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Staying Home Instead

The "Witching Hour"

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 3, May - June 1998, pp. 84-86

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I have a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and a fourteen-month-old baby at home. The most challenging time of the day is what I call "the witching hour" from 5:00 PM until dinner is over. The older children are fighting with each other, my toddler wants to nurse, I'm stressed out from the day and trying to prepare dinner. The phone is often ringing, and my husband arrives home to chaos. Any suggestions for easing this period of time?


I found the "witching hour" to be much more intense during the dark winter months. My solution was a plan that controlled the snacks the kids required so they would still eat dinner. In the late afternoon we had a tea party. Sometimes we even used the special tea pot. The snack was something simple like bread and butter, jam, or cream cheese. Other times it was cocoa or just seltzer (which was a treat) and popcorn. I may be romanticizing a bit, but I believe I even sometimes read to the children during that time; I know I never did any personal reading, grocery list writing, or brought up bad behavior observed during the day. The half-hour around the kitchen table never lost its sense of doing something special. It calmed us all down, took the edge off our hunger, and seemed to make the rest of the day easier for all of us.

Carol Delaney
South Windsor CT USA


My suggestion is to take the ringing phone out of the "witching hour," and make dinner as early in the day as possible.

Many telemarketers prefer to phone around dinner time. If these calls are unwanted, ask them to take your name off their calling list. This quickly helped eliminate telephone sales calls to our house, even though I had only made the request verbally. If you are interested in these offers, give them another time to call. If the calls are from family or friends, ask them to call at another time (or ask them to come over and watch the kids or make dinner for you!).

Dinner problems can be eased by making as much of dinner as you can early in the day. Casseroles can be frozen or refrigerated for later use; even if you only make a side dish, salad, or dessert ahead of time, that's one less thing to fuss with at five o'clock.

Remember to keep expectations realistic. While the children are small, it may be more important to meet their needs than to have a perfectly set table or dinner right on time.

Alicia Chapelle
Lincoln NE USA


My children are older now but how I remember that "witching hour." One of the things that worked for us was to make supper ahead of time. Usually I did that just after breakfast. I would either use my crock pot or make whatever I could ahead and reheat at supper time.

We also would put on dancing music, easy listening, classical or kid's tapes and dance for half an hour or so. It was a change of pace and the baby loved to watch his crazy family and be twirled around too.

I found that the children seemed to be hungry for supper long before Daddy came home, so for a while we ate early. Daddy ate when he got home while the happier children visited with him.

Barbara Cieslak-Sydor
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


When my son had just started walking (and climbing!) and needed extra attention, we also had a regular challenge at the end of the afternoon until Dad arrived home. One of the questions I asked myself was "What is keeping me from meeting the needs of my child?" and I discovered a few answers.

I found that I invariably had a piece of raw meat I was trying to prepare, and before I could attend to my son I needed several minutes to clean up. I have since pre- cooked meat to keep in the freezer, or I use a slow cooker so that most meal preparation can be done at another (more convenient) time of day. Spaghetti gets real old after a couple of meals so I also found some vegetarian dishes that my family likes and are easy to prepare. As long as knives are put out of reach I can respond to my son very quickly if needed, and I don't have to worry about his safety in the kitchen with me. There are a lot of good recipes in La Leche League cookbooks, which should be available for loan through your local LLL Group Library or you can purchase them yourself. WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY (Available from the LLLI Online Store) includes a list of main dishes that are easy to prepare at the last minute and a list of dishes that freeze well.

After my husband greets me, the first few minutes that he is home he devotes to our son. Jamie eagerly follows Dad upstairs while he changes clothes, and that gives me a few more minutes to finish whatever may need to be done for the evening meal or quickly clean the living room. My husband and I make sure that we talk about whatever we need to talk about at some other time, usually at breakfast or with a phone call during the day.

My son is usually ready for dinner about an hour before everyone else so I let him eat early or give him some fruit or other light snack to tide him over. He doesn't always sit through the whole meal so we do let him get down and play rather than make meals a fight.

I don't yet have older children at home but children I have worked with seem willing to help with meal preparation-measuring beans or rice, preparing lettuce for a salad, washing utensils, setting the table, and cutting and peeling if they and you can manage it.

Lastly, if funds permit, you might consider hiring a preteen or young teen as a "mother's helper," who would be able to either help with your children or fold that load of laundry that has been sitting there for a few days. A preteen helper is typically less expensive than a sitter, and as he or she gets older and gets to know your children, the helper may become a candidate for babysitting.

