How to survive Witching Hour

For the past 3 years, the time between 4pm and 6pm has been a time of pain, optimistically referred to as Witching Hour. The children have varied their programme a little depending on their age and whether it was just one or two of them, but it always includes at least non-stop crying and wailing, and there are usually some completely avoidable injuries, arguments and tantrums. Anything, in short, to stop you getting on with bringing about the natural end to this time, which is dinner and bed.

I don’t know if it ever stops. I’m hoping around the teenage years dinner time might no longer be preceded by screams and wailing, possibly because loud and non-inter-generationally-transferable music translates these feelings for your children and provides some catharsis. (Parents of teens feel free to set me straight)

But in gloomy moments I suspect that it just carries on and on, with different age-appropriate flavours. The truth of the matter is that 4pm is a long way from lunch and a long way from dinner, a natural dip in the day when we’d all quite like a nap but either can’t have one because we have stuff to do or because we would rather die than admit it because sleep is clearly a weakness. In fact, I myself wouldn’t mind rolling around on the floor crying and tearing my hair out around this time of day.

Actually, yesterday I kind of did.

Wound up from trying to chop vegetables and wash dishes with two children clinging to my legs singing a piercing chorus of “we are sad”, I gave up and went into the dining room and sat down on the floor. They followed me. Propelled by a tiny flicker of mother’s instinct, I opened my arms and they promptly ran into them. There we sat for about ten minutes, rocking in a strange sort of see-sawing hug. They were in seventh heaven. They laughed and giggled and clung to me.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had got it all wrong. It wasn’t Witching Hour at all. It was Cuddle Hour. They had been playing all day, going about their own projects, and now they were tired and hungry and all they wanted was to come and crawl onto Mummy’s lap and be close.

My daughter sucked her favourite fingers and leaned her head against my knee. My son clutched me close and giggled that infuriating over-tired giggle as he rocked us all back and forth. There was peace.

I held on to that moment for a few more minutes and then extricated myself to rescue dinner and the crying and wailing resumed. It wasn’t long before I got more and more annoyed and started getting angry and shouting, making everything worse in the process until I practically slammed the bowls of pasta on the table, put them in their seats and had to take a moment alone in the kitchen to cool down.

A training course I did once taught me the cause of anger: blocked goals. You have plans, people get in the way of your plans and so you get angry at them. My goal: wash up, make dinner, get the kids to bed as soon as humanly possible, sneakily eat some crisps in the kitchen while they’re not looking, squeeze in some marking while the sauce is bubbling. The cooking is blocked by a loudly wailing Girl clinging to my leg, demanding to be picked up. Washing up is impossible while holding a toddler and fielding demands for snacks from a little boy. You can’t do marking when someone is constantly trying to invent new circus tricks involving balancing across your legs. Doing any sneaky eating in the kitchen is pretty much out when you are being followed around absolutely everywhere by adoring fans/supplicants.

So what do you do? How can this ever be a happy time of day?

I thought of our little moment earlier. There is a glimmer of hope, I thought. Peace is possible.

As I can’t change anyone other than myself and I have no right to try and control anyone else, the only thing I can do is change my goals.

I can accept that 4-6pm is not Haute Cuisine Time. It is not Work Time. It is not Internet Time. It is not Housework Time. It is not even Witching Hour. It is Cuddle Hour. Time to give the kids maximum attention, endless hugs, join in their jokes, let them help with setting the table. Then heat up previously cooked food – the microwave can be operated with one hand after all. Magnificent meals should be cooked earlier in the day or after the kids have gone to bed – this is not the time.

The thing is: need Cuddle Hour. All I want by 4pm is to curl up on the sofa under a blanket with my favourite people and have a little snooze while the Girl laughs and pokes me in the face to wake me up again. Maybe they know and that is why they chase after me, arms outstretched.

“Uh oh, it’s Witching Hour. We have to do something,” the Boy might say to the Girl. “We need to catch Mummy and give her hugs.”

“Yeah,” the Girl probably replies. “Dop. Ah! Ooooo.” Meaning: perhaps it will stop all the screaming and shouting at this time of day. It is really getting on my nerves.


