Want to give your children a wonderful treat? Leave them at home.
I’m well aware of the struggle to find time to go on a date with your spouse. I’m also well aware of the struggle to find time with the whole family, and the guilt that goes along with that. It’s tempting to forgo the date in favor of family time. You know, for the sake of the kids. Because time goes so fast, and all too soon they’ll leave home, and you can’t get any of that time back.
You want to know another thing you can’t get back? A marriage relationship that you’ve let wither in favor of playing Monopoly with Junior and Betsy. When your youngest child drives off in that packed car to college, do you really want to turn to your true love, right there at the edge of the driveway, and find yourself looking at a stranger?
Let me be clear: I am strongly in favor of family time. We love board games; we love family hikes; we love time together around the dinner table. We never do as much as I’d like to of any of the above, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.
What Peter and I don’t do, however, is sacrifice our marriage relationship in the name of our relationships with our daughters. That would be akin to building a top quality tile roof on a house you’ve constructed of toothpicks and scotch tape. Our girls need to see us loving one another, making our marriage a priority, and enjoying our time together. It gives them a sense of belonging to something real, solid, and safe … even fun!
After much trial and error, we have developed a sort of schedule (we do not follow it perfectly, but it’s our master plan). We set aside every Friday for some activity or another, like so:
1st Friday – Date for Mom and Dad
2nd Friday – Dad gets one girl; Mom gets the other (we switch each month)
3rd Friday – Date for Mom and Dad again!
4th Friday – Family Night
In case you’re thinking that looks expensive, you’re right if you do it the way we started out. The first month we tried this, we had the loopy notion that we all had to be completely out of the house every Friday evening. We’ve since figured out that this does not have to (nay, cannot!) be the case.
Family Night might be game night, or dvd and popcorn night, or, on rare occasions, a trip to Arby’s or some other restaurant that the girls love as much as our wallets do. We also love coupons (more on those later).
When we trade daughters, one pair of us does leave the house, just because it’s more effective that way. But only one pair leaves, and we make sure we do something within our budget. Like the dollar theater, or a walk through the neighborhood. What the girls are really looking for is time to talk to Mom or Dad without a sister there to intrude. There’s no minimum payment for that.
And on our date nights, we are coupon freaks. We love the Entertainment Book because, at most restaurants, we only have to pay for one dinner. This also helps stay out of a restaurant rut, because you can only use the card once per place. If we don’t have a coupon for the place we’re going, we can still split the meal if we so choose. We have friends who always get a three-course meal — but only one of each course, with extra plates all along the way.
Not in the mood to eat out? There are movie ticket deals, event deals, a veritable treasure trove of … well, Entertainment!
Not in the mood to go out at all? That’s okay, too. See if you can get sleepovers for your kiddos (make a deal with another date-starved couple to trade nights) and stay home. We like living room picnics. We don’t even care what we’re eating, really. Everything tastes better on a tablecloth, even if it’s on a card table or on the floor. A candle doesn’t hurt.
If your issue is babysitting, again: you don’t have to actually go out. If you can’t get sleepovers, you can just delay your date until after the kiddos are in bed. Perfect time for star-gazing. Which, of course, is free.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure your date of choice serves its purposes: much-needed time for you and your spouse; and much-needed evidence for your kids of the love you share.