It took a month or two to manage the change, but the crankiness is much less and I have less stress to deal with just before dinner. The peaceful meal looms ever closer!

Barbara Gifford
Bedford OH USA


I also have three children, ages five, three, and one. To help the evenings go more smoothly at our house, I let the answering machine take phone calls that I don't have time to answer. We also use a Caller ID unit, which I can check to see if I want to answer the phone or not. This has greatly reduced my time on the phone as I can see who's calling before answering. I also make it a rule that the kids have to have their toys picked up and put away before sitting down to dinner. They also help to set the dinner table. This keeps them busy so that they have little time to think about fighting. They also feel that they are doing their part in running an orderly household.

After dinner they get their baths and then pick out stories to read before bedtime. They look forward to story time so much that they try to keep things moving along without too much fuss so that they can enjoy having Mom read to them. We try to keep to the same routine most nights. This way the children know what to expect and have made it a habit to follow the nightly routine. When my one-year-old wants to nurse, I manage to do this midway in the process of making dinner or while sitting at the dinner table. When she needs me at inconvenient times, I have to remind myself of her needs as a very small child, take a deep breath, and enjoy meeting those needs as only I can do even if it means turning the stove off until I can return to it to finish dinner. As she is getting older, I also try to get her involved as much as possible so she does not feel left out. Right now she is at a developmental stage where she enjoys putting small objects into containers, so she actually helps her older brothers pick up toys sometimes. If she wants to be near me in the kitchen as I prepare dinner, I pull out a box of plastic covers or utensils for her to play with (reserved for only those times). She seems to enjoy this as she plays safely on the floor away from the hot stove. I hope some of these tips help you in dealing with the most difficult time of the day.

Rebecca Barrett
Lowell MI USA


I am the mother of seven children. I home school five of these children, so, like you, by the end of the day we have often felt we are at the end of our rope, with the house in a state of chaos. Since the baby's birth seventeen months ago, however, I have been fine-tuning our "witching hour" routine, trying to make it pleasurable for all concerned.

First, I prepare dinner in advance. If I have the energy I will cook as many as one month's meals at a time and put them in the freezer. Lately, however, I have only been able to prepare one week's worth of meals on Sunday. Each morning while I am already in the kitchen preparing breakfast, I take out a casserole, stew, or soup to thaw and start the bread machine for dinner. My dinner preparations at the "witching hour" are nothing more than setting the table and preparing a salad, and I get lots of help with that!

Next, at about five o'clock we play ten-minute pick-up. I set the kitchen timer and the children and I scurry around picking up the clutter before the timer goes off. This is as much a game to them as it is help for me. After that, I load the three youngest into the bath and the older children can go about their business (TV, reading, computer games, telephone, etc.). After the little ones are bathed and in their pajamas, they are free to look at picture books, color, do puzzles-things that are low-key and not likely to over-stimulate.

Finally, I turn off all artificial light in the house. I read once that our bodies were designed to run on light. The author described how, before the invention of electricity, humans went to bed at dark and rose at sunrise. I light candles in every room and this, combined with a freshly cleaned up house, gives us almost a magical feeling and calms the children considerably. Lastly, I dash into my bathroom, brush my hair, check my make-up, and tidy my clothes. By the time my husband arrives home, the children are relaxed and ready for a big hug and the yummy dinner that is simmering on the stove. No doubt he thinks it's been that calm all day!

Vickie Cleveland
North Little Rock AR USA


To counteract the "witching hour" in my home, I started preparing dinner during my baby's morning nap. Meanwhile, my preschooler enjoys Sesame Street and my home schooled kindergartner works at the kitchen table. I am available if he needs help but am still able to prepare the entree. Casseroles and quiches work great, as do baked chicken dishes. By doubling recipes or cooking on Saturdays I am able to have lots of dinner selections in the freezer and can just defrost something on no-nap mornings or hard school days. We have a snack and story time late in the afternoon while the baby plays happily after her afternoon nap. I have made a tape of myself reading the kids' favorite books, so when I can't read to them they can still have a quiet reading time to calm them. Giving my older children some focused attention seems to help them have some reserves for the hardest part of the day. Separating them also helps.

My six-year-old is setting the table, dinner is heating up, and I am nursing the baby when my husband comes through the door. Of course, it doesn't always work out so beautifully, but this plan makes dinner time much more peaceful.

Kim Hayes
Shaw Air Force Base SC USA

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