Evenings: My Golden Hours

June 12, 2024

I personally am super excited for Laura’s upcoming book Golden Hours (which always make me think of the similarly named and Kacey Musgraves album, BTW). But that book is quite a ways off and in the meantime I need to work on my own golden hours.

I spend a lot of the day feeling a bit of a time crunch. Not a super stressful one, as I am pretty good about not assigning myself an unrealistic amount of things to do; I also don’t feel bad about getting to the end of the day with unchecked boxes that I will migrate to a future slot. But still – the ‘working hours’ are generally pretty busy. I’m either seeing patients and continuously grooming my EPIC inbox, or working on business/podcast-related stuff.

Either way, by around 5 pm I have no desire to do any work and — luckily — I actually don’t generally feel any pressure to work any more! I often come out of my closet office* to have dinner with the kids pretty early (if working at home) or I arrive home from my clinical office at around 5:45.

These days, I don’t have any young kids requiring me to chase someone around the house, and I am generally not starting any kind of bedtime process before 8 pm.

So . . there are 2+ hours in there!

And what do I (we) DO with them?

Currently: nothing that great. There is usually dinner + cleanup (Josh is on occasion home for this, but generally not) — this doesn’t take that long. There is screen time for the kids — lately they have been into group video games which I kind of like (MarioKart etc). There is some random discussion with various kids about their days, though if they are playing video games or watching TV they probably do not care to have those conversations.

Sometimes there is a later sports pickup in there (C has lacrosse 2x/week until 7, A is about to have gymnastics practices that end at 7:30 2-3 nights/week).

I have not found myself using this time particularly well. Well, that’s not entirely fair. I’ve decluttered some small areas (like – 1 drawer at a time).

Maybe I should just adjust my expectations here.

What would I WANT to do?

  • I would love it if we could all watch a movie or a show TOGETHER, but getting all 3 kids to watch the same thing is turning into an exercise of futility. You guys had some great TV recs so I should try this out again with those.
  • I would want to curl under a blanket while storms rage outside (THEY HAVE BEEN RAGING!) and read. Sometimes I do this.
  • I would want to hang out with my husband and chat while the kids do their own things. (We do not do this purposefully, but it sounds nice when I hear others talk about it and maybe we should.)
  • I would want to do a gentle yoga session WITHOUT hearing kids scream in the background (not all that likely)
  • Read longer form articles like from The Atlantic (which we do have)
  • Maybe like . . work on a craft like calligraphy or something? Or more elaborate journaling? Bonus if a kid will do it with me . . .

What do I NOT want to do?

  • Leave the house. I really really just prefer to be home on weekday evenings and this is particularly true during the current nasty weather season.
  • Strength train. It’s just too jarring for me after 6pm or so. It feels wrong and I hate it!
  • Scroll aimlessly for an hour because I can’t commit to actually doing anything (lately – happening not infrequently)
  • Puzzles. Haha, I just know someone will suggest this and I hate puzzles (like the jigsaw kind, I LOVE puzzles like Connections and Wordle!). I am bad at them and they make my brain hurt and I find them incredibly un-fun. Sorry, puzzle people!
  • Talk to a bunch of people. The rest of my life I do a lot of that, I might call my parents or sister every so often but I’m not feeling terribly chatty most weekday nights. (Book club or other social gatherings are notable exceptions but are not very frequent!)
  • ADDED AFTER KAE’S COMMENT: Anything outside. Sorry but it’s disgusting out right now. It’s either oppressively hot, storming or both (really often both). Also the mosquitos swarm in those golden hours. I promise, if I lived somewhere else where it was nicer out on summer evenings I would not be such a curmudgeon.

*I have to record in my closet and generally have to hide there to work when the kids are home. It gets hot and is not ideal but it is what it is. Our house has a good amount of space but zero enclosed offices.


The answer may be that I should just stop giving it so much thought . . . but it’s a significant chunk of the day!


