During the first year after having our daughter, my wife and I went out alone twice. We didn’t live near family, weren’t comfortable with leaving our baby with anyone, were constantly tired from late night feedings, and were so busy with family and work obligations that we just didn’t go out. We didn’t have time, lacked opportunities, and really lacked the energy necessary to go anywhere. As time went by, we began to go out together again, until our second baby came along. This time, as our time together began to wane, we both noticed the trend and agreed to make changes. Spending time together -and alone- is important to the health of our relationship in the long term. It’s a basic maintenance practice for a healthy relationship. Without time spent focusing on each other, the relationship can eventually grow stale and cold.
Recognizing the pattern and responding: When we realized that we were falling out of the courting pattern and into a parenting-only pattern in our relationship, we started by occasionally finding a sitter and going out for dinner. This happened mainly when we noticed that it had been a while since we had gone out. The problem with this approach was that it tended to result in us going out on dates about once a month, sometimes less often. Sitters can be difficult to arrange, expensive, and it can be tough to build the energy for an outing. Though this was better than going out every 6 months, we quickly recognized that this as-we-noticed-we-needed-to approach left us fairly distant. Our solution was to agree on an appropriate frequency for dating and come up with a plan for date-planning.
The need for intentional planning: The big key to ongoing, active dating life after kids is intentionality. When we don’t have a pattern to follow, we tend to let it fall to the wayside, behind parenting, work, or church obligations. Our solution was to agree that we needed dedicated one-on-one time at least once a week. We also agreed that this time should not consist primarily of engaging in life maintenance activities, though it is tempting to go grocery shopping without the kids along. We agreed that we would take turns planning the weekly date night. I plan one week, she plans the next. This way we are given a little time between having to put a bunch of effort into organizing and plan an evening together. In addition, planning the date is a simple way of serving each other.
Stay-At-Home-Dates: Because of the challenges associated with going out, we have also begun planning stay-at-home dates. A stay in date night begins early in the day, when we run the kids ragged so they will sleep early. After putting the kids to bed early, we spend the evening together. There is a temptation to just watch movies on stay-at-home date night, but we try not to fall into this pattern. Date night usually features a nice meal, though I’ll confess that my wife is better at planning and executing date night dinners than I am. She is good at planning unique dishes and varied cuisine. I usually plan dessert well, making fondue or baking cookies. Sometimes we light candles, sometimes we don’t. We always try to do the best we can with the circumstances available, particularly when a fussy baby joins us for a romantic candlelit dinner. Apart from dinner, date night often includes board games, though sometimes we watch movies. We always try to spend time talking and enjoying each other’s company.
The Spirit, Rather than the Letter: I wish I could say we are consistent, or that every date night is the stuff of fairy tales. In reality, we are doing our best for each other. It’s difficult to invest in your marriage when there is so much other stuff that is demanding time, energy, and money. The dividends paid out on this investment is worth the effort. In the end, we try to approach the whole thing with grace and commitment. Sometimes, I plan more than one week in a row. Sometimes I’m too busy or tired to do much of anything. We don’t judge, we work together as a team to improve our relationship. Marriage is a team effort.