life Parenting

Evenings Revisited

November 19, 2020

I am inspired by Laura to write a post on the state of our evenings.

Lest anyone think that my relative calm/okay state recently means that I have this whole parenting thing figured out . . . well, I will share our current successes & struggles.


Sometimes the kids will play independently for quite some time! Their most common group games: obstacle course, “puppies”, pirates, etc. While they are doing this, I find that it is actually best if I completely ignore everyone and read. Which is fine with me.

G sometimes likes to bring me a book and read with me, even before we go upstairs. Love this.

A often draws or writes out elaborate lists. She continues to reassure me that once 2021 starts, she will be highly motivated to fill each pages of her Hobonichi.

Brushing teeth / etc is not nearly as bad as it once was, mostly because the big kids brush their own teeth. Do they do perfect jobs? Probably not. Do they floss? Admittedly no (but neither did I until I was approximately 38 years old). It seems reasonably good enough.

whatever this game was . . . it was messy


Every so often, the group play is punctuated by . . . violence. Sigh. And then I have to intervene, and sometimes there is yelling. And I hate it! I know it’s normal, but the large age gap between G & the others makes it particularly searing when I hear her cry, especially if it’s from getting (mildly) hurt due to big kid shenanigans.

The portion of the night just before everyone goes to bed? NOT WORKING WELL, esp ever since G went on her sleeping strike. Last night A threw a tantrum about a book I wanted to read to all 3 of them (refusing to listen to even one chapter or for 5 minutes) and I ended up having to take away the entire weekend’s worth of iPad time. Which is partly a punishment for me, but oh well.

I love Laura’s suggestions, but in practice I DON’T WANT TO DO ANYTHING with the kids at night. I don’t have that much energy left at the end of the work day. I wish I did, but I honestly don’t want to take a walk with all 3 at that time (even though our weather is finally getting nice!), and it’s hard to think of projects that will involve ages almost 3-8.

FaceTime is nice and I often call my parents or sister on the weekends, but for whatever reason it tends to make the kids act out more (I guess because they are not getting my full attention). Maybe I need to be more structured with it like — give each kids 10 minutes to FT separate with grandparents.

I do love the suggestion of a weekly night off but . . . I need some help with that one (which I do get on occasion, but not as a standing thing!). A significant portion of my evenings are spent solo, even if it’s not the entire time. Our nanny leaves at 5:45 or 6. The kids go to sleep around 8:30-9. Some (great!) nights Josh comes home around 7, other nights it’s more like 8:30, and other nights it’s after I’m asleep.

Ideas are welcome.

Or just tell me that it will naturally get easier in a year or two. Please.


  • Reply Clarr November 19, 2020 at 6:40 am

    2 kids 4 and 8. They fight constantly. They just can’t be left alone for 5 minutes. Night times are completely draining. Only solution I have found is excessive amounts of YouTube.

  • Reply Amy November 19, 2020 at 7:08 am

    Hi Sarah, I can certainly relate to the “spaz made” that my kids get into many evenings. We’ve settled into a pretty firm routine at this point and maybe you’ll find our approach helpful? (My kids are 6 and 8, close in age to your big kids — we don’t have a toddler to contend with [yet] but that’s coming soon 😬)

    I let them watch tv / play Minecraft while I eat dinner. We usually eat around 6:30 or so. My kids take forever to eat dinner so we usually finish around 7. If we finish early enough they both take showers.

    7:15 we start a read-aloud — right now it’s Harry Potter but we’ve read lots of others. They draw, play with legos, watch the fish tank etc while I read. I have found that a consistent read-aloud calms and focuses them and they’re not nearly so wild. Without that, they definitely tend to get wound up before bedtime. A solid 30-45 minutes of reading has been a game-changer for us. I’m sure having a toddler complicates this, but maybe she could play with play-doh or something similarly tactile and absorbing while you read?