21 responses

  1. Teenage years = witching hour plus homework. And music practice. The only good news is that they can shower by themselves, but you still have to check that they haven’t just wet their hair.

  2. Fabulous post. As the mum of a 12yo, 10yo and 7yo I can confirm this time of day doesn’t get any better. The challenges may be different, but everyone is still tired and grumpy! Interesting point about the blocked goals. Never thought about it before, but it makes perfect sense!

    • Ah yes, well thanks for the disillusionment. 🙂 Perhaps the key, at every stage, is to find just the right TV programme that holds their attention long enough to get dinner on the table. I remember for me and my brother it was Roseanne when we were teenagers. My mum would pass snacks through the serving hatch to where we sat and zombied while she got on with cooking.

  3. I completely agree with you on this Judith. With more than one child to meet the needs of tea/bath/bed time will almost certainly get fraught a points. Knowing what you’re dealing with and not trying to do much else as well will help immensely. Basically succumbing to the witching hour, and not letting it get the best of you 🙂

    We have a fairly rigid routine now, especially on weekdays. When we get back from school my two play for about an hour while I prep their dinner, then they watch about an hours TV on the laptop while sitting at the table and eating. That then gives us about 45 mins between TV being turned off and them going to bed which is enough for their little brains to switch off, and they’re in bed by 6:30pm. I know it’s not for everyone, but it really works well for us.


  4. I so remember this… It was a year ago. It suddenly stopped as my youngest neared 18 months. Hang in there, I’m sure it will change for you too! Love ur warm and honest approach here x

    • 18 months eh? That’s not too far off! But then you are a professional of course so perhaps you had special tricks and an aura of calm confidence.

  5. Yay! Works so much better, doesn’t it? We had lunch at dinner time, and it was brilliant. They ate loads, and I didn’t have to keep getting up because I’d just put everything out on the table.

  6. honey we had it here too! not so much these days as i spend and afternoon batch cooking (before witching hour) and now i spend less time in the kitchen through the witching hour .. not perfect but certainly calmer x

  7. I have to say I’m not averse to the occasional Little Dish supper! Especially when I’ve been at work all day and just come home to the witching hour madness. Otherwise a quick omelette or something previously cooked and frozen. My toddler gets absolutely besides himself when he’s hungry and stands on my feet in an attempt to climb up to see what’s cooking. A sneaky Baby Bel sometimes keeps them happy for five minutes while they wait. I don’t take them out in public at that time of day any more (well not on pre-school days anyway) as the 4 year old meltdowns have tested me to my very limits!! He used to have proper “Witching Hour” time when he was born up to about 5 months too – non stop colicky screaming – anything after that is child’s play in comparison…

    • Wow yes, I suppose a bit of leg climbing and snack demanding is nothing compared to colic! Mine do the same, my 3yo will get a little chair so he can “help” and the little one just wails and leans against my legs until her socks slip on the floor and she falls over and hits her head and cries more and I just have to pick her up. She’s cunning.

    • Gotta love it. Although today things went remarkably well – the Girl went off to cook dinner for her teddy in the play kitchen and I involved the Boy in spotting “gredients” during cooking to keep him occupied. Thankfully it only took 15 mins to prepare and then it went in the oven, during which time we could go back to cuddles!

  8. Absolutely beautifully-written and beautifully-thought-through post, Judith. You are a fantastic writer. Made all the more amazing by discovering by chance that you are DUTCH!! So am I, or half-Dutch. I also love what you are saying about education. I think we think along similar lines, and perhaps it is through that Dutch heritage of fairness, openness to languages and otherness, and gezelligheid. Fascinating to meet you virtually!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! Been snooping around and you seem to have two blogs, is that rght? I was attracted to your Mumsnet blog of the day post because of “Dutch Courage” – I was hoping you might in fact be Dutch. Delighted to discover that you are (well, half)! So are you the product of a bilingual, expat childhood then? I wonder how much Dutch my two will end up speaking, growing up here.

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