We are all worn thin. Life is a lot to deal with right now. We know it will eventually get easier—it just has to. In the meantime, we will keep trudging through home, work, children, and relationships.

I’ll be honest—at the end of the week I am spent . . . and a bit grumpy. I just want to climb in bed, pull the covers up over my head, and go to sleep with the satisfaction that I was able to get through another week of work/school/virtual/hybrid or whatever the ever-changing schedule is for the week. 

I recently stumbled upon the idea of a YOYO dinner night—a night where your family is on their own for dinner (You’re On Your Own).

I knew the pre-pandemic version of myself would disapprove of this low bar parenting move, but my current knee-deep-in-the-pandemic-version of myself is not apologizing for begging off parenting one night a week. 

While I love my kids, Friday night YOYO has become my everything right now and the sweet relief that was so needed.

YOYO, beginning promptly at 5 p.m., finds my three children fending for themselves.

There is no discussion about meal possibilities—they figure it out. If we happen to be “low” on food (seriously, kids, you have no idea) they figure it out. If there is a problem, they figure it out. Shockingly, my kids began preparing “meals” such as scrambled eggs (who knew they could make eggs!), pancakes, cereal, or pasta, and extended screen time is sometimes replaced with game playing (yes, they have discovered Yahtzee . . . and poker!).

My husband and I hear our children’s laughter, bickering, making of TikTok’s, and sharing of responsibilities while we hide out in our bedroom with picnic-style take-out as we binge-watch shows or catch a movie (last week we watched two movies—TWO!). The kids manage getting ready for bed before knocking on our door (weirdly, they only seem to knock on YOYO nights) to bid us a good night. 

Something magical happened with YOYO nights: Our kids are doing just fine.

In fact, they are better than fine—they are actually self-sufficient people! They are making their own dinner, cleaning the kitchen (albeit it not well), and regulating their screen consumption (as well as dessert). What was unexpected was the autonomy our kids felt with how they managed themselves, from food to activities to bedtime. They seemed to thrive when given the opportunity to take risks with cooking, fail at loading the dishwasher, and negotiate squabbles with siblings.

And when we emerge from our sanctuary on Saturday mornings and look around the not-so-tidy house, we don’t care. Instead, we grab our coffee and listen as they cheerfully regale us with stories of their evening including who didn’t pull their weight in the kitchen, who cheated during cards, and who went to bed too late. We listen with patience, amusement, and joy because after all, we are refreshed and ready to go.

Our kids are tweens and teens so while this won’t work for every family, we discovered our kids needed a break from us just as much as we needed a break from them. The space to explore, experiment, fail, and discover without parents hovering, directing, and fixing is something every family can adapt to meet their needs. For us, this seemingly below-par parenting move just may have turned out to be our best move yet.

Laura Domer-Shank

Laura Domer-Shank, Ed.D. is a School Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and Consultant of twenty-five years who specializes in supporting children and families. Dr. Domer-Shank is the wife to Neil who is an educator and coach and together, they actively parent their three children – Cam, Larkyn, and Ella.