Modern mothers work more hours for pay than they did 50 years ago. They also spend more time with their children. They still sleep a solid 8 hours per night. What’s been lost in the shuffle? A few activities, most notably housekeeping, which I’d say is a good thing given the level of pointless domesticity highlighted in women’s magazines from 1963. Less positively, modern couples spend less time with each other than they did in decades past. In 1975, married parents spent 12.4 hours with each other, without the kids, each week. By 2000, that was down to 9.1 hours.
Some of you reading this are probably thinking “I would kill for 9.1 hours!” Every marriage expert tells couples that time spent together, interacting as adults, is key to maintaining a healthy relationship. And yet the vast majority of couples don’t do it much. I usually cite a survey from Redbook finding that, of its mostly mom readers, 45% say date night happens fairly rarely, and 18% manage once a month.
Sometimes the reason is financial. Going out to eat, or even to a movie, can be expensive, particularly when you add in the cost of sitting. But let’s say that you have a reasonable household income, coming as it does from two reasonably high-earning people. Let’s say you have three small children and -- allegedly -- full-time childcare. And let’s say (purely hypothetically!) that you managed to go 2+ months last summer without a date night.
How does this happen?
Here’s why. I got sick of planning it. I got sick of figuring out my husband and my schedule, and figuring out which of our sitters could cover an evening. So I just stopped doing it. It was just too much mental load, and I guess my husband, who was used to me doing it, didn't feel empowered to pick up the slack.
This past fall, though, we went on a reasonable number of weekday date nights. What happened is that we arranged regular sitter coverage for two weeknights per week. At least one is inevitably consumed by deadlines, work events, travel, etc., but the second isn’t always. So it’s available, and my husband and I have met for a quick 7:30 dinner several Tuesday nights. Usually he is the one proposing it. Once the babysitter became a done deal and (even better) a sunk cost, only one moving part has to be nailed down. Since neither of us is coming from home (I’m usually working at the library; he’s coming from work) there’s no temptation to stay put. We don’t really have to plan it days in advance, since the sitter is taken care of. Date night planning can become an email saying “want to meet somewhere?”
I realize not everyone is going to arrange for a regular sitter, though that's certainly an option. As part of the time makeover projects I've been doing, one couple decided to hire their occasional weekend sitter for an every-other-Thursday-night gig. Once they know she's coming, planning date night becomes less of an ordeal. You may not always be able to find a one-off sitter, but you know there's a restaurant out there that will take your money if the sitter's already showing up. Or you can just go make out in your car like teenagers. But if the regular sitter isn't going to happen, here are some other tips for making date night possible:
Make a big deal about big dates. You know anniversaries are coming (the day you met, the day you got married, the day you got engaged). You also know when both of your birthdays will be happening. That gives you time to plan, rope in an extended relative to sit, or trade off with a neighbor. Hit all five (or four, if you got engaged on your anniversary of meeting, or got engaged on your birthday, or some such) and that will be several big date nights per year, which is something. We’ll be doing an overnight in NYC soon, courtesy hotel frequent guest points, to celebrate one big anniversary, and I’m very much looking forward to that.
Skip the TV one night per week. After the kids go down, people naturally do something to relax: watch TV or a movie, surf the web, read. All are good at their own times, but spending one evening per week enjoying a drink together, or a late dinner or dessert, can help you connect. Sometimes people assume their spouse won’t want to skip TV, or they personally like late night TV, but I’m not saying talk to each other every night. You can still zonk out on the couch 6 out of 7 nights per week. Exactly why is that insufficient? This is more about habit than anything else. As a side note, studies of human happiness find that people enjoy sex far more than watching television.
Look for “date night” in hidden places. Maybe you work somewhat near each other. Can you meet for lunch once a month? Get up before the kids one day a week and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Join a gym with babysitting and work out together. Have meaningful conversations on long car trips when the kids are asleep in the backseat. Take naps together on weekend during a child’s naptime. We once had what felt like a date going shopping at Costco together -- with no kids! -- on a weekend when Grandma was visiting. Eventually, all of this adds up.
How often do you do date night? What do you usually do?
Photo courtesy flickr user scatto felino