Ugh. Afternoons. Throughout every stage of my life I dragged myself mindlessly through the hours from three ’til six. It would be great if I lived in a culture that took siestas. I think I’d be better at life. But as it stands, the afternoon slump hits just as my kids are getting home from school and I want to be present for and with them.
Last winter, my family spent some time talking and reflecting about what we’d like the afternoon and evening hours to feel like and how to make that happen. We definitely don’t do every single one of these things each day, but it did help us to have a clearer idea of our priorities. In general, giving some thought to our afternoon rituals made a big difference for us feeling grounded and connected to one another at that point in the day when we’re reunited at home. Here’s what’s worked for us:
Reconnect –I realized that I wanted to make reconnection after separation a priority, but it took some trial and error to figure out what that would look like. I was tired, the kids were tired. I’d try to make conversation and get crickets. I know some kids are chomping at the bit to talk and share with their parents, but mine were not. I tried giving them some space, but (maybe because of their ages) that often devolved into complaining, fighting, or asking for screens.
At least for now, they need some guidance to reintegrate into home life after a day away.As soon as we’re home, instead of going off in different directions, we do something together. My favorite activity is to take a walk around the block. There are some days that the prospect of a walk feels like actual torture, but those are the days that I know it will make the most difference. Without fail, fresh air revitalizes us and helps me in particular look less like the woman from The Ring. I don’t ask a lot of questions. We just walk. But soon tidbits of their days emerge and we come home feeling more peaceful and present than we were before. If a walk doesn’t work out for whatever reason, we still spend time doing a quiet activity together. Reading aloud, a puzzle, or a board game are some of the boys’ favorite things to do.
Time Outdoors – At some point before dinner, the boys have to play outside for 20 minutes. We make exceptions if it’s dangerously cold or storming, but we really try to have them do this each day. There is a growing body of research that indicates free play, specifically outdoors, has a host of benefits for children’s mind and body. I don’t usually play outside with the kids during this time, but I almost always take a few minutes outside for myself. Sometimes that means pulling the trash and recycling bins from the curb to garage, but even two minutes of fresh air is better than no fresh air at all.
Jobs – After we’re all settled the boys have to do their afternoon jobs. These are so simple, and only take a few minutes, but skipping this step always leads to a little bit of future (usually next-morning) chaos. Their jobs:
- wash hands
- empty lunch/snack containers and put them away in the kitchen
- go through the papers in their folder with a parent
- do homework
- put folders in their book bags
- place book bags and anything else needed for the next day in their bin
- pick out clothing for the next day – even (especially!) socks and underwear
Homework – When our oldest was in kindergarten and first grade, he’d eat a snack and start homework as soon as he got home from school. It seemed to make sense to get it out of the way and he never really complained about it. Then, in second grade, his teacher had a little-to-no homework policy. That really gave us the freedom to step back and notice if doing homework first made sense.
What we found was that it was better to start homework at a specific time (usually 4:30), but not immediately when he got home. He did better work and seemed more open to actually absorbing information than rushing through to simply check off a to-do item. This isn’t anything new, but having a designated “homework spot” has also been really helpful. A few fun school supplies make this time more appealing to kids, along with a snack, and some chill background music on Pandora or Spotify.
Invigorate – By late afternoon, my mind might still be active, but my body has been left behind. Sometimes I feel physically heavier and I need to get my game face on to finish the day. If I’m still bleary eyed after a walk, I know I need to call in the big guns. I put some peppermint oil in the diffuser, wash my face with peppermint soap, and finish with a few splashes of cold water. Then I swish some minty mouthwash, so I’m tingling from the inside out. I finish by tapping my temples and neck with something tingling and topical, like this product from Origins.
By the time the kids have finished doing these things, they’re allowed to use screens for a bit, but they’re less likely even to ask. They’ve been reminded of the nature, people, and activities that are around them, and are more inclined to stay with those healthier alternatives longer. Even on the days when they do end up watching a show or playing Minecraft, they’ve arrived there in an intentional way. That feels like a win.
I hope you’ve found something in this post to be useful! What do you do to help your afternoons and evenings go smoothly?