Cries of ‘when’s tea’ are met with your hassled retorts of ‘it’s coming soon’. If only you could finish it. Your toddler demands to be carried so all food preparation is done with one hand. Small but irritating hand injuries follow. Babies might begin to grizzle, progressing to crying – if they have colic this would be their cue to start blood-curdling screams. Older children have tired of crafts – they’ve made every train track that probability states is possible, they’ve painted pictures of the family, now they are on to painting their own arms, the wall, the cat… Your toddlers helps himself, and the floor, to milk. Your blood is coursing through your veins, pressure mounting all the time, you try to stay calm, serene, in control but your voice starts to waiver. Brother turns on sister, things are hurled, including abuse. And what’s that acrid smell? That’ll be burnt peas and chargrilled cheese.
You somehow cajoule all to the table and present them with tea: buttered rice cakes.
Is there an alternative to this domestic scene? Can a hormonious solution be found? Or is it inevitable that there is a point of tension in every family day? In a way there is but there are some ways of avoiding this potential nightmare! Here are some suggestions. From the minute you wake, prepare the day in reverse. Identify the time where things get hairy and work towards avoiding it. In any spare minutes you find (!) try to think of an activity you can have prepared in advance that needs little energy on the part of your children or little supervision from you.
For babies this might be a particularly interesting set of dangly things which you put on their baby gym / door / clipped onto your clothes. For older children it might be wrapped up boxes with daft things inside; a jar of beans they are allowed to tip into a tupperware and back again (consider the mess as a small price to pay for calm); if TV works it is an option (unfortunately it doesn’t work for mine as they’d demand I watched it with them). The second thing is to have tea either actually prepared or carefully planned in advance: a pasta bake that only has to go in the oven, pitta pockets with pre-grated cheese or something which needs similarly mindless preparation!
Other ideas include calling granny in for half an hour if such a priceless thing exists in your world (The Twilight Zone is also known as ‘granny hour’ for just this reason); taking turns to cook with a friend – one entertains (with a pre-prepared puppet show or build-the-tallest-tower-of-blocks competition) and one cooks; trying to find 5-10 minutes to sit with your children to gather energy for the last push; learning to ‘brace yourself’ in a zen-style meditative way; knowing that many other parents are in the same boat!
If it’s really not working consider changing the timings – I often bath my kids at 4.30pm and eat afterwards as they are far too tired after tea for such hygienic rituals. I remember with my first baby he would grizzle from 4.30pm onwards and it took some time for me to experiment – it turned out a short walk for 15 mins at this time sorted it and we had a pleasant hour afterwards. In short: pre-empt and experiment but don’t just suffer!