Positive Leisure Science: Leisure in Family Contexts

  • Ramon B. Zabriskie
  • Tess Kay


This chapter examines the contributions that leisure can make to family life. It is essentially concerned with how leisure contributes to positive experiences and social relationships within the family unit and its implications for individual and collective well-being. ‘Family’ has risen to prominence as a focus for concern as patterns of diversity and change have become evident, with increased levels of family ‘breakdown’ eroding the traditional structures on which many welfare states were predicated and in which much moral worth has been invested. This chapter therefore examines the significance of leisure in individuals’ intimate relationships and family life and highlights its value to academic analysis as a focus for unpicking the dynamics of family at the micro level.

This chapter initially reviews the key findings of a long tradition of family leisure research which has consistently provided evidence identifying the significant role for leisure in family life. While early research shared several criticisms including its lack of theoretical underpinning and sometimes simplistic and operationalisation of family leisure, recent family leisure studies provide more sophisticated analyses. Qualitative lines of study identified family leisure as being particularly prominent in parent-child interactions and also playing a significant role in the partnerships of parents. Family leisure experiences were also identified as being valued for their contributions to the lives of individual family members, for their role in sustaining relationships between them and for the function they perform for the family as a whole. Scholars identified family leisure as being purposive in nature in which parents plan, almost with a sense of urgency, to recreate with family members with clear family outcomes in mind. The ‘fun’ and ‘pleasurable’ connotations of leisure should not obscure the importance of the opportunities they provide to fulfil the serious functions of generativity and intimacy.

This chapter moves on to focus considerably on a new theoretical model of family leisure that has suggested that different types of family leisure are directly related to different aspects of family functioning. The core and balance model offered a consistent framework from which the nature of the family leisure relationship could be examined among broad samples of families such as intact families, adoptive families, single-parent families and families with a child with a disability or a child in mental health treatment. Findings from this line of study illuminate how family leisure contributes to family functioning, communication and overall satisfaction with family life and give clear direction to professionals, policymakers and individual families on how to do it better.

Leisure in family contexts is not, however, unproblematic and is not a panacea for all family problems. Family members may struggle to access sufficient leisure time, be unlikely to prioritise family needs versus their own, or struggle with the stress and work involved in family leisure. This chapter concludes that the centrality of leisure in family interactions makes it highly significant for the emotional health and wellness of families and that a policy ‘investment’ that facilitates family leisure may therefore be fruitful.


