For years, I’ve read about the witching hour—this hard-to-otherwise-classify time of day when babies just can’t be satisfied. I never really fully understood it as, for the most part, my kids were pretty even-tempered babies. But now I have three, with age gaps spanning across just-discovered-eye-rolling, thinks-writing-on-walls-is-hilarious and must-empty-all-drawers-in-the-house. With more demanding schedules for all of us this year and added responsibilities, it translates to this: I get it—I thoroughly understand the witching hour.
First of all, there are two misconceptions about the witching hour that I feel it’s my duty to expose. A: it’s not an hour. It’s hours. And B: It has less to do with babies, and more to do with moms. They don’t call it witching hour for nothing. Because come 6:30 PM, I’m often one pant leg tug away from flying away on my broom. My point? 4-7 PM isn’t exactly my prettiest time of day. I rely on a lot of virtuous strategies to pull me through those hours so that I can end my day knowing I did my very best. And on the very worst, most hair-splitting days, the witching hour ends with what I like to call “Tag, You’re It.” It’s not the route I like to take, but sometimes it’s necessary. “Tag, You’re It” looks a little like a relay race—with myself poised to pass the baton—purse around shoulder, keys in hands, shoes on, standing in the hallway like Flo Jo before the gun blasts so that when my husband arrives, all I have to do is run to my car with—maybe, if I’m feeling good—a “They’re fed, have fun!”
In the meantime, this is how we do it. When we feel wonder hours slipping into witching ones, we pull out the survival strategies.
Tone It Down
When you feel energy levels escalating and you sense yourself getting agitated and stressed, balance out everything else by toning it down—the lights, the noise, anything in your outside environment that you can control. Dim the lights, light a few candles, turn off the T.V. and play relaxing music such as classical or soft dinner tunes. Pour a few drops of a calming scent such as lavender oil in a small saucepan with water and simmer it. Set up a quiet game for the kids or put out some coloring books and crayons. It’s amazing how quickly these outside stimulants can help you relax.
Release Pent Up Energy
Toning down the scene might not always work. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little crazy and one mess away from snapping, I actually let myself snap—appropriately. Kind of like a “controlled burn” initiated by forest rangers to keep the whole forest from going up in flames. In these instances, I crank up the tunes. Loud. Might I suggest “I Will Survive” or “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Go crazy. Surprise your kids. Grab a broom and use it as a microphone, slide across the tile in your socks and match your energy level with a bootie-shakin’ dance. Cut up colored paper and tell your kids to make it rain with confetti. Don’t bother cleaning up the mess. Sometimes, a mom’s just got to have fun.
Get a Babysitter for One Hour
Don’t save all of the babysitting budget for nights out. One hour of babysitting will cost you far less than a full night and it might save a lot more of your sanity. Check around your neighborhood to see if there are any young teens that might be too young with which to leave kids unattended but would be a great help to keep your kids occupied while you are home, like a Mother’s Helper. They are witching hour saviors! I’ve started doing this more, and in one hour, I’ve been able to quickly clean up the house, throw a load of laundry in, get dinner started and restore the day’s momentum while a sitter takes my kids outside or for a walk or plays with them in their room. It’s a win/win situation: the kids are happy, mama’s happy, and the sitter gets to make enough money to pay for her next movie night.
Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Put Three Kids in a Tub
Thankfully, my kids all love baths and will quickly snap out of a grumpy mood with a tub full of bubbles. Have a beanbag? Drag it into the bathroom and make a little seat for yourself next to the tub while your kids play in the water and you catch up on your latest read. Sure, it’s not the Canyon Ranch Spa. But it’s a great way to entertain your kids and simultaneously settle yourself down.
Go for a Drive
You don’t even need a destination. I’ve taken my kids on many early evening drives where my husband calls and asks where we’re going. “Nowhere,” I’ll answer. Everyone’s buckled in, no one can make a mess or run out of your sight, and with a good song on the radio and a decent view out the window, a 20-minute drive can be a great way to let off some steam.
Get Some Fresh Air
Being inside all day—especially while taking care of little ones—can make you feel like four walls are closing in on you, and you have nowhere to go. Fresh air is an instant mood lifter. Get the kids outside, go for a walk, let them ride trikes in the driveway, lay a blanket in the grass and invite them to come do puzzles or read books.
Lower Your Standards
My patience as a mother is definitely stretched when I’m also feeling pressure to get other things done—keep the house clean, have dinner ready, answer the e-mails. During those last hours on a challenging day when I’m barely hanging on, I have to remember to prioritize. Many times, that means letting go of that well-planned dinner or getting things cleaned up. “Just be happy and have fun with the kids,” I’ll tell myself. I’d much rather welcome my husband home with a smile and a mess and an announcement that pizza is on its way than having a stress meltdown in the middle of a spit-shined kitchen with dinner in the oven.
And when all else fails, remember…you’re not alone! There’s a giant community of moms facing those same hours much like you–just trying to make it to the finish line.
Grab your broom. Hold it high.