  • Reply Grateful Kae June 12, 2024 at 1:50 pm

    I know! Get a dog and walk it in the evenings. 😜😜 (Kidding! Just wanted to momentarily raise your blood pressure by envisioning both a dog + a required outdoor evening activity in your life)

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 12, 2024 at 1:51 pm

      Walk it in the evening thunderstorms you mean? I think I’ll pass lolol

  • Reply Megan June 12, 2024 at 2:18 pm

    Love the topic, thoughts and also excited for the book. Being in MN, now is the time for all the outside evening time/TOAD; especially because sunset is currently 9pm. In the winter, it is a different story! This week we have eaten dinner outside followed by kids swimming (one night I watched, one night I participated), short solo walks, short bike ride with kid, drive to McDonald’s for ice cream treats and some reading outside while kids watched TV before bed so basically my optimal evenings which include outside and something physical but very easy.

    Reading or digging into something is sometimes tough because the time is so broken up and you never know how long kids will be occupied. I do also love evening activities like free outdoor concerts but they definitely take more energy and planning. My biggest insight (probably from BOBW) is to notice the good even if it was 15 min/each evening that you did X vs. I sometimes want to make all 2-3 hours amazing and that is extremely unlikely and too much pressure. Also I know the feeling of forcing your kids to watch a show and someone always complains and you wonder why you are doing it at all?!?

    • Reply Coree June 12, 2024 at 3:06 pm

      It’s been unseasonably cold here, but when it’s warm enough, I love eating outside. We’ve got a table and chairs right off our kitchen and it’s just so pleasant. Often T will find something to play with in the garden while we chat, and I really think it helps with bedtime.

  • Reply Jackie June 12, 2024 at 2:46 pm

    I have a similar struggle with those golden hours. And am also greatly anticipating Laura’s book!

  • Reply Alyssa June 12, 2024 at 2:54 pm

    Our evenings consist of jumping on the trampoline, imaginary play on the trampoline with an Ikea beach tent (not sure how it became a trampoline accessory but it did!), catching moths (not butterflies) with cheap-o net, slip-n-slide, hide-and-seek/running around the yard, swing set, kicking various sized balls in soccer net, t-ball set (Little Tikes). We are in the Midwest and have monthly mosquito extermination, otherwise, I couldn’t/wouldn’t be outside.

  • Reply Coree June 12, 2024 at 3:04 pm

    We are home with T around 530 and head upstairs by 7, so we don’t have a ton of time between home and bedtime (which is an involved affair, with at least 30 minutes of reading). We both tend to be home, so one person (mostly me…I’m a great read aloud person, children join me at the library) reads, and one tidies up after dinner. We aim to both be off duty at the same time – and take showers, read, hang out, very occasionally watch something. We had a phase of one of us going for an evening walk in 2021, but this has fallen out of fashion, think we are more tired with commuting more often, more activities and we do both get quite a bit of exercise during the day (school dropoff is a 2.5 mile round trip cycle or walk). I’d like to work in the garden a bit (it’s light til 1030/11 here) but I’m definitely the preferred bedtime parent, and it’s been colder than usual so it doesn’t feel as fun to go outside in the evening.

    • Reply Rachel June 13, 2024 at 11:08 pm

      I have a 3 year old and a 1.5 year old. Our current routine is daycare pickup at 6pm, then playground until 7 (we eat dinner there), then 20 min walk home and bedtime routine until both kids are down around 8:30-9. Then it’s cleanup/chores until ~10 and then maybe an hour or so of time to hang out with my partner until we crash. I do feel like we are not getting enough sleep, but I’m hoping this will change as the kids get a little older and chores can be done in their presence.

  • Reply LN June 12, 2024 at 3:05 pm

    My real golden hour is post-toddler bedtime (~7:30-9 or 9:30). She’s not quite old enough for a big outing at dinner or after dinner yet but I totally see us doing TOAD later. My biggest challenge/blocker right now is ENERGY–what to do when my reserves are wiped. My husband works late so I’m usually doing toddler dinner and bedtime solo, and between that and work sometimes there isn’t anything left in the tank.

    What I would love to do: work out and tackle a bunch of chores that are difficult or impossible with a toddler underfoot (like cooking prep), so I’m not worried about doing them later. But still magically have time for a little reading! This is sometimes possible. This week I’m doing guest prep because my sister is coming to visit. When the toddler is older, this could also be good time for studying if I decide to go back to school or get a professional credential.
    What I do when I don’t have a lot of energy: quick-clean the kitchen and living room, get anything we need ready for tomorrow (my outfit, my work bag, daycare bag) and then reading or an episode of TV.
    What I don’t want to do: scroll mindlessly (not relaxing, not productive). I am working on this–not to your extent, SHU, but I have “Downtime” set on my phone, timers on some apps and I moved most of my social networking apps off the front page of my phone so I have to consider before I check. It helps.

