Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
The University of Virginia’s The National Marriage Project recently released a new study on married couples and “date night.” The study considered the potential effects of regular couple time based on the following five criteria: communication, novelty, sexual and romantic passion, commitment, and stress relief. Not surprisingly, the results consistently show that for both husbands and wives, weekly date nights increase marital satisfaction across all of those categories. For parents, in particular (who typically get 2 fewer hours per day of couple time than their married but childless peers), date nights help ward off the disconnection that can surface when parents are consumed by childcare duties.
This survey caught my attention because, in the midst of my second pregnancy, I keep grappling with the inevitable press on my time that will arrive with our bundle of joy. The naptimes that I currently use to grade papers, create lesson plans, do housework, or rest will suddenly be consumed by another small person uninterested in my schedule or professional agenda. The consistent bedtime we’ve established for my daughter means that my husband and I get a couple of hours together each evening, but soon an infantile interloper will be in one of our arms for much of that time. We don’t have family nearby willing to babysit for us, or much disposable income to hire sitters, and nearly all of our friends are in the same child-rearing phase as us.
The survey information and these realizations about my personal life feel pretty daunting, and they remind me of the need to get creative. “Date night” doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did before my husband and I had children; a walk through town counts now, or 20 minutes playing a simple card game, or even a note on the mirror. This survey reminds me from a secular vantage point that my marriage is still the foundation of my family, and that healthy children and a healthy family require a strong relationship between husband and wife. For now, that means seizing opportunities for “real” dates when they come along, and making the most of spontaneous moments that might have slipped by unnoticed before children. Child-rearing is for many couples a season, and an important season, but it’s up to parents to cultivate themselves as individuals and as a marital couple so there’s something worth sticking around for after the chickadees fly the coop. “Date nights,” in small, creative ways, can make the difference.