Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Neglect Your Kids

Well, not really. But, one night a week, you have to let them get along without you.

That’s right, Gentle Readers: I’m talking about Date Night. Remember back in the old pre-parenthood days, when you and your Significant Other would spend time canoodling and whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears? Nowadays he is apt to put his arms around you, gaze deep into your eyes, and murmur in his throatiest voice, “Do you know that you have peas in your hair?” You were lovers before you were parents, and you will be alone together when the kids grow up and leave the house – you need to nourish that bond.

The American essayist Frances Mayes said, “The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.” This goes both ways. A family is built on a relationship between a man and a woman, and children NEED that stability in their lives (even if the parents aren’t married to each other anymore, which is why you’re never supposed to badmouth the other parent in front of the kid). It’s not just for their benefit, though; when you’re navigating the maze of parenthood it can be very easy (especially in the early years) to forget that you were ever a person, or a woman, a lover, or indeed ANYTHING but a diaper changing food preparing washerwoman carpooling homework checker.

If you need another yet another reason to celebrate Date Night on a weekly basis, consider this: Your children are learning how a man and a woman should interact with each other by watching you. That’s right: What you’re doing in the privacy of your own exhausted living room, night after night, is what your little ones have filed away under the heading “What Love Looks Like.” Think about the relationships you want your children to have with their future spouses; are you modeling that behavior?

I know it’s hard and there isn’t time, you’d just talk about the kids the whole time, there’s no one you trust to babysit and who has the money? I don’t care. Do it anyway. Odds are there’s someone you can get to babysit for two hours once a week and if there really, truly isn’t – and I’ve been there – you schedule your date for after the kid’s bedtime and you have it at home, just the two of you. Yes, it’s extra work, and it means you have to put clothes on and maybe wash your hair, but the payoff is enormous.

We have always had a Date Night and the kids respect it – they don’t know any better. In the beginning it consisted of a movie rental after the baby was asleep, with the occasional dash out for a burger on the rare occasions we could bear to be parted from her even for an hour. Now that our youngest kids are teenagers we go out to a movie, go to a comedy club, take a picnic to the river; it doesn’t matter WHAT we do, what matters is that we make it a priority to DO it.

A Date Night doesn’t have to cost anything at all. You can sit at the table and play backgammon, play a video game together, read aloud or take a walk. Once I snuck a video and a DVD player into the back of the van, loaded a bag with popcorn and drinks, and took my husband to the “drive in.” Some people take turns planning the dates, some people have “rules” (no talking about the kids, nothing over $20, whatever) and some people just get in the car and head out with no plan whatsoever. Do whatever works for you.

Let your child help you get ready (at least for the G-rated dates). Kids are smart, and it will do them good to see your excitement and happiness as you get ready to do something special with your sweetheart. Everybody is happier when they know that Mommy loves Daddy – and keeping that love a top priority will make your family rock solid.

Even after all these years . . . my heart still beats a little faster on Wednesday nights.

1 comment:

  1. You are totally, 100% right on this one, my friend. It is a MUST to keep the marriage strong and vibrant. So terribly easy to NOT make each other a priority when the kids are young. We make it a point to spend every evening together, though, in some form or fashion.


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