Tips for surviving the arsenic hours while parenting solo?

by DaniGirl on August 26, 2009 · 20 comments

in Mothering without a licence

Beloved is a college teacher, and so each semester we are at the mercy of the administrative sadists assistants who generate the school’s timetables. This year, they’ve got him teaching late three nights out of five, so from now through December on three nights a week I’ve got to cover the after-work through bedtime parenting shift on my own.

Not bad enough this comprises the making and serving and cleaning up of dinner, but also the supervising and checking of homework, the emptying of school backpacks and packing of lunches, the monitoring of school paperwork and communications, and the wrangling of Lucas the Menace. Plus all the other myriad chores that comprise the second shift after my day-job ends. Three nights a week. I have no idea how single parents do this all the time!

I’m not at my best during the arsenic hours in the best of circumstances. My body rhythms and brain functioning reach a peak somewhere around 10:00 am and then it’s just a long, slow descent toward bedtime from there. I’m at my lowest energy ebb between 4 pm and 7pm — right when the day gets the most intense.

I’ve gotten used to Beloved running interference with Lucas while I make dinner, so that’s where I’ll be missing him the most. Any thoughts on how to make these days run a little smoother? I don’t mind ordering takeout once a week or so, but I think three times a week is a little excessive. I can even task the big boys with some of the interference-running and some simple tasks like helping get things ready for dinner, but they’re like me — not really their shining selves in the grumbly hours between school and dinner.

The good news is that Beloved will at least make in home in time to help cover off the kids’ bedtimes. And I’ll be crawling blearily into my own bed about 10 minutes after they all go down!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mom on the Go August 26, 2009 at 7:56 am

When Ken was in Afghanistan, I put Reid in activities after school to limit the time we’d be at home – she is better behaved in public and then someone else was entertaining her, too. For example, we’d eat supper at the rec complex and then she’d go to her swimming lesson. Crock pot chili, pulled pork, etc. kept me sane, too, since I would prepare them in the morning when I still had energy. Most importantly, probably, I lowered my standards. And I have only the one.

Good luck!

2 Anonymous August 26, 2009 at 8:09 am

You should prepare your meals for the week on Sunday. Make something in your slow-cooker. As soon as you’re done with that quick throwing-together of ingredients, start preparing another meal, like soup or a big quinoa salad or whatever. Tuck these away in the fridge for later in the week. Also, don’t know if you have time/inclenation for this, but prepare big batches of stuff, say shepherds pie, and keep it in your freezer.

One of my ‘comfort’ meals from childhood is scrambled eggs, toast and pork and beans. My dad would make that for my sister and me on his nights alone with his girls. Now that I’m an adult, I can see why he liked it so much – super simple and fast, yet still healthy!

3 coffeewithjulie August 26, 2009 at 8:33 am

Yes, I am always in awe of single parents, precisely because of this time of the day. I don’t have a whole bag of solutions for you because I often find myself in the same boat. (The communications from school alone are often enough to keep me occupied until bedtime!)

I do what Anonymous suggests — scrambled eggs, egg-in-the-whole, pasta, and slow-cooker chilli — easy meals that are not filling enough for my hubby, but work well for just me and the kids. As for wrangling, I usually do one of two things: toddler into high chair with some kind of toy or little snack, like piece of veggies as I’m cutting them up for dinner; or two: toddler in television room watching Baby Einstein, which keeps him remarkable still. But then there is always the third thing that I sometimes do, and that’s simply letting him tear around the house and making an enormous mess.

My neighbour also gave me this tip last night: Her boys unload their backpacks and keep the mudroom tidy each day after school to earn their allowance.

Good luck with this semester!

4 Jen August 26, 2009 at 9:05 am

Baked potatoes make dinner really easy on nights when I have to juggle stuff. And now my kids are a little bigger, showers rather than a bath,seem less daunting to me when my husband’s not around to help wrangle.

5 Lynn August 26, 2009 at 9:09 am

You have my complete sympathy! Three nights a week is crazy. Right now I do the dinner/bath/bedtime routine myself twice a week and it is so exhausting. I’d recommend leaving all the post-dinner cleanup until after the kids are in bed (and maybe for your husband, when he gets home!),

6 liz August 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

Cook and freeze meals on the weekends. Seriously, this helps enormously and making 4 pans of lasagne takes about as much time as making one. Get kids into PJs before dinner. Have a homework station set up near or in the kitchen so that you can supervise while doing your dinner prep. Get a workbook or stickerbook so that Lucas can do “homework” too!

7 Cath August 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

We’ve also used Supperworks to help take the pressure off some of these kinds of days — there’s one in both Kanata and Orleans.

8 Julie August 26, 2009 at 10:36 am

Slow cooker meals, prepping other meals ahead of time (chopping etc.). For those nights that you are solo, choose meals that take less than 30 minutes to complete. I use the Kraft Canada website, and Sandi Richard’s Cooking for the Rushed cookbooks. If you use Sandi’s stuff, look for the red and yellow labelled recipes. You have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. All take less than 20 minutes of prep time. The green and blue ones are prep and then bake and dinner is on the table in 60 minutes. Best thing to keep me organized in the evening. I’m just like you in which I have the least amount of energy from 4-7.

9 liz August 26, 2009 at 10:40 am

My Cooking With Emergency Rations post has a recipe for a meal that takes 20 minutes to prep. Pop the dish under the broiler for a quicker browned top. Use jarred chopped garlic and dried minced onion to be even faster.

10 liz August 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

Also, add a bit of madeira for more flavor.

11 Amber August 26, 2009 at 11:13 am

Cooking ahead is good. So is getting out of the house to the park or whatever as much as possible (while the weather holds).

