. Although a popular belief is that "the family that plays together stays together," the research in this area indicates that leisure can serve to both facilitate and undermine family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion.

Leisure is a way through which the parental role is enacted. Although mothers and fathers do not enact the parental role in the same way, both mothers and fathers report that leisure is an important context for the development of children. By teaching their children how to use free time constructively or by providing challenging and stimulating recreational activities, parents feel that they are facilitating the learning and growth of their children (Freysinger 1995). Further, leisure is seen as a context for the affirmation of family. Leisure with one's children and/or spouse provides a common interest and a context for interaction and is perceived by adults to strengthen bonds between family members and to provide a sense of family (Freysinger 1995; Orthner and Mancini 1990). At the same time, leisure interaction with children has been found to have a different impact on mothers' and fathers' satisfaction with being a parent. A study by Valeria Freysinger (1994) in the United States found that although mothers had more leisure interactions with their children than fathers, these had no effect on mothers' parental satisfaction. Other research (e.g., McClanahan and Adams 1987) indicates that mothers report both greater satisfaction with and stress from being a parent than fathers, which is one possible explanation for Freysinger's findings. On the other hand, leisure interaction with children was positively related to fathers' parental satisfaction. For both, however, marital satisfaction was the strongest and a positive predictor of parental satisfaction.

Indeed leisure has been found to positively related to marital satisfaction and stability and these relationships seem to be true across cultures (Orthner and Mancini 1990). Although preferences for joint or shared, parallel, and individual leisure vary over the marital career and differ somewhat by gender, in general the research suggests that the time spent in joint or shared activities is positively related to marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives. However, it is not just spending time together that is important to marital satisfaction. Rather, it seems to be the amount of communication that occurs during time together that is positively related to marital satisfaction.

Children affect the amount of leisure interaction spouses have with one another. Couples with children in the home tend to have less leisure interaction and that negatively affects satisfaction with the spousal/couple relationship. At the same time, children's effect on parental leisure is not uniformly negative. Children may provide new leisure interests and social networks for their parents. For example, adults with children involved in sport and physical activity are more likely than adults with no children or nonphysically active children to stay involved in recreational physical activity.

As suggested above, leisure may also be a source of tension or conflict within families. This may be because leisure connotes a freedom of choice that may contradict expectations that family members have of one another or that may challenge authority relations in some families. For example, in her study of the leisure of mid-life women and men, Valeria Freysinger (1995) found that leisure was a source of dissatisfaction with one's spouse and marriage when different leisure interests limited time for interaction. Some of the divorced men in this study reported that the different leisure interests they and their ex-wives had contributed to the dissolution of their marriages. Other reasons leisure may be a source of family conflict include inappropriate use of leisure or free time, changing leisure patterns, and conflicting circadian rhythms (i.e., a night person and a morning person) (Orthner and Mancini 1990).

In summary, leisure is both a source of family satisfaction and cohesion as well as dissatisfaction and instability. The relationship between leisure and family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion is complex. A number of other factors (e.g., presence, number, and age of children, educational and employment status, stage of the marital career) likely mediate these relationships. For example, Deborah Bialeschki (1994) found that although leisure interruption was a common experience of U.S. women with children at home, once children left the home and active mothering demands decreased, a focus on self through leisure re-emerged in a process she called full-circle leisure. Stephen Goff, Daniel Fick, and Robert Oppliger (1997), in a study of "serious runners" and their spouses, found that leisure-family conflict was moderated by spouses' level of support for running. Such factors must be considered when seeking to understand the significance of leisure to family.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsLeisure - Meanings Of Leisure, Family's Influence On Leisure, Leisure's Influence On Family