1. Ease into the Evening
Instead of walking in the door after work or errands and immediately launching into another chore, allow time and space to downshift into evening mode. It's basically about transitioning. In other words, giving yourself and your family that unwind time.
Creating a calming ambiance, by turning off the TV and playing soothing classical, jazz, or instrumental music, can instantly reset the emotional tone of the house. Another idea is to dim the lights and light a few candles - it makes for a warm, cozy atmosphere that will relax the family.
Another transition idea is to create a ritual. Set vegetables and dip or cheese and bread on the counter and serve juice or water in fancy wine goblets. This will not only take the ravenous edge off so you avoid meltdowns before dinner, but it will feel special and establish the transition time.
2. Create a Dinner System
Rushing to get dinner on the table is a major source of evening mayhem, but a little bit of preplanning can help you power through with a minimum of stress. Use weekends to chart out your nightly dinners, grocery shop, and even preassemble parts of a meal when possible. Consider writing a weekly plan and checking the calendar to see which nights are going to be particularly busy—so you know when frozen pizzas or easy-prep meals are a must.
3. Keep the Kids Busy
All the shortcuts in the world won't help if you're constantly being interrupted, so a little creativity may be needed to get the kids out from underfoot. Make the time you cook be about you and let your older kids, who should be doing homework, know that you are there only to be asked a very important question. Other than that, you are off limits. For younger children, it might be necessary to involve them in the meal preparation or to put on an appropriate DVD. When my son was younger I used to put him in his highchair and talk in an animated way—sort of my own version of a cooking show. Now that he's older, he helps put ingredients in bowls and pots and stirs just about everything!
4. Plan Homework Time
To avoid last-minute cries of "Mom, I haven't done my homework yet," having a homework routine is a must. After the kids have had a healthy snack and 30 minutes downtime after school, they should begin their homework so that it is completed before dinner.
5. Share the Work... and a Break
Dividing tasks between you and your partner can make family time more serene for both of you. It might be that when your husband walks in the door, it's his turn to take the baby for 30 minutes so you can get dinner started. Then, after 30 minutes, you take the baby back and your partner has 30 minutes to change and unwind. This way you'll both be refreshed enough to start your evening together.
Be flexible with this. If your partner is stressed when walking in the house, offer a later-in-the-evening task, such as washing dishes or packing lunches for the next day.
All in all, evenings can be calm if routines and decisions are made ahead of time. Decide what you and your partner truly value and then set up some systems to make it work.
About the Author:
Erin Kurt, B.Ed, spent 16 years as a teacher and nanny around the world. Now, she applies her expertise as a parenting expert and author of Juggling Family Life. You can learn more about Erin and her simple, loving parenting method, and subscribe to her weekly parenting tips e-zine at http://www.erinparenting.com/.