    After I read, we start bedtime at no later than 8:00. Usually it’s 7:45. I have no issues with putting my kids to bed early and have always prioritized sleep for them. What time do your kids start getting ready for bed? Sometimes my son is up until 9 because he has a hard time falling asleep, but their lights are always out by 8:30. In your case I would suggest moving bedtime (lights out) up by at least half an hour, for your sake as much as theirs. Try and find a quiet, calming, consistent activity that serves as a bridge between day and night — art, reading, etc. Something absorbing for everyone.

    Lastly, I mean, tantrums are going to happen. Sometimes my kids are randomly grumpy. If that’s the case, fine, be grumpy, don’t take it out on the rest of us, go be grumpy on your own somewhere while I read this book to your siblings. The single best piece of parenting advice I have ever gotten is that as the parent, we should be the thermostat in the room, not the thermometer. And I think to an extent you might just need to dig a little deeper in the evenings and try to enjoy your time with them. (I’m sorry if that sounds harsh because I TOTALLY know where you’re coming from and I don’t meet to be like, suck it up! But changing my mindset here has changed everything for me.)

    • Reply Rachel November 19, 2020 at 7:19 am

      Love that quote Amy. I have a 3 and 1 year old and really need that these days. Also helping me see that there will be overlap of things they can do together in a few years!

      • Reply Amy November 19, 2020 at 11:58 am

        Omg Rachel it gets so much better. 1 and 3 is truly the most demanding stage. Hang in there!!

    • Reply Amy November 19, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      That should be while I MAKE dinner — we eat all together around 6:30. I keep trying to move that earlier but can’t seem to make it happen!

  • Reply Gillian November 19, 2020 at 7:10 am

    It will definitely get easier! My youngest is almost 5 and our evenings have really gotten easier in the last year. Now that your kids are back in school could you shift your nanny back to a later schedule? I know you may feel bad constantly switching things around, but these are unusual times and she seems great and would likely understand the need to be a bit flexible during this time. With your age split and extra adult would go a LONG way.

  • Reply Anna H. November 19, 2020 at 7:17 am

    Of course it will get better! In five years you’ll be wanting them around ;-). What about board-games? Juniorversions of grown up games (monpoly) are fun (i think so) and short enough for C to be interesting. And i think G would enjoy just hanging out with you while playing the game. And the evening off? I would say Josh could be asked to make this work… otherwise: throw money at the problem (extra childcare).

    • Reply Amy November 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm

      Board games is a GREAT idea. My kids love Uno in particular, and it’s a good opportunity for them to practice both winning and losing graciously.

  • Reply gwinne November 19, 2020 at 7:43 am

    From my perspective the age gap between your kids isn’t that large. Can you aim for activities targeted to G and C that A will tolerate? I’m trying to think about things we did when Tiny Boy was ~3 and LG was 11. Parks, walks, family dance parties, movie nights. We probably started board games (of the Candy Land sort) around age 4?

    It DOES get easier as they become more independent.

  • Reply Rachel November 19, 2020 at 7:46 am

    I have no good advice because I have a 3 and 1 year old and think you’re doing amazing with all that you are balancing. I do understand the pain of the “threenager” though. Love your honesty and appreciate you sharing with us!

  • Reply omdg November 19, 2020 at 8:54 am

    So fascinating. I’m finding a mental block about what the evenings were like when Dyl was three. I think that’s because I was an intern at the time, and my husband took care of all of this because I was always either at the hospital or sleeping.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns November 19, 2020 at 9:06 am

    We just have 1 kid right now so our evenings are fairly manageable, but it’s definitely NOT my favorite part of the day. He’s just over 2.5 and really into the boundary pushing phase which can be very challenging, especially right now when my patience isn’t plentiful between the late stages of pregnancy and dealing with a lot of painful RA flares. We have dinner around 5:30-6 and then he gets a bath 2-3 xs/week – on the low side, I know, but in the cold months it feels less necessary and he’s prone to eczema. In the summer/sunscreen season, he gets a bath every night. I do bath/pjs/teeth brushing and then my husband does bedtime. We watch Wheel of Fortune as a family every night – he loves the show and it’s helped w/ letter recognition. I typically read at least 4 books w/ him, sometimes more, while the show is on and then he goes upstairs with my husband at 7 and gets 4 books upstairs.

