Witching Hour Shuffle

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Our family arrangement has worked out almost magically over the years. My wife, Dana, works full-time as a lawyer, while I stay home to care for our 5-year-old daughter, Emmeline. But I have a confession: One part of the day almost destroyed us.

It’s the “witching hour,” that evil little slice of evening that comes right after the working day ends and before dinner begins. Occasionally—not often, thankfully—both my wife and I are utterly sapped by this time of day, and a tough question arises: Who gets the first kid-free break?

One night Dana came home from work and I was standing at the front door, arms outstretched with a toddler in the throes of a meltdown. “One of those days?” she asked. I nodded, handing off our child as I dragged myself upstairs to read a book. Then there was the day Dana dropped her bag in the foyer and leaned against the open front door, too irritated and stressed out from work to fully enter. I fixed her a favorite drink and ran a bath for her, then made dinner with our girl.

The real problem is there are other days when we’re both too weary to do anything. Oh, we’ve had that argument plenty of times, comparing whose workweek is more tiring and stressful. I spend my days exhausting every ounce of creativity I have to come up with engaging activities for Emmeline, turning the house into a hive of glue and playdates. Often, we’ll venture across the city to visit San Francisco’s museums or parks—all while I keep on top of housecleaning, bills, doctor appointments, preschool, you name it.

But it’s just as tough for my wife. She puts in frantic hours at work to get home each day by dinnertime, only to slip in front of the computer again after our child goes to bed, all with the added pressure of keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table. I feel a tinge of guilt if she opens the door and I’m holding out a kid for her to take after she’s had a tough day, too.

Everyone needs a minute to chill. Now we’ve worked out a way to quickly gauge each other’s fatigue to see who more urgently needs a little “me time” before dinner. If we’re both too tired to move, sometimes we’ll just throw in the towel, order a pizza and have an impromptu movie night. but you can’t prepare for everything.

Take the night that Dana and I were full of energy and ready to play, but our daughter simply slumped onto the couch with a coloring book. “All I need is a second,” she said. It sounded familiar.

Tricks for Tackling Evenings
Make tough nights easier with these tips.

1. Give warning. A quick text helps to give your partner a heads-up about a bad day, just so everyone is aware of what’s coming.

2.Take your own time-out. Children can, contrary to their own beliefs, play alone for five minutes while you catch your breath.

3. Relax the rules sometimes. Now that my daughter’s older, I no longer stress about using TV as a babysitter for ten minutes every now and then.

Mike Adamick is a stay-at-home dad and writer. He blogs at Cry It Out! (mikeadamick.com)

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