What’s the most challenging time of your day? A few months back our Facebook page put this question out there and many of you said you struggle most during that stretch between when you get home from work until the time dinner is on the table. I have to agree! In fact, just thinking about that time of day makes my body tense. My shoulders are raised and I can actually feel my fight or flight response kicking in.
It doesn’t take a parenting expert to figure out why this time is so challenging. My kids are hungry, tired and they miss me. I also put in a full day at work and still have a few more hours to go before a break is in sight. I hate sitting down for dinner feeling tense with my stomach in knots. Not exactly conducive to an enjoyable family meal, is it?
Since there are so many of us who struggle with this time of day, I thought I would dedicate a blog post to brainstorming how we can bring some sanity to this rather stressful time of day. Please join me and share your ideas!
- The first suggestion is a no-brainer: Shorten the gap between the time you get home and dinner time. Think quick dinners! Here are some ideas I’ve tried that worked well for us: Prep food the night before; get pots and pans out in the morning; make extra so you can reheat leftovers; prepare slow-cooker meals; eat breakfast for dinner; throw something quick into the oven; or if it’s a rough week, treat yourself to a take-out dinner once in a while.
2. Strategies for managing the kids
Step outside of the situation. If you can first understand your children’s needs, you might find some really simple strategies to make things go that much smoother.
- If they miss you or need to talk, spend 10 distraction-free minutes with them before you start cooking. My little guy does much better if I hold him for a bit and then help him get started with an activity before I start dinner.
- If they are hungry, consider providing a small, healthy snack before dinner.
- If they are bored, get them involved! Give it a try! I’ve had my 18-month-old snap asparagus in half. There’s plenty for little kids to help with and even more for older kids. We store our kids’ plates in a cupboard under the counter and they can set the table. The process might take longer but think of the life-skills your children will learn and if it keeps everyone happy, then go for it.
- Know and understand your child’s temperament and whether they are introverted or extroverted. For example, an introverted child might need space to process when they get home, while an extroverted child might be craving some time to talk about their day. I know my daughter sometimes needs a bit of help adjusting to coming home from a busy day and a quiet cuddle is just what she needs. Meanwhile my son (ever the extrovert), wants all of us to play together. It can be difficult to manage my own need for space as an introvert, but this brings me to my next point:
Can you take a few minutes before you get home to recharge your own batteries? If not, play some songs on your way home that you just love to belt out and really boost your mood (Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, anyone??) or listen to comedy skits to get those endorphins flowing.
At this point my family hasn’t added any extracurricular activities on weeknights, and we plan to keep it that way for a while. Our kids have one activity each on the weekend and that’s what works the best for us. We figure our evenings are challenging enough as is! So if dinner is a bit late or if one of our children has a melt-down and needs to go to bed early, that’s okay.
Obviously not all of these strategies can be used at the same time, and not all of them will work for you and your family. I’ve made a promise to myself that every day I will pick one or two strategies. Last week I spent 10 minutes connecting with the kids by playing with them and their toys. With my son happily playing on his own, I asked my daughter to help with food prep. She got to choose between the red or orange pepper, and between carrots or sugar snap peas in the stir fry. She seemed very pleased to be given such “responsibility” and enjoyed snacking on the veggies while I was chopping. When it was time to sit down and eat we were all in a good mood. Much better!
Do you have any other strategies to share with us for coping with this challenging time of day? Please share with us:
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