    That 6-7 pm hour can be rough, though. He doesn’t always play well and can be kind of hyper/wants to jump on the couch/doesn’t listen. But he’s in bed by 7:30 and then we have the rest of our night to ourselves so I feel like we are pretty lucky. This will all change with #2 comes along in December, though!

  • Reply Susannah Williams November 19, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Thank you for being honest here about what is hard. Also that your kids don’t floss. I have been a parent for 11 freaking years and my kids still hate brushing their teeth! I hear you on age differences being tough. It is impossible for me to do something like play a board game with my two older sons if my two little ones are around. My oldest is 11 and has become increasingly more interested in going off by himself (a huge shift from his younger years) which makes it easier to manage everyone, but I don’t feel that my time when I am with all 4 is ever “quality” time, at least not how I define it. I have to intentionally set time with each or with only two for it to feel like quality time.

  • Reply Nicole Vinson November 19, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Blanket forts just popped into my mind and I had to share.

    Love the blog and the podcasts. Long time Laura fan that has crossed over to checking in on you daily!

  • Reply Elizabeth November 19, 2020 at 10:08 am

    No advice, just solidarity. By evening I am exhausted and not interested in active play with the kids. But they often fight if/when playing alone, sustaining minor injuries. It’s frustrating and I don’t want to deal with it.

    Maybe on nights when play has devolved, they each have to entertain themselves independently? Alone in their rooms or one in a room, another in the play area? Separating can work wonders.

  • Reply KGC November 19, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Two suggestions (not specific to weeknights, but could be used at that time): 1) Together and 2) Kiwi crates.

    Together is an app that allows video calling (iphone or ipad) between your kids and someone else – we use it with grandparents – and to then play games, read books, or work on activities together. My son (4.5) loves playing checkers and chess with his grandparents, coloring together, etc. Both parties can see the other so it’s sort of like FaceTime but because there’s a built-in activity, perhaps it’ll hold their attention? I tend to use it in the evenings when I’m trying to get dinner together and entertain a 4.5 and 1.5 year old. I know it’s another screen but somehow it’s…different than other stuff to me? And a good opportunity for bonding with grandparents that we aren’t seeing in person. Both my kids like it.

    Kiwi Crates (I think I have mayyyybe heard them as a BOBW sponsor?) are monthly activity boxes that show up in the mail. The younger age (Koala Crates) come with 3 projects and the older ones come with 1. I don’t know if this would work with your span of ages for the kiddos, but my older son LOVES them. Because A can read, I bet she could help G do the projects in the Koala crates – and some of them end up being games that all three could play after they are put together. I saw that another commenter suggested pre-readied arts and crafts – which I also think is a good idea – but these crates require literally no prep from you. The downside is that they are monthly (so won’t solve your problem daily) but I find that my kids play with what they create for a while after so…maybe you’d get a few days or a week out of one kit.

    Good luck!

    • Reply Erika November 19, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      This app sounds amazing! Thank you for the recommendation.

      • Reply KGC November 19, 2020 at 12:22 pm

        It is so great! I think the first 10 calls are free, and then I paid something like $25 for 6 months of unlimited calls. We will absolutely renew. I will say that the app itself is sort of mediocre in reliability – the video freezes or the app crashes something like 25% of the time – but just hanging up and calling again solves the issue. They add new games and activities every so often, as well as new books. Highly recommend!

  • Reply CNM November 19, 2020 at 11:17 am

    2 kids, aged 8 and 20 months. I will say that for my older kid, it took TWO YEARS for him to be able to complete his evening routine more-or-less independently. He has a list posted of what needs to be done which as evolved over time. It was initially just brush teeth and PJs, but now includes checking the dog’s water dish, flossing, putting clothes out for tomorrow, making sure dirty laundry is in his hamper, charging his quasi-smart watch, and cleaning off school desk for tomorrow (he’s 100% remote). We have a similar list for morning routine.