  • Reply Jane June 12, 2024 at 3:31 pm

    My kids are ten and twelve. After work and school, we usually play video games together (I enjoy some of the games too) or watch a show before making dinner. Then after dinner, they are in charge of clean up. Recently I’ve been going outside (to escape the whining!) and reading on the hammock. If my husband is home, he supervises. If not, they have strict instructions not to bother me until they’re done (or they get more chores!). If they finish early, we sometimes play with the dogs outside.

    I understand the outside part is a problem for you… Sorry!

  • Reply Sophie June 12, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    I was literally wondering the same thing last night and so glad you raised this! Last night I settled on watching my own shows (true crime case updates and planner videos are my thing haha) on YouTube for an hour, it was easy and fun.

    Your options you suggested sound great to me. If you don’t like puzzles – what about a family board or card game? I’ve never tried this because my youngest is 3 but I imagine it could be fun say once a week, if you found the right game. Another option could be a bath, if you like those it could be relaxing listening to music by candlelight or something (kind of like the gentle yoga idea). You didn’t mention playing with planners but I know that used to be on your list (or does that feel like work these days?). Journaling has also been an evening habit for me in the past too.

    • Reply Coree June 13, 2024 at 2:20 am

      We play uno after dinner sometimes. I started putting a box of card games in a basket in the dining room.

      • Reply Jane Theriault June 13, 2024 at 12:24 pm

        SHU, I wonder if Ticket to Ride (the kids one) would be a game you could try. I don’t love board games but I do enjoy that one and my daughter could play fairly independently by 6! Could be an option for one night a week or something.

        • Reply Brooke June 18, 2024 at 2:47 pm

          We’ve been playing the adult version since the kids were younger (7?) and it’s a big hit with us 🙂 I actually purchased the game for my phone and me and my daughter can knock out a quick game while out and about while we’re waiting. We pass the phone to take turns so it’s still pretty interactive.

          Virus is another fun/quickish game, as is Racko.

  • Reply Lisa’s Yarns June 12, 2024 at 4:20 pm

    Well this gives me a light at the end of the tunnel feeling because that span of time is not our golden hours right now since we have a 3.5 year old. My golden hour starts once the kids are in bed which is usually around 8. I watch a show with my husband for 30 minutes and then go up and read for about an hour. But 6-8 is like full on physical parenting that might include calming a tantrum or giving the boys a bath (which they often fight but enjoy once they are in the tub? I set a timer to see how fast they 6yo could get bathed to hopefully help with future negotiations. We got his hair and body washed in 52 seconds. Here is hoping that is a compelling stat next time he argues about not bathing! (We’ve tried showers and he hates them even more).

    BUT – that time slot is far more pleasant in the summer when we can take a family walk to the creek! In the winter that time slot is so very hard.

  • Reply jennystancampiano June 12, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    I agree with all your “don’t want to’s.” My husband has been going for a walk in the evening- he is INSANE. He’s given up asking if I want to join him (no, absolutely not.) And I definitely don’t want to do strength training- which is a shame because if I enjoyed that, it would be a great time to get it done. Pretty much the only thing i want to do- after everything is cleaned up from the day- is read. And I’ve been doing a little too much of that, which means I’m going to bed too late. Oops.

    • Reply Kat June 13, 2024 at 4:52 pm

      You mentioned you don’t want to do weight training – but maybe you could try something using your kids as body weight?! And maybe have them also try.

  • Reply Chelsea June 12, 2024 at 5:25 pm

    This week we have allowed lots of video games and YouTube since it’s either been disgustingly hot or raining with a break in there for music practice, dinner and a show for “all” of us, which is usually just the older two while the little one either plays more video games or with his toys. Right now we are watching Cunk on Earth on Netflix which is absolutely not appropriate for the kids (language, one sort of graphic s&x joke per episode) but we are letting them watch it because it’s extremely funny. We also have music lessons and volleyball practice/game in there.

    I think ideally we’d swap some of that TV time into a group activity – I’d read a novel to them or we’d work on a Lego project or we’d play a board game – and I’d do some decluttering each evening.

