Friday, my wife and I had planned a stay-at-home date night. I grilled steaks, lit candles, and planned out our activities for the evening. That was when the baby started crying. He is 16-months old and has the sharpest radar for detecting parental enjoyment of any child that I have ever encountered. A diaper change and a bottle of milk later, and my beloved son was back in bed screaming like a banshee. My kids share a room, which means that all that screaming was libel to wake the preschooler. After a brief discussion, my wife and I agreed that the best course of action was to get our boy out of bed. He then joined us for date night. Mind you, this was not 30 minutes of our alone time. Several attempts to put him down for sleep ended in failure. He managed to stay through almost 3 hours of our date night. So, what happens when the kids just won’t let you have alone time?
Plan ahead. Perhaps the best way to make sure that you don’t have any pint-sized guests to your stay-at-home date night is to make sure they are worn out. Take the kids to the park, run them around in the yard, play with them, chase them around, skip or shorten their nap, and whatever else needs to happen to wear them out so they go to sleep. Planning is the key to avoiding the loved, but unwelcome dinner guest.
Maintain the regular routine. Children respond well to routine. Establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to it will help train them to go to sleep when the time comes. Think of it in terms of Pavlov and his dogs. He rang a bell when he fed them. Eventually, the dogs learned to associate the bell with feeding. The same principle works with children. Brushing teeth, reading stories, singing songs, going potty, and saying prayers are a good set of bed time activities that can serve as cues for the child to go to sleep. Because kids usually can’t tell time, this training can be effective even if bedtime is moved up an hour or two. Stick with the routine and your odds of smoother bedtime is more likely.
Plan to stay up late. With children who have a tougher time going to bed, it may be necessary to plan late nights for dates. You can do this on Fridays, especially if neither of you are getting up in the morning. You can go to bed earlier the previous evening or nap during the day. This may require some give from one or both partners, but time together, alone is vital to relationship health. Later date nights are an easy solution.
Make the best of it. Sure adding a kid to the mix throws off the romance of a candlelit dinner and makes cuddling through a movie nearly impossible. It definitely throws cold water on many of the sorts of plans husbands and wives usually make for evenings alone. It’s not ideal, but generally even the most stubborn children go to sleep eventually. As frustrating as an awake child is, working your way through the situation with the best attitude possible is sometimes your only option. The worst thing you can do is get frustrated, angry, resentful, or upset. A foul mood is far more toxic to intimacy than a child. Make the best of it. Eat dinner, watch your movie, play a game, skip or shorten naps, or do whatever it is you need to do until your precious child goes to sleep.
Don’t give up. It’s easy to get frustrated. If one night doesn’t work, perhaps the next night will. It is crummy when a fancy dessert or surprise roses are deployed on a non-date night, but it’s important to work together and put frustrations aside. Dating is important to the relationship and needs to be pursued for the good of the relationship and the kids.