I just googled “date night” and found over 84 million results. People are clearly into date night – with good reason. According to doctor Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute, many well-intentioned couples direct time and energy toward their children at the expense of the marriage.
While parents may think this is best for their children, it’s to the detriment of the entire family when parents fail to nurture their relationship with one another. Skyler says, “It may seem less logical to take care of [your relationship] first, [but] it actually does affect the family in a positive way. A happy marriage makes a happy family.”
But getting out for date night requires childcare. As we all know, good sitters are rare and precious, not to mention expensive.
Enter the SAHDN (stay at home date night). My Pinterest feed is filled with date night ideas to try at home. Some are far-fetched. Others are downright unreasonable. I admit to hate-reading websites advising me to dress up as the movie character of my husband’s choice, and to have him dress up as whatever movie character I choose. I can barely get my act together for Halloween, a holiday for which I have 365 days’ notice.
Other ideas I can’t get behind: Eye bombing, doing an insane workout while watching a show, drinking game style, or creating a scavenger hunt.
My husband and I love each other, but we’re exhausted. After wrestling kids into jammies and bringing them that final drink of water (and then the one after that), we’re lucky if we aren’t falling into bed ourselves.
As one of my Facebook friends so eloquently responded when I asked for fun at-home date night ideas, “Are you effing kidding me???? Sleeping at the same time is our date night.”
Date night doesn’t have to be a five-course dinner, tantric sex, or even an entire movie. The point is to connect. As in, put your phones away and pay attention to each other.
First, put your kids to bed earlier than usual, if at all possible. Skip naps, have them run laps around the house, turn the clocks back, or do all three. Whatever works. You deserve some alone time with your partner. If you’re waiting to have dinner until your kids are down, feed them something painfully simple – something that requires very limited clean-up. I’m talking peanut butter and jelly and carrot sticks on paper plates.
Save your limited energy for staying up and talking about things that are not your kids, and reminding each other of the fun, energetic, fabulous people you were before said kids made you tired and poor.
Here are seven ideas for at-home date nights for real parents. Because the best date is the one that actually happens.
1 | Eat grown-up food together
Once your kids are asleep, you are probably very hungry. You might be tempted to eat the crusts of their sandwiches while you wait for your own dinner. Do not do this. Instead, have a big glass of water (or wine) and wait to savor something you wouldn’t normally enjoy with your kids.
My husband and I did this recently and we couldn’t get over the fact that we were able to have an uninterrupted conversation at our own table. Or don’t talk. Just enjoy your food together and take in the precious silence.
2 | Go outside (but not far)
Crack a window or grab the baby monitor and hit the backyard. Have a drink on your patio, spread out a blanket and stargaze, or sit by a bonfire or fire pit.
My husband and I made our own fountain last summer and had so much fun enjoying the tranquil sound over a glass of wine as the sun set after our kids were down. (I confess, we bought the supplies together while a sitter was watching our kids. Yes, we made a date out of a trip to the hardware store.)
3 | Create something
It doesn’t have to be complicated or labor intensive. You could turn on some music and do a simple project, like working on a puzzle or painting on canvases. I once got my software-developer, directions-loving, rule-following, lives-entirely-in-his-left-brain husband to make a vision board with me.
If I can do that, I’m pretty sure you can get your spouse – no mater how un-artistically inclined – to make a puzzle or a painting with you.
4 | Netflix and popcorn
Watch a movie or binge watch your favorite show. Or if either of those are too much of a commitment, watch one show, some stand-up comedy, or a few Daily Show clips on You Tube.
As a friend said, having fresh, real popcorn in the mix will keep you sitting close to one another. And if you think snuggling up with your honey and a screen doesn’t count as quality time, research shows it can actually be good for your relationship.
5 | Play a game
If you’re feeling energetic, break out a two-player game, like Scrabble, Jenga, Checkers, Chess, or Cribbage. If you want to raise the stakes, make the loser be the one to get up with the kids in the morning.
6 | Read aloud to one another
There’s something special about listening to your partner narrating a story – which words they put emphasis on, the accents and inflections they include in different characters’ dialogue, and just listening to the sound of their voice.
When I was enormously pregnant with our second child and unable to find a comfortable position in which to even hold my Kindle, my husband read me a chapter or two of “The Rosie Project” every night. He’s done a lot of sweet things for me over the years, but that ranks among the most romantic.
7 | Just talk
Put your phones away and just talk. Ask each other questions. Not questions like “Have you seen the checkbook?” or “Are you going to schedule the sewer clean out or should I?” No, ask real, juicy questions. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this fabulous list for inspiration.
8 | Get physical
Have sex. Or don’t. There are a million different ways to be intimate with your partner, other than intercourse. Take a shower or a bath together, give each other back rubs, or just kiss. Cuddling is known to cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a huge role in pair bonding.
Whether it happens weekly, monthly, or sporadically, date night is a time for parents to nurture their relationship. It’s a time to remember that we’re still the same people we were before whisper-yelling, “It’s your turn to tuck her back in!” and being careful to avoid the pain of stepping on a rogue Lego. Date night is a time to have a conversation beyond whether the dishwasher is clean or dirty.
So don’t worry about creating the perfect, novel date. Focus instead on making it low-key, because the date you actually go on is the date that gives you a chance to re-connect.