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Staying Home Instead

End of the Day Chaos

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20, No. 4 July - August 2003 p. 146

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I am a mother with two children, ages two and four. When their father comes home, our house turns chaotic-they get so excited when he arrives. Meanwhile, I'm trying to make dinner, and he'd like to rest a bit. What are good ways to meet their need for attention during this busy time of day?

Response

I have a four-year-old daughter, and 19-month-old twin sons. Between 4 and 5 pm it seemed as though everyone was unhappy. The children were fussy, I was frustrated and yelling, and my husband was tired. Gradually, I recognized this pattern and prepared for it. At about 3:30 pm, I pulled out the healthy snacks such as apples, cucumbers, cheese sticks, homemade granola bars, and drinks (usually water). My boys also nurse a lot during this hour; they seem to need the mommy time. We also turned on some music.

Before having children, I made dinner at "dinner time." Now, I realize that early evening is the worst time to be busy in the kitchen. Generally, I prepare for dinner throughout the day so we just warm it up when Daddy gets home.

Brooke Schumacher
Dhahran Saudi Arabia

Response

This time of day is difficult for little ones with little impulse control and no patience. It's a hard time for tired mothers, too.

Create a ritual for Daddy and dinnertime. Whenever possible, I try to be in the middle of reading a story when Daddy comes home. Reading seems to calm the children so at least they're not as hyper when he walks in the door. I also avoid sugary foods, and have convinced them that frozen vegetables are an acceptable snack before dinner.

Maybe your husband can drive home slowly, or even park around the corner for a bit of quiet, so that he is braced to face the troops when he walks in the door. Expecting the little ones to leave Daddy alone at this age will prove a disappointment to both children and adults.

Minimize the time you spend cooking. I try to cook extra so that we eat leftovers almost half the time. For example, I'll turn leftover roasted chicken into a casserole, then freeze those leftovers for a no cooking day, getting three meals out of one bout of cooking. Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook has many ideas for that.

Include the children when it's safe. My five-year-old can rip up the lettuce for a salad. My two-year-old likes to watch and help, too. Sometimes, they even "cook" me a meal with play dough while I'm working in the kitchen.

Have activities that they like to do (and can do relatively independently) available when you need to work. Story tapes, crafts and crayons, building blocks, water play at the kitchen sink, pulling out all the stuff in the gadget drawer; just about anything that is safe and within sight is okay with me when I really need to get something done.

As a last resort, my children watch 30 minutes of video about three times a week, and it almost always seems to coincide with a cooking day. We don't get cable or good TV reception, so it's very easy to get acceptable video tapes at the library and control content and the amount of their viewing.

April Undy
Fort Collins CO USA

Response

My daughter is five and my son is three months old. My husband works long hours and I also like to give him a little quiet time when he comes home from work. This can be quite a challenge! But, I find that if we give him a little time to unwind after work, it makes for a very pleasant evening. Here are some tips that might help make your evenings go more smoothly.

Try to be one step ahead. For instance, during quiet time in the afternoon, I lay out our clothes for the next day and get things ready for bath time in the evening. When I have these things done, I can relax more when evening comes.

I try to have dinner prepared before my husband comes home. I use recipes that can be prepared in advance. Chili, lasagna, and casseroles all work great at our house. I try to remember that not every dinner has to be a big dinner. We have sandwiches and fresh veggies some nights. Another quick, healthful dinner is omelets.

I try very hard to make doubles of dinners that we all enjoy so I can freeze a portion for later use. Then, when we are having a hectic day or one of my children needs a little extra attention, I can tend to him or her and just take something out of the freezer.

I also try to have general daily chores done before evening. My children are morning people, so it's easiest for me to do cleaning, laundry, or shopping during the early part of the day when everyone is fresh. Then, the evening can be spent relaxing. I try to play something with my daughter for about 30 minutes when my husband gets home from work so he can have a little time to change his clothes and read the paper.

My husband really appreciates my extra efforts, especially when work has been stressful. This gives him some time to "shift gears" so we can have a pleasant evening. If all of my organizing and planning ahead efforts fail, I try to remember to take things in stride. If the house looks a little messy at the end of the evening, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that we spend our family time together enjoying each other!

Laura Augustine
Mentor OH USA

Response

I can relate to the chaos of the end of the day. I have found that if I cook dinner earlier in the day it helps. Anything I can do to decrease or simplify my cooking time at the dinner hour really helps. For example, I will put together a casserole or a quiche right after breakfast when my daughters, 18 months old and four years old, are more likely to play nicely together. Then, when dinnertime comes, all I have to do is put something in the oven or reheat individual servings in the microwave.

I also find the crock pot helpful. I often chop the vegetables or whatever is going in the pot the night before when they are asleep. With some recipes, I can put the whole meal together into the crock pot and refrigerate it. Then, all I have to do is plug it in the next morning. If all I've done is cut up vegetables, I add water to cover them while they are in the fridge so they stay fresh. Before starting the crock pot the next day, I drain the water and add whatever ingredients are needed.

