The 6-8 pm Makeover
Ask any working parents what the hardest part of the day is. Mornings get all the limelight, but, for me, it’s no contest. The 6-8 pm hours are the absolute most brutal of the day. Few tasks are more herculean than orchestrating that minuscule window between getting home from work and getting the kids to bed, during which about 650 things need to happen.
As you walk in the door, your brain not yet recovered from the mental exhaustion of the work day, the clock immediately starts counting down. You now need to summon your most hyper-efficient self to accomplish a host of duties in an impossibly small time frame.
You begin barking orders at your children, which you will repeat many, many times. Do your homework! Get in the shower. Finish your dinner! Brush your teeth!
The minute I walk in the door, I start going over the mental checklist of our daily 6-8 pm crucible:
- -Go through school bags/ folders/ react to anything requiring reaction
- -Oversee/ check homework
- -COOK DINNER
- -Call my mom and dad (I’m Italian)
- -Get little kid in the bath/ get big kid in the shower
- -Eat dinner/ clean up dinner
- -Get kids to brush teeth
-Read to little kid/ read with big kid
I am extremely lucky because I work from home two days a week. The other days I jet out the door by 5, (slightly earlier if no bosses are around) and I hop on the subway for a quick commute. But even with all those bonuses, compared to most working parents, the average evening is a disaster pretty much. And I am not even dealing in weeknight sports.
What do we do first? Homework? Bath? Eat? On days when I’m a machine, I walk in the door, start running the bath before even saying hello to anyone and head straight to the kitchen to cook. But usually, my mind is scattered and I start doing everything a little bit all at once. Thus the whole operation devolves into a multi-tasking train-wreck.
Forget eking out a quality moment with my children. Forget about family game night or having conversations or even watching some baseball or hockey together. More like my kids are watching the third straight episode of The Thundermans, or some equally awful crap, while I rush around in circles with a glass of wine filled to the absolute brim.
There is so much advice out there on how to have a better morning. It all seems solidified as common wisdom to me at this point. Get up early, meditate, exercise, write, drink some water with lemon, etc. etc. But after searching for help on how to makeover my evening, I came up surprisingly empty handed. At least as far as anything pertaining to the particular challenges of working parents with school age kids.
Think about this for a moment. The internet is nothing if not a trove of a zillion people telling you how to fix your life/ problems/ habits/ children/ belly fat/ terrible cooking/ etc. Yet on this fundamental, widespread daily predicament – nada. Which leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the advice is probably not flowing like double espressos at the Google employee lounge because a five minute meditation and some lemon water are not going to cut it in this neck of the jungle. This challenge, that millions upon millions of parents face every week night, requires some serious, second level life ninja dark arts.
Because, it’s not like you can just get home earlier.
And you can only fit so many things into two hours. Less than that, if you and your spouse are stuck at the office past 5. So if you can’t have more time, and you can’t do less stuff, you are looking down the barrel of a pretty effed up math equation.
All the unlucky, exhausted and frazzled working parents in our society are the collateral damage of a broken system that no one has any desire to fix or even talk about. Someone explain to me why, with all the productivity gains of the last two decades, we can’t finish the business day at the same time as the school day. Even though this would be the most earth shattering thing to happen to working parents since the discovery of the nanny. Not to mention probably have massive implications for growing our economy. Nope, sorry. Go back to Berkeley, you hippies!
Our national mantra clearly states that we must not draw any attention to the fact that, often in 2016, both parents need to earn a paycheck, nor may we arrange our work culture or society to accommodate that fact whatsoever. As far as your employer is concerned (if it took the time to ponder, which it doesn’t) the nanny is cooking dinner, the tutor is looking over your kid’s homework and a live-in grandmother is lovingly easing your child into the bath.
The Reality of 6-8 pm
When my husband and I get home, we are immediately thrown into a loop of trying to figure out who is doing what to tackle the business at hand. Let’s call it what it is. There’s no genteel way to say it. It is a total and complete clusterfuck. I would not be surprised if the word clusterfuck actually derives from this particular daily phenomenon, invented by some poor sexually-harassed lawyer in the seventies as she was cracking open a can of Chef Boyardee for her kids at 7:00 at night, while her husband was still at the office.
There is no quippy solution on tap here. I have puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore, yet I still have not cracked the case. But despite my complaining, I am an optimist at heart and hopeful that this is not one of those problems, like a colic, whose only real solution is your kids growing up. In the absence of any professional advice on how to design your mathematically impossible evenings, here are some ideas I’m thinking about. Suggestions are welcome.
–No multitasking. Multitasking is the “self-destruct” switch embedded in all women. I cannot, cannot, stop doing it. What’s worse, I know I do it, not in an attempt to be more productive, but because of the technology-induced-inability-to-focus that I definitely now suffer from.
–No phone, no email, no computer during these hours. This is the lowest hanging fruit and needs to be 100% strict and made a habit. It is an obvious area for improvement.
-Remove the tyranny of choice with a weekly meal schedule. Decision-induced paralysis is another major problem for me. I’m not sure if this is a clinically-recognized disorder, but if not, the AMA needs to come talk to me. I need to remove choices from the daily equation and start instituting Pizza Fridays (which is a thing, my whole life since birth) into Other-Foods Every-Other-Night-Of-The-Week. We have a few go to’s – I need to institutionalize them. Like broccoli, lemon and pasta on Mondays. Forever more, until the end of time.
-No cook or almost-no-cook meals. We need to slot in more sandwiches for weeknight meals and plan for more leftovers. I know… leftovers are like *Life Ninja 101* stuff, but we are remedial when it comes to the art of cooking one time for two meals.
-Dinner time limit. I have issues getting my kids to eat sometimes. Dinner can drag on forever. I’ve actually started just taking the plate away. If they didn’t eat, they didn’t eat. The chances of them eating whatever is on the plate keeps going down with every minute that passes. So let’s move along.
-Say it and mean it. What’s worse than a mother half-heartedly telling her kids to do something, over and over. I’m guilty of this. It’s almost like, deep down, I know it is a bummer to have to stop what you’re doing, brush your teeth and end the day, so my orders can come off as weak suggestions, shifting the burden of motivation on to the children. Which is fine and necessary sometimes so they learn to take responsibility. Just not at 7:45 pm. 7:45 pm requires an unmistakable “Your Christmas gifts are on the line” tone that does not bear repeating six times.
–Let the kids help more. I am all very, “No thank you, I will do it, better and in half the time.” But I think I need to let the children help more. Setting the table, cleaning up. I think that is an investment that will pay off. If it saves me three trips from the kitchen to the dining room and one episode of The Thundermans, it’s a win.
Not sure how much any of this will help, but so far, it is pretty much all I’ve got.
Unless I finally just phone in a Russian Bride. Because it has become clear to me that what I really need… is a wife. The sister wife arrangement is looking more and more like a sensible scenario. She doesn’t have to be pretty – just someone at home to do all those things our 1950’s employment culture assumes I’m home doing for the family it simultaneous pretends does not exist.
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