Family Life Family Functioning Family Cohesion Family Activity Adoptive Family 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Agate, J., Zabriskie, R., Agate, S., & Poff, R. (2009). Family leisure satisfaction and satisfaction with family life. Journal of Leisure Research, 41(2), 205–223.Google Scholar
  2. Aslan, N. (2009). An examination of family leisure and family satisfaction among traditional Turkish families. Journal of Leisure Research, 41(2), 157–176.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, B. (2004). Family differentiation, family recreation, and symptoms of eating disorders. Unpublished master’s thesis. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.Google Scholar
  4. Brotherson, S. E., Dollahite, D. C., & Hawkins, A. J. (2005). Generative fathering and the dynamics of connection between fathers and their children. Fathering, 3(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buswell, L. (2010). Contributions of father involvement in family leisure to family functioning. Unpublished master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.Google Scholar
  6. Call, J. (2002). Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Marriages and Families, 7, 7–18.Google Scholar
  7. Christenson, O., Zabriskie, R., Eggett, D., & Freeman, P. (2006). Family acculturation, family leisure involvement, and family functioning among Mexican-Americans. Journal of Leisure Research, 38(4), 475–495.Google Scholar
  8. Couchman, R. (1982). Family recreation: A new dynamic in family Life. Journal of Leisurability, 9(4), 4–8.Google Scholar
  9. DeFrain, J., & Asay, S. M. (2007). Strong families around the world: An introduction to the family strengths perspective. Marriage and Family Review, 41(1/2), 1–10.Google Scholar
  10. Dodd, D., Zabriskie, R., Widmer, M., & Eggett, D. (2009). Contributions of family leisure to family functioning among families that include children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Leisure Research, 41(2), 261–286.Google Scholar
  11. Dyson, L. L. (1996). The experiences of families of children with learning disabilities: Parental stress, family functioning, and sibling self-concept. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29(3), 280–286.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Erich, S., & Leung, P. (1998). Factors contributing to family functioning of adoptive children with special needs: A long term outcome analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 20, 135–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferguson, P. (2002). A place in the family: An historical interpretation of research on parental reactions to having a child with a disability. Journal of Special Education, 36, 126–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fotu, I. (2007). Family leisure involvement and family functioning in Samoa. Unpublished master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.Google Scholar
  15. Freeman, P., & Zabriskie, R. (2003). Leisure and family functioning in adoptive families: Implications for therapeutic recreation. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 37(1), 73–93.Google Scholar
  16. Freysinger, V. J. (1994). Leisure with children and parental satisfaction: Further evidence of a sex difference in the experience of adult roles and leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 26, 212–226.Google Scholar
  17. Groze, V., & Rosenthal, J. A. (1991). A structural analysis of families adopting special-needs children. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 72, 469–481.Google Scholar
  18. Harrington, M. (2005). Family leisure and parents’ subjective identities: Gendered ways of being a ‘good parent. In T. Delamere, C. Randall, & D. Robinson (Eds.), Abstracts of papers presented at the eleventh Canadian congress on leisure research, May 17–20 (pp. 233–236). Waterloo, ON: Canadian Association for Leisure Studies.Google Scholar
  19. Harrington, M. (2006). Sport and leisure as contexts for fathering in Australian families. Leisure Studies, 25(2), 165–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hawkes, S. R. (1991). Recreation in the family. In S. J. Bahr (Ed.), Family research: A sixty year review, 1930–1990 (pp. 387–433). New York: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  21. Holman, T. B., & Epperson, A. (1989). Family and leisure: A review of the literature with research recommendations. Journal of Leisure Research, 16, 277–294.Google Scholar
  22. Hornberger, L., Zabriskie, R., & Freeman, P. (2010). Contributions of family leisure to family functioning among single-parent families. Leisure Sciences, 32(2), 143–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hutchinson, S., Afifi, T., & Krause, S. (2007). The family that plays together fares better: Examining the contribution of shared family time to family resilience following divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46(3/4), 21–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Iso-Ahola, S. (1984). Social psychological foundations of leisure and resultant implications for leisure counseling. In E. T. Dowd (Ed.), Leisure counseling: Concepts and applications (pp. 97–125). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  25. Johnson, H., Zabriskie, R., & Hill, B. (2006). The contribution of couple leisure involvement, leisure time, and leisure satisfaction to marital satisfaction. Marriage and Family Review, 40(1), 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kay, T. A. (1998). Having it all or doing it all? The construction of women’s lifestyles in time-crunched households? Society and Leisure, 21(2), 435–454.Google Scholar
  27. Kay, T. A. (2001). New women, same old leisure. In S. Clough & J. White (Eds.), Women’s leisure experiences: Ages, stages and roles (pp. 113–128). Eastbourne, East Sussex: Leisure Studies Association.Google Scholar
  28. Kay, T. A. (2003). Leisure, gender and self in the analysis of family. World Leisure Journal, 45(4), 4–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kay, T. A. (2004). Family factors affecting sports participation. Academic review commissioned by Sport England. London: Sport England.Google Scholar
  30. Kay, T. A. (2006a). Families, communities and leisure. In E. Jackson (Ed.), Leisure and the quality of life: Impacts on social, economic and cultural development (pp. 108–118). Hangzhou, Zhejiang: Zhejiang University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kay, T. A. (2006b, April). Where’s dad? Fatherhood in leisure studies. Leisure Studies, 25(2), 133–152.Google Scholar