Sometimes I find it helpful to give my four-year-old a special art activity she can do on her own at this time of day. This takes some pre-planning, but is well worth it. Another strategy I use is to give my girls their bath right when Daddy is due home. They love bath time and it often helps diffuse some of the negative behavior that is more common at this time of the day. Once bath and dinner are over, they play with Daddy while I clean up and prepare for the next day.

Robin Rennells
Raleigh NC USA

Response

Like many mothers, I have had a challenge with late afternoon and dinnertime. I've come up with some things that make it smoother for our family. What is important to me is that my children make good food choices, and that they learn to follow their hunger cues. So, if they are hungry before dinner, I provide healthy snacks and let them graze. Some favorites are frozen peas, apples, cheese, and baby carrots. If their tummies get empty, what I call the "hungry grumps" kick in and everyone has a hard time coping. I also play children's music to help entertain them while I am getting dinner prepared. Sometimes I pull out a box of toys reserved just for when we're in the kitchen.

Your husband may want to take a few moments sitting in the car in the driveway to collect himself before coming inside. Perhaps he can establish a ritual with the children, something they always do when he comes home. It could be meeting on the couch for stories, or gathering around a table to draw and visit. Sometimes having an anticipated activity helps to channel the abundance of energy. Also, the children can find out what Dad would like them to do for him when he comes home. He might be tickled pink if one child helped him take his shoes or coat off and put them away while another child got him a cold glass of water. Children feel important when they can do helpful things for loved ones. It can be a tricky time of day, but I'm sure you'll come up with some creative ideas of your own to try!

K. S.
Independence MO USA

Response

One thing that has made a big difference for us is once-a-month cooking. I spend a day cooking with a friend about once a month and put eight to 12 meals in the freezer. Having a meal already prepared allows me to give my children attention when they seem to need it most-at about 4 pm in our house. We usually use that time for reading stories, but any calming activity would help keep them quiet at a time of day when emotions run strong and tired children cry easily!

Unfortunately, I haven't figured out yet how to give my husband the time to rest and unwind after his long day. He often returns home to find me desperate for a reprieve and steps into father-mode immediately. I am ever thankful for that!

Lisa Gilder
Hopkins MI USA

Response

Late afternoon/early evening is often a stressful time in my house too. We have exactly the same chaotic scene that you describe. Dad comes home, children are excited, dad is tired, and mother is frazzled! Lately, I've been trying something new. I get dinner ready in the afternoon, whenever I have a free moment. Rather than pressure myself to put a hot meal on the table at precisely 6 pm, I make something simple but nutritious that can be served at room temperature (this is especially nice during the warmer months). The meal is on the table and the table is set ahead of time (my four-year-old likes to fold the napkins and place the silverware), so that we can eat in a more leisurely atmosphere.

It's good to be able to sit down with my children and to engage them in something fun, so that when their dad comes home, they aren't waiting to jump on him when he walks in the door. He can put down his bag, look through the mail, and unwind a bit. We eat dinner when we are ready and then everyone helps clear the table.

Now, we even have time for a family stroll before bedtime. All this requires is some organization and planning, and I think it's worth the effort.

Michele Benson Huck
New Orleans LA USA

Response

I am a stay-at-home mother of seven children ranging in age from 21 to four. Over the years, I have found different solutions to help with the dinner hour "crazies." For a time, when the children were very little and very demanding, the best I could come up with was putting together a really nice looking, colorful salad. I set the table nicely and made individual salad plates and called it dinner. It wasn't much, but it looked great and my husband appreciated the little I did. I fed the children earlier so they wouldn't be cranky and when their father sat down to eat, we all joined him.

Another idea that worked for a time was to prepare a big meal for lunch for the children. (We live in Israel and here this is very common.) I put aside a portion for my husband so I didn't have the pre-dinner rush in the kitchen. I could keep the children out in the park late into the afternoon. Sometimes, I would just prepare the meal earlier in the day and reheat it for all of us in the evening (if my husband wasn't coming home too late). I have found that children need to eat early. Part of the wild behavior in the evening may be due to hunger as well as excitement.

For a time, I remember making sure my children were in the bathtub when my husband came home. The bath calmed them and helped them move more easily into bedtime. My husband could pop his head in, say, "Hi," and relax until they were out and dressed and ready for time with Daddy.

No matter what you try, the main ingredient may be to lower your expectations of yourself. We can only do so much and people are more important than things. The best times I remember are those days of throwing a few cherry tomatoes and olives on top of the salad and going outside to the park to give my children time to run off some excess energy. Be creative; I'm sure you'll come up with some ideas that work for you.

Marilyn Tokayer
Petach Tikvah Israel

Last updated October 2, 2007 by jlm.
Page last edited .


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