The best parenting advice I’ve ever received came when our oldest daughter was one year old, and I was pregnant with our second. My husband had arranged for his parents to watch our daughter for TWO NIGHTS so that we could take a brief getaway.
I was a little freaked out.
This wouldn’t be the first time we’d left our daughter; our girls are blessed with four willing and healthy grandparents, and we take advantage of their babysitting whenever possible. Our first date night — dinner at a nearby restaurant — happened two weeks after our first daughter’s birth. This wouldn’t even be the first time we’d left our child overnight. But it would be the longest we’d left her, and I was struggling. I loved my husband, I wasn’t afraid to leave our daughter with her grandparents, but I was just SO TIRED. Given the choice, I’d rather lie on the couch (alone) with a good book, rather than put the effort into two days of quality time with Erick.
As I shared my reluctant feelings with some female friends, our pastor’s wife spoke up. A mother of three older girls, she was the veteran of many date nights and getaways. She admitted that she almost never felt like leaving her children when her husband planned dates and getaways. Then she said: “But I’ve realized that leaving the girls to spend time with my husband is one of the greatest ways I can show him my love.”
I’ve repeated those words to myself numerous times since then. As a result, even while we’ve added a third and fourth child to our family and moved to a small town in Vermont far from both our families, Erick and I continue to make a priority of regular date nights and overnights.
I don’t usually offer advice to new moms, but when asked I grip them by the shoulders and say: “DATE NIGHTS! Remember date nights!”
There are those who say that being a good mom means taking good care of your kids. They have a point, but the more I do this motherhood thing, the more I realize that being a good mom means taking good care of yourself. I’m not talking selfishness, sitting on the couch with a bottle of wine and your smartphone all day while the kids shred the wallpaper. But how can you possibly take good care of your kids if you’re frazzled and exhausted and haven’t had any time to yourself?
And if you have a partner in this child-raising gig, taking care of yourself includes taking care of that relationship, reminding each other that you’re on the same team. I never understood why so many mothers got up-in-arms when Ayelet Waldman wrote about loving her husband more than her children. I mean, DUH! My husband was around long before our kids, and I hope he’ll be around long after we’ve gotten them out of the house. Seems like that relationship deserves a lot of tending, doesn’t it? Besides, if our marriage is falling apart, our anger and sadness will certainly trickle down to the kids.
But it’s HARD, I KNOW it’s hard. So here are my suggestions for pulling off regular date nights after kids:
1. Choose quantity over quality. Many of us have tight budgets and busy schedules. You don’t have to go to a five-star restaurant or a Hawaiian vacation, JUST GO OUT! Take a walk. Grab coffee or dessert. Erick and I recently had a quality “date” over McDonald’s coffee while we waited for the snow tires to be taken off our cars. Overnights aren’t essential, but do them if you can; we’ve noticed that it can take at least an hour for us to relax enough to begin a conversation, so the more time you have together, the better. But even this doesn’t have to be elaborate; we’ve found some great Priceline deals for local hotels.
2. Be creative about babysitting. Childcare can be expensive. Grandparents are a great option, because they’re free and they’re family, but obviously that’s not possible for everyone. We’ve had some success swapping date nights with friends. When our first child was born, we coordinated with two other families so that each couple could have one date night a month: one half of the couple that was babysitting would go sit with the date-night-couple’s child (who was usually asleep in bed by then). Free and easy! OR, take advantage of those sweet older couples you know, the ones whose own children have left home, who are always offering to watch your kids. SAY YES!
3. Have an agenda. Often, the two partners in a family with children live very different daytime lives. That’s why it’s so important to connect, but it can also make conversation polarizing. When Erick and I sit down and “catch up,” I end up talking about the kids (perhaps not so interesting to him), and he ends up talking about his work (generally not so interesting to me — sorry!). Catching up is important, but if our conversation stopped there we might not feel very connected. So Erick started bringing broader topics to the table, often having to do with marriage or relationships, that we could discuss on even footing. Sometimes he’ll track down an interesting article, which we’ll both read beforehand. This gives our brains a break from the day-to-day, and inspires us to look more deeply at our relationship.
The most important thing, fellow exhausted mamas, is that if your partner wants to go out, JUST DO IT. Force yourself. Because that’s love: doing things for another person even when we don’t feel like it. If we can do it for our kids, we can certainly do it for our partners. I can almost guarantee you’ll be glad you did.