    The 20 month old of course does not do anything herself, but we are consistent getting the process started about 8 with getting her to bed around 8:30. I am often in charge of the putting to bed process (or at least stating it) due to my spouse’s frequent late hours. How I do it is tell the 8 year old to do his evening routine as I go into the baby’s room to put her down (8:30). When I emerge at 9, I make sure the 8 year old has done his routine (and help/remind as needed) and, if so, he has free time until lights out at 9:30. Having the “carrot” of free time, which includes listening to podcasts or watching TV within reason makes him more motivated to get the routine completed quickly.

    If it’s the post-dinner, pre-bed time that is difficult to manage, we usually try and be as chill and uninvolved as possible. 8 year old might finish homework or read or possibly play with his little sister. 20 mo. old will hang out with the grown ups while the dinner is cleaned up. Then we go for a walk if the weather is nice, or watch TV together, or read together. This means that we pick a show that is palatable for everyone, including me and my spouse (so, no Paw Patrol), which means it’s often something like a nature or science show. So, I guess that what I’m getting at is, at the end of the day we are all tired and we just want to coast to bed time in the least trying way possible. And I agree that a zoom call involving the kids on a weeknight never works out well– it goes too long and 8 y.o. usually goes bonkers.

  • Reply A. November 19, 2020 at 11:59 am

    I only have a son, 4 and a half, he spins so much during the day with school projects and outdoors activities (at school and at home) that at 7h30 he is asleep. I realise how lucky we are, but he has a LOT of energy when he is awake that I suppose he needs it. He sleeps until 7am the next day. But our evenings begin at 4 (end of school) with outdoor activity, early dinner 5h30 with 30 min of tv. I dim the lights after dinner and it is play time for 30 (Lego), reading time for 30 and sleep routine. It always worked for us that way.

  • Reply Erika November 19, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Great topic and I love seeing others’ suggestions. I’m chiming in with 2 things that are working for us: (1) I find that your idea of separating out the kids for FT with grandparents or cousins works well. My older two are 6 and 4 and they do MUCH better with this when they are solo, and it helps if the party on the other end of the FT works to keep their attention. My mother plays a lot of games or will do coloring projects with the kids…she sends me a blank page and prints the same one for herself and they collaborate on coloring. I use Zoom and set this up on an iPad so they aren’t managing holding a device, which seems to help with their attention span. (2) My older two will play fairly nicely together if I am not present and so I sometimes take my younger one (16mo…such a hard age for me) to play with the tupperware or do whatever entertains her and let the older ones be. Later, I put the toddler to bed first and if the older kids get ready for bed without a fuss we have 20-30min to read a book together. FINALLY I got them into Harry Potter with the illustrated version.

  • Reply Nikki November 19, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Solidarity post! Daughters age 2.5 and 4.5. Bedtime is rough for the 2.5 year old (3 in two months), she really just doesn’t want the day to end and/or is just overtired/dysregulated – she does preschool for 6 hours and then another 2 hours at the park with our nanny, so her days are busy and full. I try to get us all upstairs to their room as early as possible so there’s plenty of time to work through all the various bedtime struggles. It’s hard though, I’m also a morning person and quite pregnant so I’m eager to get them settled so I can go to bed too. My 4.5 year old is super chill about bedtime now, so that’s a good reminder that it gets better. I look forward to a day when bedtime is a nice and cozy time for all! We just got an amazon alexa for kids (literally it arrived last night!) with the plan to experiment with some of the bedtime features to see if there’s a story or music or some other feature (although we already do lullabies on their Hatch lamp) that will be interesting enough to help the little one feel more calm about climbing into bed and relaxing. We also bought her some sensory compression sheets (Amazon has them, inexpensive) that have actually helped because she used to get really mad and frustrated with her sheets. Always trying to figure out why she’s doing something and if there’s a creative way to address it or eliminate even one small part of the problem. But I usually end the night grumpy these days even if I start the routine with all the best intentions and having fun, alas! Will be following along this thread to see what others suggest!

  • Reply Erica November 19, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    My kids are younger (7 months and 3) but my main objective after 4 pm is to keep the little one from getting trampled by the big one. Harder than it sounds.