  • Reply Coco June 13, 2024 at 5:05 am

    I tried so many things for my evening hours, from 5-8pm usually. I want it to be relaxed and do something fun with the family, but often time I spend either working, babysitting kids doing their homework, prep dinner, try to read and get disrupted, so basically nothing “productive”. even at dinner table, often I feel rushed so we can relax, to end up falling to asleep too quickly instead of listening girls’ day. Sigh…. i’d be interested to learn golden evening hours.

    • Reply Ali June 13, 2024 at 7:35 pm

      I do protect some of my time by having kids go to bed earlier than me. I try to use that extra kid free time to read or watch a show with my husband.

      For the pre bedtime hours when kids are occupied, I like some very low key exercise/movement. I workout early in the morning so this time is just for a mental reset to me. I walk if weather cooperates or do a quick peloton ride or stretch. Have you tried any of the peloton stretches! I really love them —I feel better from a good stretch and just find them a good mental break.

  • Reply Suzanne June 13, 2024 at 7:42 am

    Ugh – I relate most strongly with one of your “what do I NOT want to do” statements: “Scroll aimlessly for an hour because I can’t commit to actually doing anything (lately – happening not infrequently)” I think I am doing better about avoiding this? But it’s so hard to resist. Especially when there are those small dollops of time between other things that don’t really make sense for getting into more complicated tasks. (I’m thinking of when I’m waiting for my kid to get ready for bed so I can go read to her, or I’m waiting for the chicken to roast, etc.) Not usually enough time to do more than fold a few items of laundry — which I sometimes force myself to do! But if I start scrolling, I get dragged down into the mindless ease of it and it’s hard to climb out.

  • Reply sesb June 13, 2024 at 9:19 am

    I usually go to bed by 8:30, so if I have a typical OR day, where I get home by about 6 (last night 7, yay), honestly all I want to do usually is lie on the couch with my feet up because my whole body hurts. Sometimes I am able to make myself lift weights, but it feels horrible (see: whole body hurts) so I haven’t lately. Maybe yoga? But I hate yoga and I would rather not devote my 20 minutes of free time to an activity I hate. Sometimes (if I am home before 6) I can muster a walk, but not generally since “whole body hurting” means that my feet *really* hurt. I will say that if I have my phone nearby, even if I want to read I will scroll… unless I am physically lying in bed, in which case I will read and get sleepy in about 10 minutes. Scrolling does feel like a useless time suck a lot of the time, this is true. Sometimes I try to talk with my husband, but he’s not great company that time of day either, and we usually revert to complaining about work.

    I… don’t think having a goal of making this time of day “productive” is either realistic or desirable for me.

    This is your PSA not to become an anesthesiologist.

    • Reply Linda M June 13, 2024 at 9:37 am

      SESB, You are appreciated. Anesthesiologists are definitely a vital part of the health care team and often unseen by the patient. I’m sorry it’s so exhausting but thank you.

      • Reply sesb June 13, 2024 at 9:52 am

        I am definitely not appreciated. But thank you for your kind words, anyway.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 13, 2024 at 11:18 am

      I am glad Linda shared the words of appreciation … it’s true we need awesome anesthesiologists in this world and if we ever need one (actually maybe we will? Annabel getting wisdom teeth out soon) I will try to really communicate my gratitude.

      • Reply sesb June 13, 2024 at 5:34 pm

        I can’t believe A is getting her wisdom teeth out already! We have already gone through two rounds of orthodontia, and are expecting a third in a year or two. It has gotten ridiculous honestly!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 13, 2024 at 8:22 pm

          The orthodontist claims they are in the way and preventing molars from coming in to allow completion of the orthodontic work. I’m like gahhh 12 is weirdly young for this but since I guess she’d need them out eventually I will go with it.

      • Reply Elisabeth June 18, 2024 at 1:15 pm

        I didn’t have them out until I was 25 and surely wished I’d had it done at her age. Also, no anesthesiologist for most that I know – the oral surgeons often do it themselves.

