I’m fairly confident I’m not alone in the 5 PM struggle: Making dinner, trying to help a toddler set the table (even though she’s technically helping YOU), while the teething baby sits on the floor in tears… at least, that’s my reality as soon as 5 PM rolls around.
I don’t know why small children tend to melt down between 4:30-5:30 PM, and I don’t have a solution for that part of the problem. But I am learning that there is a way to circumvent my own emotions during this hectic time. Before I share what has worked for me, let’s discuss why this is important. By five o’clock, you and your husband haven’t seen each other for eight hours (change the timeframe if your husband works a different shift; whatever time he, or you, arrives home!).
Whatever good terms you left on at 7:30 AM have been interrupted by a thousand demands and stressors. If you’re like me, your mind is whirring with everything left undone in the day, trying to figure out where to fit those items into the precious few hours prior to bedtime. All this while cooking dinner and one or more crying, arguing, or otherwise loud babies!
Why Attitude Matters
I don’t mean to make this sound depressing; a lively home life is wonderful! But I know the amount of stress at the dinnertime hour does a number on my attitude. And it’s right before my husband walks in. He too has faced stress and endless demands during the day. Our stressful days collide at the kitchen stove with a half-hearted peck on the cheek, someone grabbing a baby to change a diaper, and a hastily eaten dinner. What could have been a joyful reunion falls rather flat.
This moment in our days matters because it’s a moment in our marriages. Three hundred and sixty-five dinnertime greetings, give or take. Multiply that by how many years you’re married, and that’s a lot of missed opportunities for joy! I’m not the most romantic person in the world (I scored a 0 for physical touch on the love languages test!) so I’m not writing this from a high horse. I just wish, when it came to this daily moment in my marriage, I’d tried earlier.
What Works for Us
I set out to make a change in 2018. I started by asking: What is stressing me out at dinner? A few things came to mind: Not knowing what I planned to make, so throwing something together last minute; my three-year-old refusing to listen or be remotely helpful; my baby (who was four months when I started making changes) fussing about something; and the overall rushed feeling, the lack of calm, and my dislike for dinner in general. Knowing the problem, I could find a solution.
And I did.
- I started planning meals. I always planned them to a degree, but I now make a habit of determining that morning which meal I am going to make that night. That might mean starting the crockpot or picking out leftovers; I know ahead of time what is going to happen and don’t have to figure it out as Josh walks in.
- I involve my toddler. Yes, this takes work and yes, she still sometimes resists. But she loves to help, so I have her set the table, stir soup, or bring toys into the kitchen to play at my feet while I finish.
- Put the baby in the high chair with snacks, or when younger, in a rocker with a bottle. When she was small, I gave Eva a bottle of pumped milk or later, formula. As she got older I put her in the high chair with snacks and water to keep her quiet while I worked.
- We make the TV inaccessible. Our TV has now been in our guest room for over a year. This keeps me from using it to distract my toddler (we have set times when we use TV during the day, or for family time in the evening). It’s not adding noise to the stress of the evening and I find my kids are better behaved when they haven’t been staring at a screen late in the afternoon. It’s also not sucking me or Josh in when we should be talking over dinner!
- I make dinnertime beautiful – even if we have leftovers. Our dining room is very small but I have decorated it to be one of my favorite rooms. We light candles at each dinner, even if it’s eggs and bacon. We pray and put away our phones so we can talk about the day. We’re not rigid about this, but the simple intention of lighting candles and talking helps rejuvenate what is a stressful hour.
- I pray for my husband. This is simple but it makes a huge difference. I find that resentment quickly comes into my heart when I’m cooking dinner “for Josh” (nevermind I’m eating it too!) and feeling that the stress and noise and kids are all very “unfair”. You can’t pray for someone you resent!
The combination of spiritual and practical has made a big difference in our evenings, but also in our marriage. Lisa has a great section on this exact dinnertime struggle in her 100 Ways to Love Your Husband book. And the crazy part? By stopping to make him feel known, I am aware enough to be known by him. My husband is actually romantic, but when I’m buzzing around the kitchen angry and resentful, I’m blind to it.
I’m finding that part of being romanced is just standing still.
Even at the most hectic part of the day.
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