Recently, my wife Mel and I were snuggling in bed watching an episode of Lost on the iPad. We always have a “show” we watch as a couple. It used to be Parks and Recreation. Before that it was Parenthood. All three kids were asleep, and we were both in our PJ’s. We try to do this every other night, because frankly, it’s all we have. This is not to say that we don’t try to go out. Or perhaps I should say that we try to try. But with three young kids and no family nearby, dates — formal ones, anyways — have become a serious challenge.
It wasn’t always this way, though.
Once, when Mel and I were dating, I snuck into her apartment. I cooked her dinner, set the table with a dozen roses, and wrote her a song on my guitar. I burned the steaks, the song was really horrible, and when Mel came home to me — unexpectedly sitting on her sofa, in the dark, and holding a guitar — she screamed. But the thought, the effort … all of it; it really worked. She loved it.
Honestly, though, I haven’t done anything like that in years. Sometimes, it’s everything we can do to get a night out.
Not that we don’t try — just a few weeks ago, we scheduled a sitter. But then the sitter canceled, which was good, because Tristan (our oldest) decided to puke in the hallway.
This is marriage with kids. Finding time to date, to be together, becomes a complicated moving target of sitters, time off from work, time off from kid activities, and once that’s all figured out, there is the challenge of doing something fun and exciting. Most of the time it’s all very complicated, until finally, you just want to get the kids to bed and watch a show on Netflix together, snuggle, and maybe, if this all happens before 10 PM, have sex.
For years this has really bothered me. I don’t want to speak for my wife, but I’m pretty confident it bothers her, too. With everything going on in our lives (work, college classes, kids) it seems like time alone together takes a back seat. I try not to compare myself to other couples, but when I see photos on Facebook of friends taking night cruises, or sitting down to candle lit dinners, I often ask myself, “Am I doing it wrong?”
So I decided to pose this question to the Facebook world. “What’s the best date you’ve had with your husband/wife/significant other since having children?” I asked.
Before long, there were nearly 100 comments. Some mentioned amazing overnight trips to New York to see a Broadway show, or a spur of the moment flight to a tropical island. But these comments were rare. Some responded with things like: “Date? After children? What’s that about? Lol.” Those were difficult to read, because they made me think of my own marriage. At the same time, they did help to normalize my own struggles.
But most people described something very similar to Mel and I watching Lost on our iPad.
“Anything that includes laughter, holding hands, and eye contact,” wrote one commenter. “It’s the simple things, and just having a moment alone with your love is so precious … (insert wistful sigh).”
Or they described a simple trip to the beach with good friends, or a walk in a garden.
These simple moments become so cherished after children. An hour or so alone after the kids go to bed. Getting a sitter for the evening, just so you can take your wife on a walk next to the river. A child-free trip to Target.
I hate to say that my standards of dating have gone down — and looking at it from the outside, I can see how that assumption could be made. But I think what happens, at least when you’re the parent of small children, is that you start to really value the little things. You become more humble and simplistic, and you look forward to just being alone with your partner, chatting about this or that.
This by no means is an excuse to give up on wooing your significant other entirely. At least that’s not what I’m trying to say — I think it’s important to still go out as much as you are able.
But there’s no getting around it; “dating” your partner when you have small children presents a lot of new challenges, and it’s good to accept that fact. If you don’t, you might find yourself missing out on fully enjoying a wonderful, simple, beautiful moment with the love of your life — because all you can think about is how you should be doing something more.
At least, that’s what I’ve been struggling with. And if nothing else, the dialogue on my Facebook page has really helped me realize that all those simple evenings spent binge-watching a show with my wife are indeed something very special.
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