  • Reply Adrienne June 13, 2024 at 10:23 am

    We usually have dinner at 5:30 and start bed time snack, teeth, books etc at 7:30 with an 8 pm bed time for the four year old. We do no phones at dinner so we do get to really connect, which is nice
    It’s dinner cleanup/bath time right after dinner and then just chillin? We prioritize kid time from 6-7:30 since she’s so little still – Sometimes we can get outside after dinner, sometimes we just do active play with her (magnatiles are life currently), doing drawing and pretend play etc. I’m fairly happy with this time (though we could scroll less just like everyone else and that last 15 minutes before bed is not my highlight reel)
    After kiddo bed time is my real trouble time. I used to go to bed so early that I forget this time exists. Def sometimes text, read blogs, etc – prefer to read, watch tv or play a game or video game with husband, or knock some mindless stuff off the list (go through phone photos, the endless regenerating chores). Now that it’s light out, I do try to either walk or sit outside screen free for 15 minutes or so and it’s so restoring. I do subscribe to effortful fun before effortless fun ideally
    That all being said, I’m not going to give myself a hard time about this – I’m tired. I wake up early, take care of kid morning, work from home full time, run our household stuff, exercise over lunch several days a week, and really try to be present when my little is home. If I decide to just zone out sometimes, I think that’s fine too. It’s really hard to balance striving for more happiness and growth with respecting the energy levels that I have.

  • Reply Selin June 13, 2024 at 12:12 pm

    I think similar to how kids need “unstructured playtime” just to enjoy being kids, our brains also need unstructured playtime at the end of long structured days to wander and daydream. Those are the Golden Hours. Before iPhone, we could sit and stare with a cup of tea and nobody judged us for daydreaming, we didn’t judge ourselves for appearing to do nothing. I think that is why screentime has so much success because it allows us to think we look like we are busy with something while actually our brains are freely wandering from here to there. I believe we should do really give ourselves no judgment Golden Hours. After a long day of meetings and responding to two little kids, I also find myself craving quiet so I read, daydream (which is excellent for the brain) and sometimes clean inspired by South Korean and Japanese culture who consider cleaning meditative and fun. (Western world ranks it as the least enjoyable activity). I am personally friends with a Japanese engineer father who works in tech in Portland who saws his daughter’s clothes by hand to relax in the evenings. From a neuroscientist friend, I learned that doing crafts with our hands is very good time-off for our brains and actually helps with language learning, etc.

    • Reply LVL 1992 June 13, 2024 at 2:42 pm

      I agree with Selin and think perhaps you are being too hard on yourself – sometimes it’s ok to use some of the 168 hours just being lazy and unproductive for a mental break!!

    • Reply Daria June 14, 2024 at 12:18 pm

      I LOVE what you wrote.

  • Reply Daria June 14, 2024 at 12:22 pm

    Our evening hours… Pick up from aftercare, home around 4.
    Unstructured play time, while I sit and breathe/read/have tea. No technology, for me or the kids. I actually started putting my phone straight into the caddy and pretending I do not own it. Like Selin above said, sit, do nothing, look at the sky, listen to the birds, be with your own thoughts. By the way, what I wrote is more of a reminder for me.
    4 to 5- play time/outside time/piano practice for oldest
    5 to 6ish: dinner + kitchen clean up + house pick up
    6-7: bedtime routine (bath+teeth+books+songs).
    7-7:30 lights out.
    I stay up after 7:30 for about another hour to read. I fall asleep to a night time meditation at around 8:30-9

  • Reply San June 16, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    I feel my evenings are pretty short, I usually work until 6:30 or 7, then I make dinner and then I usually have two hours before I got to bed. It varies what I do with these two hours, currently I am into a book, so I read most of the time. During the winter month, I often knit. Or I catch up on blogs (nobody seems to ever share when they write and catch up on other people’s blog LOL although that usually does take up a chunk of my time).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 16, 2024 at 4:39 pm

      good point! I usually do this on my lunch break at work and then randomly after posting myself!!

  • Reply Stephany June 16, 2024 at 9:34 pm

    I don’t have kids and those evening hours seem to go by so quickly for me, too! I think there’s a large part of aimlessly scrolling because I just need to turn my brain off for a bit after being “on” at work. For a while, I had “downtime” set up on my phone to make me STAY OFF those apps that suck me in. (I’m a sucker for iPhone games and can easily spend an hour just mindlessly playing games while a podcast plays.) I just need to figure out the right routine and stick to it – why is this so hard?!

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