No other time of the day can be more harried than that hour before dinnertime, which is a major problem, because really, no other time of the day is more important. This is when all the kids need us the most. Older children come home from school and want to tell us about their days, younger children get tired and whiney, and babies sense the stress all around them and want to be held.
My natural tendency is to shout at them to all go away, shove my purse full of a few essentials, and head for the coast to find work on a lobster boat. But that isn’t very practical. Or very nice.
The goal here is to de-stress the most insane time of the day so we can have a bit more energy to be pleasant, happy moms.
1. Plan ahead. Now I’m not organized enough to plan meals for a week like some people do. If you are one of those people, then great! You probably don’t need this list. But if you aren’t one of those people, decide what you will be eating that night no later than that morning. Once you know, get the ball rolling. Chop onions, peel potatoes, put the casserole together and stick it in the fridge—do whatever you can earlier in the day so you will have very little to do in the evening. This is a good time to let the kids help, if you feel so inclined.
2. Don’t race. Start making dinner early enough so you don’t have to hurry. If you know none of you will be home until dinner time starts, then that would be an evening for leftovers or a slow cooker meal (or a $5 hot-n-ready pizza from Little Caesar’s—did I just say that? I would never!). The less rushed you are, the more at ease you will feel to talk to kids when they stick their heads in the kitchen, and the less annoyed you will be when someone whines about how hungry they are.
3. Drink water. I always like to have a nice tall glass of ice water on hand when I am cooking. I think guarding against dehydration at stressful times can be more effective than you think.
4. Have a clean dishrag handy, and start with an empty dishwasher. If you can clean as you go, you will be so much more content.
5. Delegate. Have the children clear and set the table when you first start cooking so that there is no mad dash to get it together as you pull the roast out of the oven. If you are prepared enough, you could even have them put together a salad.
6. Set children boundaries. Now, some people like to have kids cook with them, some don’t. I usually can’t handle them being there if I really need to think. So this one is up to you. I like having them bake with me, since this is more a spontaneous kind of thing. Having them crack an egg on a lazy Sunday afternoon is very different than having them stir the sauce at 6:15 on Tuesday night. This is when I create an imaginary line at the kitchen island that no one may cross. However, if you have a child that is very interested in cooking, like I was, you can do what my mom always said to me. “If you want to learn how to cook, then just stand there and watch me. You learn first by watching.” My mom and I became close during those moments because I didn’t constantly have my hands in everything. She was more at ease, and we were able to talk freely. Oh, and I did learn how to cook.
7. Listen to music. I like something uplifting and light, like Vivaldi or chamber music, or something I can dance to, like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” When I dance to that, my kids think I am weird really, really cool.
8. Smile. Just do it, even if you don’t feel like it. The kids will feel more at ease when they believe mom’s okay, and you might just start to feel happy, too.