    Art and sensory activities work really well for hyper/tired preschoolers, and usually leave me enough bandwidth to watch the baby too. Also, 3 year olds are usually willing to “help” with any adult activity. Probably this isn’t true for older kids… But maybe if you keep G with you the others can play together / alone for longer? Please don’t destroy my dream that children eventually become self-entertaining…

  • Reply Meghan November 19, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    It will get easier! My boys are now 9 and 12, and it’s been pretty smooth sailing for awhile now. To be honest, after dinner now I hardly ever see them. I can actually sit and watch my own shows. They’re off playing video games with friends and chatting on FaceTime. Of course then the guilt comes in and I feel like I should be making them play board games with me or something. I did have quite a few months of nighttime marathon movie watching with my oldest throughout the summer, though (Marvel, Star Wars), so maybe I shouldn’t feel too guilty. I did NOT enjoy the baby and toddler years. I always felt stressed after getting home from the daycare pickup at 6:00. I really empathize with all the moms of littles that are home now during the pandemic. So I’m not sure I have any advice other than to hang in there. I know it’s such a cliche, but sometimes I panic about how soon my 12 year old will be out of the house. Feels like time is speeding up.

  • Reply Alyce November 19, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    My dad always says if you can’t change what’s happening, you can always change your perspective. My toddler has fairly serious health issues – she has a 20% chance of dying before adulthood from SUDEP, an epilepsy equivalent of SIDS. It has totally changed my parenting experience. Knowing that she may die unexpectedly one day, and sooner rather than later, eliminates 98% of my perceived hardships of parenting a small child, including her bedtime routine, which can occasionally run 3+ hours. I also don’t want to play with my tired and cranky but not willing to sleep toddler at the end of the workday. So I started putting my pajamas on at 6 and climbing into my bed and snuggling and looking at picture books together. Sometimes I read my own book, while she looks at her books. And we just hang out until she finally gets tired, at which point I move her to her crib just before she falls asleep. It’s my favorite time of day, even when it takes far more hours than I want to dedicate to it. So it’s a super macabre perspective, but weirdly, it has helped me tremendously to not sweat the day to day difficulties.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 20, 2020 at 11:37 am

      Thank you for sharing your powerful perspective – valuable and inspiring.

    • Reply sharon November 20, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      The way you describe creating a comforting space for your precious girl, and embracing these challenging moments with pjs, snuggles, and love is absolutely beautiful. I imagine it’s her favorite time of the day as well. I can’t remember more meaningful moments as a child than the ones my mom intended just for us to spend time together.

  • Reply Meaghan November 20, 2020 at 9:41 am

    About the mindset comment up above – I think that’s really a thing people don’t give enough thought about. And I think I actually got it from something Laura wrote about bedtime delays – if you make the “drink of water” a planned part of the routine, you won’t be so annoyed when it happens. And then it won’t get the reaction from you that kids are looking for. “It” being whatever the annoying behavior is.

    I get it though – I do most evenings on my own, and it is draining. My kids are at the age of nighttime practices and activities now and evenings are a juggle of drop offs and pickups and laundering the right uniform and different dinner times, which is exhausting in a different way. I love having big kids, but I do miss big baths and stories and general bedtime chaos though. I think it is why I kind of enjoyed the very strict quarantine nights in the spring, they were a little more relaxed.

  • Reply sharon November 20, 2020 at 11:43 am

    It’s all well and good to try to make the most of the time at the end of the day right before the kids go to sleep, and try to have a good perspective / mindset about the big picture bc they won’t be this age for long… but, in all reality, you have *many* hours that *don’t* include the most tired portion of your day to spend focused quality time and make deep meaningful memories. I don’t think it’s too much to hope for finding a way for all 3 ages to spend that time peacefully in a way that doesn’t drain the life out of you. It’s just so hard to perform at your best – especially SOLO! – at the time of day when you have the least energy, and unrealistic to think that you have to / need to… like I said, there are so many hours you *do* give them your full energy and attention, and that’s enough… realistically they just don’t need that level of performance from you all the time… just had to throw that in, bc mom guilt has a way of making us feel worse about having tried our best…

