"This is like... date night", I said to my husband as we were sitting in the bleachers, watching our four-year-old at her weekly evening swim class. Maybe that realisation should have made depressed — with so much going on, I couldn't remember the last time we had a proper date night — but it didn't. We were nestled hip to hip, talking about our days, with no child asking us to adjust her sock or turn on PJ Masks or spoon-feed her because she lost her arms.
Sure, the setting could have been more romantic and I could have, I dunno, put on some lip gloss or something, but it felt kind of like a date and if I've learned anything about parenting, it's that you take whatever scraps you can get. I mean that in a good way!
Yes, parents should make it a greater priority to go on real dates regularly (with each other). But getting a sitter is expensive and requires planning.
What about the long stretch in between? That's when you go on microdates. These are the moments when your kids are either asleep or not paying attention to you and you suddenly look at each other and remember that you're still the same couple you were pre-children, just more haggard.
Embrace those moments. Seek out those moments. Schedule those moments. Do not use those moments to watch videos of your toddler.
"Children take up all of your time, no matter how much or little you have", explains comedy writer James Breakwell in an AskMen piece on dating your spouse after kids. "You and your partner have to somehow squeeze romance into the remaining zero minutes of the day. It's doable and you don't even need a time machine or retroactive birth control to pull it off. All you have to do is change the definition of a date".
That means unless you have tons of help or funds, you can't expect lavish, multi-part dates like on The Bachelor (sorry, no dinner and indoor skydiving and an art class). What you can plan are microdates to help keep the spark alive.
Here are some ideas:
Play your kids' games, but really competitively. My friend Dorothy says that after her kids go to bed, she and her husband bring out games like Let's Go Fishin' and Go Go Thomas! Speed Challenge and play for real.
Or play adult games. Cards Against Humanity never fails.
Have "second dinner." If your family dinner of fish sticks and carrots didn't quite hit the spot, cook a special date-night dinner once the kids are asleep.
Designate a date-night spot in your house. Perhaps it's your bedroom balcony or your garage. My friend Jenny says she and her husband sometimes hide out in the closet or shower while their kids are playing and call it a date. Whatever works.
Dance. Says my friend Danielle: "We met salsa dancing so sometimes we'll play some songs and dance in the living room while the baby watches nearby".
Make up a drinking game. Breakwell writes that one of his favourite stay-home dates is when he and his wife put their daughters to bed, open a bottle of wine (or three) and watch HGTV. "We take a drink every time someone says, 'open concept,' 'total gut-job,' or 'space to entertain.'
We don't feel great the next morning, but that night, we have a blast. There's nothing more life-affirming than laughing together at an adult throwing a temper tantrum over the colour of their backsplash. It makes us worse people but a better couple and we're both OK with that".
Rent a bounce house "for the kids." If you're renting one for a birthday party and it won't be picked up until the next morning, sneak in there after your kids go to sleep and ... have your own party.
Netflix and chill. Or, more likely, Netflix and pass out after 15 minutes.