We’ve all been there. It starts with the blissful moment of reuniting at school after being apart for the day. Hugs, smiles, news to share; and yet, the minute you get home it all seems to fall apart. No matter how much I psyched myself up for the afternoons, many days I wondered if we had some sort of toxin in the house that infused my kids with crankiness upon arriving home. Over the years working with families, I heard this same story over and over. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one.
Misery loves company, but really, I was beginning to dread this time of day. It was time for a change. And, the solution to this problem strikingly simple: we needed to change the way we came home.
Drum roll please …
First thing upon arriving home from the school and work day, spend 15 minutes of uninterrupted time connecting with your children. Leave your phone in the other room, and let your children direct the play. It will change your entire evening.
Why it works
Much like the mismatch of needs that can happen at bedtime, often our goals upon arriving home are much different from those of our children. They have been looking forward to seeing you after being separated, and they want your attention. They want to share their day with you, they want to play, and they want your full, undivided attention.
What about our goals at that time of day? Once you cross the threshold, you are a parent on a mission. Mail needs to be opened, homework needs to be done … laundry … dinner … the list goes on and on. You barely get started on your first task and your children have already requested an entire list of things. The next few hours become a series of requests from the kids, us telling them to "wait a second," us getting distracted in the next task, and by dinnertime, there have been several meltdowns, including some of your own.
Sound familiar? They want all of you, you are trying to accomplish all of the tasks that need to happen so that you can eat, sleep, rinse and repeat. Match made in heaven? I think not.
Our kids have been separated from us all day and all they want is us.
The results are in
Within days of shifting the way we came home, afternoons begin to look much brighter to me. I found out that when children get what they need, even in small doses, they are actually quite sane little people. I don’t mean their "needs" for ice cream, video games and you as their personal butler. I am talking about the need to connect.
At the heart of it, we all need to know we belong, we matter, and our presence is worth noticing. What’s interesting, is we don’t need a whole lot of it. We just need a little bit to settle in and transition from the outside world of chaos to the safety of home and family. Our kids have been separated from us all day and all they want is us. It’s pretty flattering, given how much we mess up with this whole parenting thing.
I have shared this strategy with many of the families I have worked with, and all have found the same result. Spend 15 minutes really being present, really being engaged with your child and I promise, you will be amazed at how easily you can sail through your own tasks. The real benefit is not just an easier time getting your stuff done, but a happier, more connected family.
We know change is hard, but the very best way we can teach our children to try something new is to model it ourselves. As we transition into school routines again, why not take the opportunity to shift the afternoon disaster to afternoon delight? I challenge you to try it out for one week.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2015, and updated in September 2022.