QSchool has been in full swing only a little while, but I’m tired of our daily routine already.
I pick up my children — now in the first and third grades — every day after work, but I don’t look forward to it because I often get short with them when we get home. They’re always raiding the refrigerator before dinner; I’m always hurrying them along so they’ll finish their homework, their baths and their stories, and then I’m impatient with them and with myself because I take so long to tuck them in at night.
Reading stories together is the one part of the evening that I do enjoy, but even that is getting difficult. It is harder and harder to find a book that the three of us can read out loud because my daughter now reads voraciously and my son is so focused on “Star Wars.”
Although I have a little time to myself after the children go to bed, I’m usually too tired to enjoy it. How can I bring back some pleasure — some joy! — to our evenings?
ALife can be a grind for grade school parents, and for middle school parents as well, but it doesn’t have to be.
Even Arsenic Hour — that wretched time between 5 and 7 — won’t be so painful if you make a few changes. Although you and your children are bound to be hungry at suppertime, you might need protein more than anything else, because it can raise your blood sugar, which often drops between lunch and dinner, and keep it elevated.
Your blood sugar won’t drop nearly as much if you eat some protein for your afternoon snack. You’ll find that a few ounces of nuts, a hard-boiled egg or some cubes of natural cheese — rather than processed cheese — will make all three of you feel better than a handful of cookies.
Things will also go more smoothly at home if you let your children eat some apple slices smeared with peanut butter while you’re putting dinner together or if you let them dip raw carrots and broccoli into hummus. This will give them another protein boost; encourage them to eat their fruits and vegetables, and keep them from grabbing food out of the refrigerator.
You also need to add some adventures to your weekday schedule, because your children are slowly changing every day — physically, mentally, emotionally and morally — and their activities should be changing, too. Choose them carefully, however, because children are more interesting if they have interesting things to do.
They might not enjoy Sandwich Night — no cooking allowed! — or a picnic in the back yard as much as you thought they would, but they’ll remember these activities fondly if you talk about them in advance. A child usually remembers an event as he thought it would be and not as it really was.
You might also take your children to an inexpensive ethnic restaurant every few weeks, but invite them to Italy or Thailand or Mexico instead of asking them out for pizza, pad Thai or tacos, and start talking about this meal a few days beforehand instead of at the last minute. This will give them time to find these countries on the globe and to hear a little about their history, their culture and even their language. A visit to a pizza parlor will be more fun if they can say “ciao” to the chef when they leave.
You also can add more zest to your week if you turn Friday night into Family Movie Night, but let the children take turns choosing the movie and let them each invite a friend to watch it with them. They can even throw some popcorn into a paper lunch bag, toss it into the microwave and add the salt and the butter themselves. The more you let your children fend for themselves, the happier and the more self-sufficient they’ll be.
Because you and your daughter enjoy books so much, they’ll probably enliven your time together more than anything else, but your son might need witty books, like “Mr. Zinger’s Hat” by prize-winning author Cary Fagan (Tundra; $18), to become a reader, or exciting ones, like “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson, from the library. Even though he will frequently stumble when he takes his turn, this book is still a great read-aloud, a fine adventure story and a well-drawn picture of life long ago. And if your son objects to it anyway? Just tell him that “Treasure Island” was the “Star Wars” of its day.
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Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns. Her next chat is scheduled for Sept. 20.