There was a time before kids when going on a date was no big deal. I mean, it was a HUGE deal depending on the situation, but it was a choice I made for myself, about myself, by myself. I would dress up, caring only what my friends and my date thought of my appearance. (Ok, mostly my friends, but also my date.) But the point is that at that time, date night was a perfectly normal and expected thing. After all, how could you form a relationship without spending time with someone?
Fast forward to marriage, kids, and the present day. Somewhere along the way, dating stopped being important. We got our relationship locked down, we followed the formula and added some kids to the mix – so, boom. Here we are, living the dream.
But ask any tired married couple whose primary source of interaction is deciding whose turn it is to change a diaper and you’ll find that it’s not so much a dream as a nightmare.
Marriage is hard. Having kids is hard. Both are exhausting and require a loss of self that is mind-numbing at times.
Also, kids are demanding and remarkably judge-y about parents doing anything that doesn’t directly revolve around their needs. Babysitters are expensive. And nine times out of ten, we’d just as soon be in our pajamas binging Netflix. Not Netflix and chill, mind you. Netflix is all we have the energy for.
But, this is why date night matters more than ever.
Why date night matters for married couples.
Anyone who’s been with the same person for more than a year knows that romance fades faster than a summer tan. It’s as if you wake up one day and all of those cute little quirks that made you fall in love in the first place have become the things that wake you up in the middle of the night and cause you to stare hate rays into your sleeping partner’s (snoring) back. It’s ok. You’re not alone on this one.
My first marriage failed – epically. And I’m not saying that date night could have saved us. We were most likely intrinsically flawed from the get-go. But, when looking back, the one thing I wish we had done differently was a regular date night. The problem was that usually, if we were to get a babysitter, it was for social events. There were weddings, holiday parties, and concerts with a group of friends. Even if we managed to snag a grandparent for the entire weekend, it was spent going to a college reunion or out-of-town event with other people.
Date night is meant to connect you with your partner. It’s meant to create a common bond shared over common interests and activities. Because we so rarely spent time in the same space without other people around, at some point we stopped having things in common and started having friends in common. Likewise, with the kids – we had a shared bond as caregivers, but so did our babysitters.
If dating is how we get to know someone, how we form a connection, and how we create a lasting bond, then I would argue that date nights become even more important when we’re in a marriage or long-term relationship. This highly focused time allows us to remember how we started. We didn’t start with kids. We started together. The two of us. In fact, the bond between the two of us is the only reason the kids exist in the first place.
Simply put, date nights help us remember that we are the foundation of our family and that it’s ok for the kids to revolve around us, and not the other way around.
Of course, as I mentioned, I’m divorced, which brings me to my next equally important topic…
Why date night matters for single parents.
Ok, you’re a single parent. Whether you share equal custody or are the primary caregiver, you’re already dealing with baggage that looks more like an overflowing suitcase. Chances are, you have issues that range from being the only person around when three kids need to be picked up at the same time from three different places to a feeling like you constantly need to compensate for the lack of a second parent in the house. The thought of going on a date very likely fills you with horror – not just because you would need to find a clean dress that still fits, but because your kids need you…like, every second.
But guess what? Date night matters for you, too. If you’re currently single (and don’t have firm plans of remaining so for the rest of your life), then I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to meet someone sitting at home on Friday night. As cute as the rom-coms make it, it’s not that often that there’s a handsome single dad in the preschool pick-up line waiting to pick up his kid and a hot date with you.
What I’m saying is, girl, you need to get out of the house every now and then.
For single parents, “date night” can be about more than just going out on a conventional date. It might be going out with girlfriends or begrudgingly accepting that set up with your best friend’s husband’s single co-worker. Whatever it is, it still matters. Because while it might not necessarily be in pursuit of a romantic relationship, date night is still about making a connection – with yourself.
Going on a “date” (with friends or partners) won’t make us stop being a parent, it will just remind us that we’re also a human. It will give us a much-needed break from the chaos of our daily lives and help us re-center and re-set. And that only makes us better, as an individual and a parent.
And now for the pièce de résistance…
Why date night matters for our kids.
I’ve been a stay-at-home or work-at-home parent for most of my kids’ lives. Even when I’ve been in an office, I’ve had a flexible schedule that allows me to be there when my kids wake up, bring cupcakes to school on their birthday, get them to practices on time (well, at least no more than five minutes late), and be there pretty much whenever they need me. Which is a lot. I’m the mom who’s always there and I wouldn’t trade being that mom for anything in the world.
My kids look to me as the center of their universe and it’s an honor I take seriously. But what they see is a cook, caregiver, taxi driver, housekeeper, and person who can find missing headphones in even the messiest of rooms. If they were to describe me, I know they would say lovely things…about what a great mom I am. But what about me as a woman?
As a single mom and before, it has been all too easy to lose myself in the role of mom. I’m protective of my kids and my identity as their mom and nothing more. After all, no one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to think of their parents as sexual beings. And not just in terms of sex, but as people capable of being attractive, sensual, or romantic. I’m one of five kids and stand by the stork theory to this day.
However, as parents, we want our children to grow up with healthy identities of who they are and to have examples of healthy relationships. Going on a date, married or otherwise, allows your kids to see you outside of your parenting role. They get to see you dressed in something other than mom jeans and a t-shirt with their school logo on the front. They get to see you and your partner prioritizing one another. Maybe they even get to see you smile at each other with a pre- or post-date glow that reminds them of the connection you have – and ultimately makes them feel safer and more loved themselves.
For girls, which is what I have, I want them to see me as a woman, not because I need their permission or acceptance to date or be romantically involved, but because I want them to know and prioritize their own identities as they grow and, perhaps eventually, have families of their own.
If you’re a dad with daughters, then you have the chance to show your daughters how you want them to be treated one day by treating your partner the same way. Going on dates is one of the best ways to make the most of this opportunity.
I would argue that the same is true if you have boys. Seeing their parents in a healthy relationship will guide them in their own future relationships. Seeing their mom as an independent person will help them form healthy ideas of women. And last but not least, seeing how their dad takes someone out will instruct their future treatment of a partner in many ways.
The bottom line is that being a parent is one of the greatest things in the world – but before we were parents, we were people. Dating – whether it’s your spouse or a new romantic interest – isn’t something to feel guilty about. In fact, it might just be one of the greatest things you can do for yourself, your partner, and your kids.
For more essays, advice, and insights on life as a parent, be sure to visit our entire Parent Life series.