For years, my husband and I were the recipients of a consistent piece of advice.
“You need a date night,” friends often told us. “There is no way to remain sane while raising children if you don't ever go out on your own.”
This guidance — conveyed through phone calls, emails and text messages with an increasing frequency that began to feel like an intervention — made us pause to think about how we handled that aspect of our life. So we sat down to discuss whether we were taking care of our relationship in the midst of taking care of our children.
“I don't think we've been alone since 2003,” my husband said.
I frowned. That was a slight exaggeration. But I had to admit, we rarely went anywhere by ourselves. Grocery store, mall, restaurants, vacation ... our kids were always with us.
“But is that a bad thing?” I asked. “Isn't it good that we all enjoy being together?”
“It's good that we have a close family,” he said. “But time alone is going to make us better parents. We need to go out and talk about something other than children and bills.”
I knew he was probably right. And it wasn't like scheduling a date was a big deal. A few hours alone would be fun. We could go see a movie. Or go to a restaurant and not spend $50 on macaroni. Or just ride in the car without trying to clean up a spilled milkshake. The possibilities were endless.
“I'll find a sitter,” I told my husband.
Five days later, with our kids happily climbing all over their grandparents, my husband and I left for a real date. My heart ached slightly as the door closed behind us, but I reminded myself how refreshed I would be when I came home, and therefore, a better mommy.
We climbed in the car, turned the radio on (and up, just because we could) and cruised down the street.
“Where to?” my husband asked.
The fact I could go anywhere I wanted without worrying about kid's meals or diaper changing stations left me feeling excited and … totally empty-headed.
“I have no idea!” I said incredulously.
We decided on an upscale restaurant (where we would never dream of bringing our kids), sat in the bar (just because we could) and cheerfully perused the menu in blissful quiet. We ordered our food, sat back and sipped our drinks. I sighed. My husband scanned the room. And then, I laughed.
“I can't think of anything to talk about besides the kids!” I told him.
“Me neither,” he said with a chuckle. “Let's forget about the date night rules. We'll talk about whatever we want, and just enjoy the fact that no one is interrupting us.”
He winked at me, and I actually blushed a little bit. As I looked at him across the table, I realized how important it was to make sure my spouse didn't simply become my co-parent. We needed and deserved a break to stay connected as we navigated the sometimes-choppy waters of parenthood together.
We spent the next three hours listening to each other, oblivious to anyone else in the room. By the end of the evening, I felt like I really knew my husband again. And that was the moment I fully realized the relevance of date night.