The other thing I’ve found helpful is letting go of my expectations about how things ‘should’ be. It sounds simple and kind of woo woo, but it really works. Often when my husband is out I waste a lot of energy being sort of angry that I’m doing this all by myself. I’m grumpy, the kids are grumpy, and it makes the situation so much worse. If I can just roll with it and not expect to accomplish much, I’m happier for it.

Good luck!

12 Annika August 26, 2009 at 11:45 am

1. Hire a “mother’s helper” (mature 12 or 13-year-old who wants babysitting experience and doesn’t charge too much) to help you one or two of those nights a week, even just for an hour at a time.

2. Take-out or eat-out should be mandatory for one of those three nights!

3. Enlist the support of your amazing parents for one of the nights.

4. Make a few meals ahead or crock-pot-it…= lower stress and a ready-made, healthy meal.

5. After dinner, take the boys to the park. Good decompression for all of you.

6. I don’t know how it works for the older kids in your house, but at my house we stagger baths for the under-three set…if you make one or two of those nights sans hubby a “non-bath” night, the bedtime routine is even more of a breeze.

7. Drink an extra glass of cold water at 4 p.m. and see the benefits…so much of that end of the afternoon coma is the result of too much caffeine/not enough water throughout the work day.

Have fun!

13 Chantal August 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I fly solo two evenings a week (hubby gets home around 8pm) and I have to admit I have lots of ideas on how to make it work and I don’t do many of them. And when baby 3 comes along I anticipate some CRAZY!! Especially with homework (ugh homework!)

Cook meals ahead of time (I should, but rarely do. I am actually looking foward to the colder weather if only so that I can have more crock pot meals).

Don’t bother with after supper clean up till spouse is home (honestly, I almost rather do the clean up myself because after cooking/entertaining my two for those 3 hours I say, let hubby play with them. I need a break, and if that break involves loading the dish washer, then so be it)

Lowered expectations (don’t you just hear the SNL song now) in regards to supper. We do a sandwich night, breakfast for supper, stuff like that. Easy to make and to clean up.

Get kids to help… Ya well, I need to work on that one.

14 Ingrid August 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Having been a single parent, and having a husband who works shift work and often is not home during this time, I have some suggestions, along with the excellent ones that were already made.
1. As others have said – make meals before hand! When i was taking a course once, my kids were 4 and 6, and i left the house at 6 am and got home at 6 pm. We’d eat supper and right awat I would cook for the next night. But if you made the meals on the weekend, you’d be better off.
2. Get Tristan and Simon to help with chores. We would have “laundry folding parties” – it gave us a chance to spend together and the kids helped out a little. Certainly T+S could empty their backpacks, help make lunches ( simple stuff), and do some of the simpler things like set and clear the table. Kids this age love to be useful.
3. Clean up later – who really cares if it waits a few hours?
4. find a TV show that is on at this time; i used to use Sesame Street ( when it was on) to get 30 mins to prepare supper in peace and quiet.
5. I think you get home from work fairly early ( because you start at the crack of dawn) – do as much as you can to prepare ahead between the time you arrive at home and chaos starts.
6. send the kids outside to play in the backyard if they are safe and you can keep an eye on them.
7. keep it in perspective – this is only for ??16?? weeks. Then next semester will be a different schedule.
8. Have confidence in yourself. I know you are a strong woman and you will be able to cope with it. Sometimes it is the fear of the unknown but i know you will do a great job!

15 DaniGirl August 26, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Oh my goodness, what a lot of excellent solutions! But seriously, not a single invitation over for dinner? Sheesh!! At the very least, you could offer to come over and clean up afterwards for us…


16 colleen August 26, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Paper plates a couple times a week would cut down on clean-up…not environmentally correct but it is only for a short time. I love my slow cooker and would share recipes if you want. Other than that OMG, I am happy it isn’t me!

17 chichimama August 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I fly solo most nights, and have learned to love love love my crockpot. Also, I make meals ahead and then freeze them. Lasagna, chili, and chicken dishes that don’t involve dairy all freeze really well.

I generally empty the backpacks as soon as they come home, and make each kid in charge of emptying their own lunch box and wiping it out. I either make the lunches once they are in bed, or first thing in the am before they are up. Can’t help with the wranging Lucas factor as my kids were so close in age that I never really had to deal with homework for one child when the other wasn’t capable of doing their own “mommy homework.”

Good luck, but you will be amazed at how quickly you fall into a routine!!!

18 Judy August 26, 2009 at 8:46 pm

So many good suggestions! I use ym slow cooker alot, as I don’t leave work until 6:30pm at the earliest and some days don’t get home until 7:30pm. The slow cooker ensures someone is eating dinner on time.

You could have dinner parties with friends you know well or live nearby. On nights you host, you can do chili, or something quick and easy like pancakes for dinner. When my mom was rushed we often had breakfast for dinner. There are days now when we have breakfast for dinner. It might seem like a bit more work, but also means one night off.

We often make mini crustless quiches which freeze well, taste great, are popular with kids and can be paired with something easy like veggies or salad.

It sounds like a lot of pre-planning.

19 Shan August 26, 2009 at 10:29 pm

It varies wildly how often I have to go it alone. This week is a bad week — four nights! Eeek. I like to have at least a loose meal plan for the week and I keep the meals simple – pancakes, sandwiches, quesadillas, something easy on the barbecue. My seven year old helps out with setting the table for dinner and we usually move right into homework from dinner. My oldest is usually finished dinner before the rest of us, so she’ll start her homework while the little one and I finish our dinner.

20 Tracey August 27, 2009 at 7:43 am

Promise yourself a glass or red wine when it’s all over. Works for me!

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