On the heels of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on the concept of date night.  And to offer some thoughts on how to fit it into busy working parent life on a consistent basis.

The year before my husband and I had kids, we had a lovely, romantic, 5-course Valentine’s Day dinner at a cute bistro within walking distance from our house.  The following year, about 7 weeks post-partum, we thought we’d recreate the experience.  But with take-out.

My husband bundled up, walked down the snowy street in the cold, and arrived home with a multitude of plastic bags, containing 10 Styrofoam boxes.  One for each of the five courses, for each of us.  We took turns eating.  Our baby screamed through his witching hour.  The food was cold by the time we ate it.  And Styrofoam does not a romantic meal make.

We’ve learned a few important lessons about date night since that early, memorable culinary disaster.  A few years later, when our kids were both in daycare, we dropped them off in the morning on Valentine’s Day, and went out for a lovely French breakfast.  This year, we hit up a local seafood place for a romantic Valentine’s Day lunch while our kids were in school.  No babysitter required.

To all you working parents out there struggling to make a date with your significant other a regular occurrence, I offer you these 5 concrete tips.

4 Strategies for Making Date Night Happen

  1. If It’s On the Calendar, It Happens.  My husband and I do a weekly “Saturday meeting” (more on the concept here).  One of the items on our agenda is: “have we scheduled our monthly date night?”  If the answer is no, we immediately look at the calendar for the following month and pick a Friday or Saturday night.  During that meeting, my husband then reaches out by e-mail or text (yes, he carries the mental load for our babysitting team) to get a babysitter on the books.  We’ve discovered that if an event is on the calendar, it happens.  If it’s not there, it doesn’t.
  2. Aim for at Least Monthly Dates. The first year after our first son was born, things were dire on many fronts, including the elusive date night.  We went out perhaps once or twice that first year, but we hadn’t made it much of a habit.  And we both missed that one-on-one time together.  For the past few years, we’ve settled into a nice rhythm or monthly outings of one sort or another.  The frequency feels good.  It’s regular enough to give us some space together.  And not too frequent as to be a disaster for our wallets or to make us feel like we’re missing out on important kid time.
  3. Think Beyond Dinner and Popular Holidays. Date night doesn’t have to be at night.  And it doesn’t have to be on those dreadfully popular days of the year, when all the restaurants are full and babysitters are hard to come by.  By lunching together on Valentine’s Day, my husband and I avoided the expense of a babysitter.  We celebrated “New Year’s Eve” this past year with an amazing dinner out on December 28.  There’s lots of room for creativity here.
  4. Build Your Babysitting Team. This is an important one, whether you have close family nearby or not.  If you don’t, you know how critical it is to build a reliable village where you live.  I’ve also heard working parents who lived near family say that they didn’t want to “impose” on the family for a date night, when those caregivers already offered so much.  My husband and I have built our babysitting team in two ways.  First, by relying on our daycare teachers, who babysit outside of school hours.  And second, by “growing” them from parents helpers into babysitters.  (More tips on finding a nanny or babysitter here.)

My final tip?  Let yourself off the hook.  If regular dates haven’t been happening, okay.  No problem.  Start now, and get one scheduled.  If you have to cancel because a baby gets sick, okay.  Get another on the books as soon as you can.  Didn’t get out for Valentine’s Day this past week?  Schedule a March Madness night on the town.  Stat.

Back to Work After BabyIf you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.  

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