  32. Kay, T. A. (2006c). Fathering through leisure. Leisure Studies (Editorial), 25(2), 125–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kay, T. (2009). Fathering through sport and leisure. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Kelly, J. (1999). Leisure behaviors and styles: Social, economic, and cultural factors. In E. L. Jackson & T. L. Burton (Eds.), Leisure studies: Prospects for the twenty-first century (pp. 135–150). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Klein, D., & White, J. (1996). Family theories: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Larson, R., Dworkin, J., & Gillman, S. (2001). Facilitating adolescents; constructive use of time in one-parent families. Applied Developmental Science, 5(3), 143–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Larson, R. W., & Richards, M. H. (1994). Family emotions: Do young adolescents and their parents experience the same states? Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4(4), 567–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mactavish, J., & Schleien, S. (1998). Playing together growing together: Parents’ perspectives on the benefits of family recreation in families that include children with a developmental disability. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 32(3), 207–230.Google Scholar
  39. Mactavish, J., & Schleien, S. (2004). Re-injecting spontaneity and balance in family life: Parents’ perspective on recreation in families that include children with developmental disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 48(2), 123–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marsiglio, W. (1991). Paternal engagement activities with minor children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 53(4), 973–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nock, S. (1998). Marriage in men’s lives. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Olson, D. H. (1986). Circumplex model VII: Validation studies and faces III. Family Process, 25, 337–351.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Olson, M., & Haynes, J. (1993). Successful single parents. Families in Society, 74(5), 259–268.Google Scholar
  44. Orthner, D. (1975). Leisure activity patterns and marital satisfaction over the marital career. Journal of Marriage and Family, 37, 91–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Orthner, D. K., & Mancini, J. A. (1991). Benefits of leisure for family bonding. In B. L. Driver, P. J. Brown, & G. L. Peterson (Eds.), Benefits of leisure (pp. 289–301). State college, PA: Venture Publishing.Google Scholar
  46. Poff, R., Zabriskie, R., & Townsend, J. (2010). Modeling family leisure and related family constructs: A national study of U.S. parent and youth perspectives. Journal of Leisure Research, 42(3), 365–391.Google Scholar
  47. Poff, R., Zabriskie, R., & Townsend, J. (2010). Australian family leisure: Modelling parent and youth data. Annals of Leisure Research, 13(3), 420–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Richards, L., & Schmiege, C. (1993). Problems and strengths of single-parent families: Implications for practice and policy. Family Relations, 42(3), 277–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Scholl, K., McAvoy, L., Rynders, J., & Smith, J. (2003). The influence of inclusive outdoor recreation experience on families that have a child with a disability. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 37(1), 38–57.Google Scholar
  50. Shaw, S. M. (1992). Dereifying family leisure: An examination of women’s and men’s everyday experiences and perceptions of family time. Leisure Sciences, 14, 271–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shaw, S., & Dawson, D. (2001). Purposive leisure: Examining parental discourses on family activities. Leisure Sciences, 23, 217–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith, K., Freeman, P., & Zabriskie, R. (2009). An examination of family communication within the core and balance model of family leisure functioning. Family Relation, 58, 79–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith, K., Taylor, S., Hill, B., & Zabriskie, R. (2004). Family functioning and leisure in single-parent families. In W. T. Borrie & D. C. Kerstetter (Eds.), Abstracts from the 2004 leisure research symposium (p. 53). Ashburn, VA: National Recreation and Parks Association.Google Scholar
  54. Sunseri, P. A. (2004). Family functioning and residential treatment outcomes. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 22(1), 33–53. doi: 10.1300/J007v22n01_03.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Swinton, A., Freeman, P., Zabriskie, R., & Fields, P. (2008). Nonresident fathers’ family leisure patterns during parenting time with their children. Fathering, 6(3), 205–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Taunt, H., & Hastings, R. (2002). Positive impact of children with developmental disabilities on their families: A preliminary study. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 37, 410–420.Google Scholar
  57. Townsend, J., & Zabriskie, R. (2010). Family leisure among families with a child in mental health treatment: Therapeutic recreation implications. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 44(1), 11–34.Google Scholar
  58. VanDenBerghe, E. (2000). The enduring, happy marriage: Findings and implications from research. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families (pp. 16–28). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.Google Scholar
  59. Zabriskie, R. (2000). An examination of family and leisure behavior among families with middle school aged children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  60. Zabriskie, R., & Freeman, P. (2004). Contributions of family leisure to family functioning among transracial adoptive families. Adoption Quarterly, 7(3), 49–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zabriskie, R., & McCormick, B. (2001). The influences of family leisure patterns on perceptions of family functioning. Family Relations, 50(3), 281–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Zabriskie, R., & McCormick, B. (2003). Parent and child perspectives of family leisure involvement and satisfaction with family life. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(2), 163–189.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Recreation ManagementBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.School of Sport and EducationBrunel UniversityUxbridgeUK

Personalised recommendations