The Kiddy Pool: Salvaging the "Date Night"

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.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • Steve S.

    Although the study’s findings aren’t surprising, it’s easy for couples with young children to forget the connection between familial happiness and time spent with each other. It’s all too easy to rationalize spousal neglect by saying to ourselves (and sometimes to each other) that we’re neglecting each other “for the kids.” The irony is that couples who let work and childcare displace all couple-time are not actually working in the children’s best interests. In my experience–9 years of marriage and 3 kids later–our kids are always happiest when my wife and I take regular time for each other.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    In our case, it’s not so much that we find it “easy for couples with young children to forget the connection between familial happiness and time spent with each other.” We remember this constantly. It’s actually my biggest regret about having kids. We both know how awesome having time together is and long for a) the money to hire babysitters and b) the time to make use of babysitters. Unfortunately, even when a) is not a problem, we still have b) to contend with. And since keeping our two-bedroom house is more important than being able to go out, we work at home in the evenings after the kids are in bed. I get up at 6:30 and go to work. I get home at 6:30, spend an hour-and-a-half with my 2-1/2-year-old daughter and infant son and prepare dinner and read them a story before they both go to bed at 8:00. Then, my wife and I both work, generally until midnight or later. There are occasional nights when the workload lets up for one of us and rare occasions when it serendipitously lets up for both of us (we play games on those magic nights).

    What we do to keep it real is talk constantly about thoughtful things. She’ll ask me what i read that day and then we’ll discuss it. And vice versa. This keeps us interacting, challenging each other to better understand the world, and remembering who each other are—for that glorious day when the kids are more self-reliant and maybe money isn’t such an issue.

    And every so often the miraculous occurs and we do get three hours of babysitting. On those nights, we get takeout cheesecakes from Cheesecake Factory, set up in a Starbucks with a nice big table, and bust out a boardgame. It’s not as fun as when we would do this five nights a week before kids, but it works for us.

  • Corinne

    If I may ask a potentially terrible question…why have kids at all? If one is able to choose not to have offspring (not including unexpected pregnancies), then why go down that path at all?

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    That’s a fair question, Corinne. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to have kids myself. Like every choice, there are sacrifices involved. However, as awesome as my life was before children, I wouldn’t say that the awesomeness has experienced a net diminishment. My daughter is amazing and I have a lot of fun with her and being able to play a part in providing her the best life and formative experience that I possibly can is wonderfully satisfying (since your question is aimed at what a parent could get out of offspring).

    There are upsides and downside and I don’t think parenthood is something for everybody. If my daughter weren’t so awesome as she is, I could see me not enjoying parenthood at all—since I don’t naturally enjoy children like some people do.

    If you think about it, it’s not so different from marriage. Before marriage, I could stay up ’til 3 playing WoW or watching movies or going on dates or reading books. I could take off for Europe on a whim and travel the countryside. Now that I’m married, my liberties are severely curtailed. I can’t play games when I want. I can’t vanish on vacation. I can’t date girls, like, ever. But depending on one’s marriage, the sacrifice of those things might be worth the cost. It might not, but it might be.

    All that said, I don’t think there is any reason couples should have children if they aren’t in the mood and can safely prevent conception. The earth is already on the edge of being overfilled and the biblical mandate to fill the earth finds non-biological fulfillment under the new covenant. So have kids or don’t according to your desires and ability.

  • Corinne

    Thanks for your reply, Seth. I have always wondered why couples, especially in the Christian community, want to have children and then are so miserable once it happens. I’ve been told everything from the biblical mandate you mentioned to “raising up a new generation of Christians” as if having a child and raising them “the right way” guarantees their desire to be a part of Christianity. Some have even said, “Well, who will take care of you when you are old?” (I don’t have children, clearly) All of those reasons seem unfair to the child entering the family.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful reply.

  • http://goodokbad.com/ Seth T. Hahne

    Yeah, I tried to stay away from those arguments because they all strike me as bad reasons for having kids. Honestly, the reason I had kids was because a) my wife wanted them (and not for the bad reasons you mention) and b) I didn’t mind the idea even though I knew there would be sacrifices.

    I would say that everything went better than expected. I love my children with a level of attachment that I’ve felt toward few other people in this world. They have made the sacrifices worth it. Still, it was a risk and things could have turned out very differently—and still may. My son could grow up into a misogynistic abuser who steals from us to support a drug habit. At that point, I might regret the decision to have a second child (our son)—but as yet, I have no regrets despite the obvious restraints on my freedoms.

  • Steve Schuler

    Corinne asks a very good question. The simple answer, I think, is that having children is a part of the cultural narrative we inhabit. The usual course for an adult is education, career, marriage, children. I think that’s actually a fairly healthy narrative to live out, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

    I write this having spent an hour last night tending to (and cleaning up after) a sick child. It gave me a lot of time to reflect on the question. A theological answer is that parenting tends to increase our capacity for love, which I hope all Christians can agree is a good end in itself. Much of the Christian life has to do with reordering our affections, and both marriage and parenthood give ample opportunity for that. However, so long as our standard of happiness comes from the advertising culture, which emphasizes physical comfort, immediate emotional gratification, and general affluence, then we will perceive children as an inconvenience and a nuisance, something to be postponed as long as possible and sent away as soon as possible. I think that many gripes and grumbles you hear from young parents is the sound of priorities shifting without a clutch. It’s painful, but it’s also necessary for parents’ spiritual health in the long run. Of course you can learn to love without having children, but there is no love quite like that of a parent for a child, and to inhabit and grow in love is the basic purpose of Christianity.

  • Geoffrey R.

    Amen, Steve. I had considered posting, but you’ve basically said exactly what I was thinking.


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