For many Americans, the traditional Sabbath is no more.

The notion, still honored a generation ago, that it should be spent in worship and rest, giving body and mind a chance to recharge, has been replaced by the idea that weekends are a time to make extra money, take children to soccer games or catch up on paperwork from the office. For worshipers, the whirlwind starts a little later in the day, although it sometimes begins at church.

"What day of rest?" laughed Deborah Vaughan, a nurse, PTA president and single mother of five boys. "Sunday is a preparation day for the week to come, and a catch-up day from the week that has passed."

Vaughan, who lives in Southeast Washington, grew up in the area and went to a Baptist church every Sunday morning. Her parents, grandparents and siblings came home to a big meal, after which the children played outdoors or upstairs while the adults sat around and talked for hours.

But on most Sundays these days, Vaughan rises at 7 a.m., in time to fix breakfast and referee fights over the bathroom. She prepares a pot of greens, hustles her sons off to church and, in the early afternoon, returns home to feed them.

Then she packs a dinner for her elderly father, and she and the boys deliver it to him in Northwest Washington. When they return, the boys often work on their bikes before baths and bed.

Some parents have begun taking small steps to preserve their sanity on the Sabbath. Vaughan said she tells her boys to finish their homework before Sunday, but that only makes a dent in Sunday craziness.

"I sometimes don't get to read the Sunday paper until Monday, and I say to myself, 'What did I do all day?' " Vaughan said.

A Roper survey of Americans' Sunday habits found that fewer than half did things traditionally associated with that day: going to church, for example, or reading the newspaper longer than on other days, or having a special dinner.

The feeling of being swamped with weekend obligations is particularly acute this time of year. School activities and organized youth sports have resumed, and the approach of the holidays means shopping, socializing and organizing.

Churches and synagogues often contribute to the sense of busyness. Sunday school and worship services are followed by lengthy coffee hours. Committee meetings, special programs and youth groups come after that. With so many people occupied during the week, some pastors and rabbis try to cram everything into the Sabbath.

The disappearance of the Christian Sabbath and Jewish Shabbat has been a gradual trend with many causes, according to social scientists, clerics and others. One reason is that Americans -- particularly American women -- are working more, out of economic necessity and because they want to. A Harris poll in 1973 found that Americans worked a median 40.6 hours a week; in 1987, they worked 46.8 hours.

There still is housework to do on the weekend, and women do most of it. American women do up to 85 percent of the housework, according to a survey this year of 139 working couples by Nancy and B.G. Gunger, a psychologist and sociologist in Florida.

So-called blue laws banning commercial activity on Sunday have been abandoned virtually everywhere, in Virginia just three years ago. People who work during the week have seized the chance to shop on Sunday; a national survey by the Stillerman & Jones marketing firm shows that the typical Sunday shopper is far more likely to be employed than the weekday shopper.

Adults moonlight on Sundays, and teenagers such as Shala Anderson, 16, work to make spending money. Shala's mother, Marla, believes that Sunday should be a day for worship and family, but she has chosen not to fight her daughter over her new job selling clothes at a Ballston shopping center.

The pressure to stay busy on the Sabbath is especially noticeable in the Washington area, said the Rev. Tilden Edwards, an Episcopal priest who leads spiritual retreats throughout the country. Edwards said this is true because there are so many working women in the area and because many couples have moved from someplace else and don't have relatives to help with chores and child care.

In addition, men and women in the Washington area are driven to compete, he said; they are afraid to be still. That sense of perpetual motion has worsened in the past few years, said the Rev. Donald Allen, pastor of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church. When he asks his new membership classes to begin with 15 minutes of silence, "they stare at me as if I'm crazy," Allen said.

Washington banker Joe Brazewell doesn't doubt it. He and his wife, Peggy, hustle their three children out the door on Sunday mornings to Holy Spirit Catholic Church, then slip home for a sandwich and are out the door again to the library or soccer, or both. "Among the upwardly mobile professionals, everybody is competitive -- to know more, do more, be smarter, be on the fast track," Joe Brazewell said.

The crunch is particularly acute for parents, the Harris survey found. Parents who work long hours during the week, such as David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, tend to focus on their children on the weekend. And attention often means transporting the children to many events.

For a while, Harris and his wife, Giulietta, had two sons playing on three different soccer teams. Two games were on Saturday, the Jewish Shabbat, and one was on Sunday, when the boys were enrolled in Hebrew school.

The Harrises made their sons go to Hebrew school even if they had to wear their soccer uniforms. They discussed Giulietta Harris's view that organized sports had assumed too much importance in their sons' lives, but sports won out.

Some middle-class parents cited organized youth sports, particularly soccer, as the single biggest time-consumer on weekends. Intramural soccer games usually are played on Saturdays near home, while highly competitive or "select" soccer is played Sundays, often miles from home. There usually are two soccer seasons, fall and spring, but boys and girls in select soccer practice during the winter as well.

The values of the ball field are easy to see: Sports, played correctly, builds a child's confidence, fosters friendship and cooperation. The traditional values of the Sabbath -- rest, reflection and deeds of kindness -- are less apparent but just as important, Washington psychiatrist John Meeks said.

"The natural way for human beings to operate is to ebb and flow," he said. "The toddler takes chances, then runs back to his mother's knee for refueling." Without such an opportunity, Meeks said, creativity withers and tempers flare.

The only way to have that family time, several parents said, is to cut back on everything else. Jill Schiess, of Fairfax, said she keeps her son either in church or at home on Sundays and has discouraged the neighborhood children from asking her children to come out and play.

David Harris, who travels frequently for work, insists on flying home every Friday night for the family dinner, preceded by the lighting of candles, song and prayer.

Harris, a Reform Jew, said he treasures that meal, but added: "Sometimes I've wished that I were more religious, so that I could take {Saturday} off. I've wondered, is dinner enough to convey the sense of spirituality, of peace and rest, that I want my children to have?"