22 August 2016

6 Ways to Get More Kid-free Date Nights

I absolutely love going on date nights with my husband. I love being able to try a fun, new, non-kid-friendly restaurant where we don't have to request a highchair, remember to bring snacks to avoid meltdowns while waiting for the food to arrive, or do damage control to avoid all the food ending up on the floor. Seriously, HOW does one kid make such a big mess?! I love getting all dolled up beforehand in anticipation of the date. And most of all, I love the statement that we are making to each other that our marriage is our most important (earthly) relationship.

So WHY is it so insanely hard to make this a priority for us? I'm sure we can't be the only ones with this struggle. I even dubbed August "National Date Month" and had everyone list ideas to swap (see the post here) and I still have yet to personally make our date happen. I think the main answer is... kids. We never had issues planning date nights pre-kids. In fact, every time we dined out was a date night. Now those nights out are taken over by kids menus, diapers, and wiping up food from... everywhere. WHY did you fling your mac and cheese at that poor old man at that table?! So sorry, sir. Not so romantic.

Instead of wallowing in sympathy at the demise of the beloved date night, I decided to compile a list of 6 ways to get more kid-free date nights. I'm hoping this will also be a good kick in the tail for us to finally let go of the excuses and plan one of our own! Now on to the list:

1) At the beginning of the month, plan out your dates. This one seems like it should be an obvious step, but it's often not. Unfortunately, a date night won't magically appear on your calendar. It takes lots of planning when you have kids. Even couples without kids usually have super busy lives. It can easily get pushed to the side and slip through the cracks. Sit down with your spouse at the beginning of the month, pull out your calendars, and mark it down in pen which day(s) you will set aside.

2) Swap date nights with a friend. Lack of money for a babysitter is often a huge issue. It is for us! But guess what - there's probably a friend or two that also have that same problem. Why not do a date night swap? It's a win-win. We love doing this. I would gladly watch a friend's kids one night in exchange for a night out with my hubby on another night. If you're already home watching your kids, it's not that much harder to add a few more to the mix. Maybe even pop some popcorn and make it a kid's movie night! If you seriously don't think you have any friends that would do this, do a Facebook post and you may be surprised.

3) Ask local friends or relatives if they would be able to watch your kids. It's usually hard for me to ask for help, but I'm often surprised at how many people are willing to watch kids just for the joy of helping out or get their "baby fix"! I was shocked at how many ladies at our church jumped at the idea of spending some time playing with my girls. College students also may crave a home-cooked meal in exchange for babysitting. Give them their delicious dinner, put your kids to bed, and then they have a quiet and cozy study space away from the dorm for a few hours! If you find yourself blessed with free babysitting by a relative or friend, make sure you are super flexible with timing and location. Always work around their schedule and offer to drop your kids off at their house to make it as convenient for them as possible since they are doing such a huge favor. Show your thanks by baking them cookies or sending a thank you note! Hint: if you are an empty-nester or just have some time on your hands, remember how tough it was when you had little ones. Perhaps you have long since repressed those stressful memories, but trust me - it's a hard stage of life! You can make a young couple super happy by volunteering a couple of hours for them to reconnect!

4) Be flexible about timing. This was mentioned in the prior tip, but remember that it might be easier to find someone to babysit your kids during the day. Since our kids need to go to bed fairly early, it's difficult to have them at anyone else's house late at night since then we have to worry about spaces for them to sleep, sound machines, and waking them up when we are done to drive them home. Not fun. The other option is to have someone come to our house but we usually only do that if we are paying someone. To make the timing easier on others, be creative about timing! Plan a fun brunch date. Who doesn't love brunch food?! Pack a picnic lunch and go to a park. Or still go to your favorite restaurant but go for a super early dinner. It's often easier to find reservations earlier in the night anyways! Then you can be back to pick up your kiddos in time to take them home for their bedtimes.

5) Save up for paid babysitting. You may be new to an area or just not have anyone that you feel comfortable asking. In this case, paid babysitting is the way to go. Even when money is tight, you may be able to work it into your budget if you plan ahead of time. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's books on personal finance in order to gain control of your money. If date nights are a priority, put it in your budget first and force everything else to work around that. It may mean cutting back on eating out, brown bagging your lunch, or ditching the Starbucks habit for a week to save up. If you only have one or two kids, maybe you can find another family that could split the cost with you for a babysitter that is capable of watching multiple kids at once.

6) Identify other obstacles and work towards fixing them.
- Does it kill you to think about being away from your kids? Remember, a strong marriage is one of the best gifts you can give to your kids to help them feel secure and loved. Make it a priority! And remember it may be harder on you than it is for your kids. They will most likely have a blast playing with their babysitter as a change of pace!

- Does your baby exclusively breastfeed like my baby? Work to find a bottle that they like and pump spare milk. This can be challenging early on and might take a few months realistically, but eventually most moms can find a good time to pump especially once their babies sleep a bit longer. For me, if my baby goes to bed at 7, I try to pump right before I go to bed around 10 or 11. Is it a pain? YES, it is. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

- Fear of being intimate with your spouse? Keeping the kids around can be a great (but unhealthy) buffer in a marriage. If you fall into this trap, you especially need to make it a priority to spend time working on your marriage. Possibly meet with a counselor (all marriages need maintenance!) or start small and take at least a first baby step towards reconnecting with your spouse.

- No money for the date after paying for babysitting? Plan a free date! Get creative. Bring a picnic to a park, take a walk around monuments, visit a free museum, etc.

- Have money for dates but having trouble finding someone? Look at care.com or another similar site. Pre-kids I used to find babysitting jobs through care.com and it connected me with many amazing families. You can run background checks on potential sitters, call references, and even sometimes read other's reviews on the sitters. Or ask around with your friends who they use to watch their kids. Yes, it takes a bit of work, but there are ways to find people!

- Too lazy to plan a date? I often fall into this trap. My husband and I love a night in watching Netflix on the couch after the kids go to bed. Or other nights we will have amazing conversations. This is still great quality time but it's not quite an equal substitute. There's nothing like a date night out that makes us feel like a priority in each other's life. Once out, it often reminds me of when it was just the two of us and when we were first in love. That can do amazing things for a marriage!

Let's discuss. What are some other obstacles that keep you from having as many date nights as you would like? What are some other suggestions for getting some kid-free date nights out that you could add to the discussion?

Let's make "National Date Month" happen! There's still time left in August! Get some great ideas for your date here.

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