Back in my pre-child days, when I lived and worked in London I tossed around the phrase “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” with both joy and longing. I couldn’t wait for 5 o’clock. It was a magic hour in my working day.
Now that I’ve been blessed with Annie , 5 o’clock still comes every day, but I no longer eagerly await it. When Annie was tiny I literally feared this time of day. I dreaded it like a necessary root canal. As a single parent (and of course a new mum) I found it the loneliest part of the day, and the most overwhelming. Things have improved since then but this time of day still doesn’t fill me with joy the way it used to.
Universal Parenting Truth
I don’t know why, but it is a universal parenting truth that children lose their minds around 5pm. The term “ witching hour” exists for good reason. For some toddlers, it strikes earlier, say around 4pm. For the excellently behaved children, maybe a little later, say 6pm, but the witching hour pretty much seems to strike everyone regularly, daily for most.
Children know when you’re weak– they’re like dogs that can smell fear. All parents are weak around 5 PM and that is when the children go insane. They’ve got you on the ropes and they know it.
Not even screen time can save me
This is usually the time when I’m tired and emotionally weak; Here, please have all the Netflix. And the ipads. And the iphone. Invariably, this is also very often the one part of the day where Annie refuses to be occupied by any of this technology and simply wants mummy to play. Play in the garden mummy. Play in my bedroom mummy. Play here mummy. Play there mummy. Play play play. This is wonderful, of course, and I love spending quality time with her, but when you’re trying to cook dinner and you’re under time constraints, it’s not always easy.
Here are just a few of the insane activities that have occurred in our house during the witching hour (and I’m sure happen in households across the globe).
Scenario 1: Annie strips completely naked and wants to parade herself in the back garden. Maybe it’s because she’s been cooped up at nursery all day, and wants to feel liberal and free! Maybe she’s been spending too much time with her hippy granddad. Either way anyone visiting our house at this time can expect a full-frontal visual assault.
Scenario 2: Annie manages to destroy an entire living room in the two minutes or so it took me to get fish fingers from the freezer and into the oven. I return to the room to find cushions thrown carelessly around the room, games scattered across the floor, juice spilt all over the rug etc.
Attempts to Mitigate the Witching Hour: Failure
Sometimes, to (foolishly attempt to) alleviate a little of the stress on me during witching hour/dinner prep, I’ll ask family members to talk to her on the phone or FaceTime. Simply as an attempt to distract her or entertain her for a few minutes. But funnily enough for a child who is seemingly chatty and NEVER SHUTS UP she does a good impression of a mute when she’s faced with a phone conversation of any sort.
Sometimes, I shake things up and take her out after nursery for tea and arrange a play date with some of her little friends. But she still brings all kinds of crazy to the table, just like at home, but this time we’re in public/company. If it’s possible she becomes wilder because she’s broken out of the routine and she can’t contain her excitement. It’s all fun and games until it’s home time and then it’s like the world is ending. It’s perfectly normal to drag your child screaming from the play area isn’t it?
If Satan has a number one tool for tormenting parents, especially parents of young children, it is most certainly the dinner hour. You no sooner survive it one night only to start the relentless 23 hour and 59 minute countdown to the next round. Very few things fill me with dread like the knowledge that that dinner hour is approaching. I’d like to crawl into a corner and rock myself back and forth while saying soothing mantras, but too much of that is liable to end up in a call to Social Services.
I’m not sure what mealtimes are like in other people’s households but for me it’s an endless cycle of force-feeding Annie a dinner she hates.
I’ve never liked cooking but my favourite meals now (for Annie at least) are anything that can be prepped far in advance or can be thrown in the oven with no preparation time whatsoever. Say what you want, judge me if you like, but how can cooking be enjoyable (or even possible?!) when one has a clingy toddler attached to one’s leg crying and shouting “biscuit, biscuit, BISCUIT”.
Let’s be realistic. Whatever I cook, Annie will be sure to hate it. There’s a universal law of child dinners: the more effort you put into preparing the meal, the greater the odds that they hate it. Whip up something truly divine and you’ve pretty much assured they won’t even taste it, declaring the meal a failure once it enters their line of sight. Better to have this type of reception for cheap and easy I say.
Live it, learn it, survive it.
In conclusion, you can probably work out from the above 5pm isn’t my favourite time of day. I’m not sure what age witching hour stops being a thing but we’re not quite there yet. But we learn from it and we get better at surviving it. And that’s all you can do.
Pampers do a 5 ways to help you get through witching hour – even though these tips are for babies, they still work for toddlers too!
To give this blog the balance it needs it’s worth pointing out that every hour with Annie is a blessing; even the daily hell that is 5pm. Ha!