The following is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.
Our March theme, “Routine and Rhythm,” is something I think about often. For single parents, it’s especially important to plan ahead for the difficult times. With some thought and effort, we can create consistent, positive rituals to help us through the tough periods.
The witching hour, that period between afternoon snack and dinnertime, is challenging for most parents. As a single or sometimes-single parent, you cannot let the witching hour burn you out. Your day is still long from over, and there’s no one coming home to take over the reins or even to field your complaints. There’s still cleaning, the bedtime routine, and, for many of us, paid work that we accomplish after the kids are asleep. We can’t allow ourselves to run out of steam by the time dinner is on the table.
Managing the Pre-Dinner Hour
Whether you’ve just walked in from work or you’ve been home all day, and whether your kids have been with you for a week or have just returned from their other parent’s house (perhaps especially in this case), this time of day has the potential for chaos. Thankfully, since the witching hour is a daily occurrence, we have the luxury of planning for it.
If you’re having trouble managing the pre-dinner hour, try some of the following ideas:
1. Take five or ten minutes to center yourself before the witching hour begins.
This is something I’ve just started to do recently, and I’ve been amazed at how helpful it is. This ritual will differ from person to person, but you might spend five or ten minutes meditating, doing yoga, knitting, or having a cup of tea. Give yourself a moment to breathe, focus on your intentions for the next several hours, and start over from scratch, putting behind you whatever challenges you’ve already met during the previous ten to twelve hours.
2. Involve the kids in dinner prep if they’re interested.
Kids love to cook, and having them help you is a great way to pull them into your realm during this challenging period. It also gives you the opportunity to casually chat, something especially important if you’ve been separated from them for any period of time. If you’ve never involved your kids in cooking before, you might find that it prolongs the cooking time a little bit at first. After a very short time, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised to see that once your children master a few basic cooking prep tasks, their help truly does make a contribution.
Photo by Shutterstock
Don’t push it, though. Their involvement in cooking dinner should be enjoyable. I find that most often my kids want to help cook, but sometimes they don’t. And when they do help, they’re often vacillating between helping and playing. My four year old might peel some carrots, run into the living room to play with her sister for ten minutes, and then return later to stir some ingredients. And when they’re flat out not interested, I simply let it go, recognizing that keeping the peace is more important than their helping cook every single meal.
3. Keep a schedule of diversions you can call upon when necessary.
About a year ago, I made myself a week-long schedule of “dinnertime distractions,” things my little ones could do at the table or in the kitchen to keep them occupied (and near me) while I cooked.
It looks something like this:
- Sunday: Stickers and paper at the table
- Monday: Kitchen sink water play
- Tuesday: Puzzles and peg boards at the table
- Wednesday: Rubber stamps and paper
- Thursday: Matchbox cars and masking tape roads
- Friday: Make your own pizza
- Saturday: Poker chips with bowls and big spoons for sorting and stirring
This isn’t something written in stone; I’ve gone days (or in the most recent case, many weeks) without referring to this chart. If the kids are happily playing, I’ll let them be rather than interrupt them for the planned activity. If they’re reaching the breaking point, however, I know I have an easy, ready-to-go trick up my sleeve to prevent major meltdowns.
4. Don’t expect perfection. Just do the best you can.
If one of your planned side dishes is just going to be one thing too many, forget about it. If dinner is twenty minutes late because you have to intercede before a toddler falls apart, oh well. It’s not ideal, but most things in life aren’t.
5. Trade with another parent to help make one day a week easier.
Right now, my kids have a standing playtime with our neighbor’s children one late afternoon a week for two hours. This means that every other week, my kids play there, and on the opposite week, their kids play here. It’s a no-brainer that the witching hour is a breeze for me during the week that they’re downstairs, but it’s also actually often easier even with the extra two kids here who occupy my girls’ time while I get dinner on the table and some other chores done.
6. For worst-case scenarios, have an emergency dinner waiting in the freezer.
This needn’t even require extra work—simply cook double whenever you prepare a freezable meal, and put half away immediately. And if a freezer meal is not going to work out, consider a non-supper.
These tips may not make for a perfect meal every night, and they may not all work for everyone, but what’s important is that we approach the difficult times of day with intention rather than fear. A sense of humor helps, too. A week ago, I sent my two girls into their room and told them I needed five minutes of peace before cooking dinner. I closed my eyes on the couch to do a quick meditation, and twenty seconds later my four year old was attached my side, telling me “I also want five minutes of peace.” Moments later my two year old was scaling my legs—“I want feece too, mama.” It wasn’t the moment I was hoping for, but I did manage to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
How do you manage to get through the witching hour peacefully?