    the strategies you use to manage to occupy the different ages might just take alot of trial and error… you could have a special box (they could even decorate it themselves) for each kid with 3 independent(ish) age appropriate activities they can each choose from to play with while you sit on the couch with tea or something. They could call it their “tea time” box or something fun and make it a tradition they can look forward to for that time of day… i don’t know how your older kids feel, but both my kids LOVE play – doh … the sensory part of it is so calming/soothing… and it usually will give me about 30 min of time to just breathe… this next one is gonna sound so funny, but someone gifted me an adult coloring book… and i can’t say i’m too into it, but just bc the kids’ markers were next to me as i watched them play for a minute i started coloring in it, and the 2 kids immediately said “me too!” haha! they wrecked the picture of course, but were so quietly intent about it, and it was a sweet moment… they may not want to color quietly on their own on command, but if I start doing it, it looks more attractive to them and then once they’re started, they usually will keep going…

    As for the sleep strike… GIRL. i FEEL you. both mine were awesome sleepers, unitl. last. christmas. then for 6 months BOTH awesome sleepers fought bedtime tooth and nail and woke up multiple times a night. it. was. terrible. as a desperate measure, i got drill seargent about the wind down about an hour before bed time. girl i lit lavender candles in every single room of the house, I pull the curtains and turned all the lights off except for some lamps, i even went so far as to remove all but one of the light bulbs in the bathroom to make it as dim as possible as well. we had been lax on the bath/bedtime routine, but we religiously no matter what started doing bath every. single. night – even if it was just a dunk. then pjs, story, tuck in, lights out. now i don’t know how, but after they both started sleeping better for a while, they talked us into leaving the hall light on w the doors open a crack, but only if they cooperate. that strategy worked for us, but all kids are different, and like i said it might take trial and error to find something that feels comfortable for you. I actually think my youngest was getting his 2 year molars… which was not on my mind as a potential cause of his sleep disturbance, but looking back it could have contributed… the 5 year old? sigh. who knows how she went from a great sleeper to frequent wakening. she still at least once a week will come into our room, knowing I will give her a pillow and a blanket to sleep on the floor next to the bed… (harsh, isn’t it? haha i know i could just let her in the bed, but i’m too selfish… i always end up with a foot in the face! she’s got her own mattress if she wants to sleep on something soft haha! she actually tells me “your floor is just more comfortable than my bed.” – it’s not. i checked)

    oh, and the lavender candles? delicious. i’m not an essential oil person – at all – but these candles from Wax & Oil were gifted to me, and I have fallen in love! I bought like 10 of them! They are made with lavender essential oil, and just smell SO good. I’m not convinced the lavender *oil* is actually what as is relaxing as it’s touted to be, but I do feel that sights, sounds and smells are all elements of routines that can “train” us to transition into portions of our day. like how the smell of fresh coffee in the morning is part of the transition from sleepy to getting a start on the day 🙂

    All that to say. Yes, it will get better. And easier. Whether a magic strategy to get you through the evening in the meantime is found or not, the time will eventually come when you can actually sit on the couch, drinking a cup of tea (if that’s what you want) while they are doing their own thing.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 20, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      Oh my gosh- I just love this whole comment. Thank you! I need to get some mood boosting candles stat too!!

      • Reply Evelybills December 28, 2020 at 3:00 pm

        Wax & Oils has $2 candles right now but ALSO 25% discount!! I emailed the code to your blog email!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 29, 2020 at 5:26 am

          thank you 🙂

  • Reply Sharon McCathern November 20, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Mom of three here — now 7, 11, and 15 years old. IT GETS BETTER. Evenings were just survival mode for so long, and that was with two adults usually home starting at 6 or 6:30. I think it’s fine not to have “meaningful” time with them then… get everyone fed, keep them from killing each other, and just get through it. When G gets a year older it will be a lot easier, if my experience matches yours. But yes. It’s so hard right now. And that’s okay.

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