Our lives change when kids enter the mix. Gone are the care-free days we so frequently wasted with our partner, not appreciating how rare the would be once the drunk midgets came into our lives. The focus instantly changes from ‘You and Me’ to ‘Keep the babies alive and happy.’
I’m a family man through and through. I love the dynamic of my wife and kids all together pulling the life-rope in the same direction. We laugh and joke a lot, and the kids are good kids, but the dynamic is one where they’re huge part of our energy system. And we’re together as a nuclear family. A lot. They are my favorite people on the planet, but there comes times when we need a break from being mom and dad and re-imagine ourselves as partners creating their own life.
In my experience, even with a Dad-as-Leader family structure, and not making life so kid-centric as most, the kids are such a huge attention hog (even when self-sufficient like ours) it changes the marital dynamic considerably. That’s life and we love parenting, but we have to make an effort to keep that special relationship bond center too, and to refocus the attention back to the core of the family – the husband and wife. While regular sex and connection at night after the kids are in bed are great maintenance ways to keep that muscle from atrophying, you must make more time and create more experiences that are built with just the two of you.
When was the last time you did a simple ‘date night?’ Not lying in bed watching Netflix with a glass of wine, but getting fancied up and going out on the town. A recent Glamour magazine poll noted 88% of couples in relationships don’t have regular date nights. Removing “regular” from the definition, I’m curious as to how many even have date nights on their screen as irregular occurrences. Many, many couples and men I know probably couldn’t tell you the last time they did something just the two of them. Routine takes over and they just ride the wave of soccer games, work functions, and maybe getting together as a group of friends with kids.
That intimacy of shared experience and conversations is lost without regular time together focusing on just the two of you.
My wife and I aren’t perfect in this department, and our situation is probably better than most. We have both sets of parents living within 20 miles of us, and neighbors that we can swap kids with pretty regularly. I’d say we get out on a real date night about once a month. Sometimes it is simply dinner. Sometimes we go to a concert. Other times we’ve done more exciting things like amusement parks with roller coasters or go carts, lunch and ziplining, or spending time teamed up in some sort of running or adventure race. On the rare occasion we’ve gotten away for nights at hotels after Christmas parties, or an anniversary. The point isn’t whether you go to an art gallery or go watch your favorite college team play, but that you’re building memories that are just the two of you. These become touchstones and can help keep those warm tingly romantic feelings alive that get stomped like a wet blanket with the day to day chores and kid obligations (like, shit, they have to eat again? I just fed them yesterday!).
To make this happen you need to plan ahead. Figure out your sitter situation. If you’re like us, maybe you’re lucky enough to have family in the area. We take great care in not burning anyone out with requests, but we’ve gotten over the fear of asking. It is a relationship investment so don’t feel guilty framing your request like that. As mentioned, we also swap kids with a couple of neighbors so that we may all share in these events without cost. We do have a couple of sitters we’ve gone to as well, along with dropping the kids off at one of the places in our town that have indoor sports or whathaveyou once a month as a service to parents so they can get out. Sitters and drop-off places cost money, but again, it is an investment in quality of marriage. And even if your kids are very young, a qualified responsible teenage babysitter who has been through classes (including infant CPR) can keep a baby or toddler alive for a few hours so that you may have some uninterrupted time. It is often the mental hurdle with the wife more than the husband, so that may take some negotiating. We also put rules on dates that we wouldn’t talk about the kids otherwise they again suck the energy out of the experience.
Now the penultimate situation is a vacation without the kids. Realizing that this is much more difficult logistically, I’d highly recommend getting away for a longer vacation where you can let your hair down. Though I’ve pulled back to the ‘Draft’ folder an earlier post I wrote on a sexcation a couple years ago, the 5 night vacation in Cancun was a major benchmark in our marriage. Our honeymoon wasn’t as great as I’d hoped (happened to be on it when 9/11 happened, and along with other things it just wasn’t great), but this previous trip away (sans kids) was everything and more. It bonded us tighter and gave us a major touchstone in our memories to come back to when things would get lackadaisical or a little complacent and allow us to weather the storm. While we had one of our parents watch the kids, other options for families could be to send their (older) kids to a summer camp, or send them to stay with a relative for a week. When I was a kid, my parents dropped us off at my grandparents farm for a week or two one summer, and who knows what they did without three kids in their hair – and we had a blast messing around on the farm. We’ve paid it forward with my BIL by taking both their kids for a week on a cabin vacation with our family so they could do their thang.
Holly and I are about to leave on our second ever vacation without our children, and we are pumped. Relaxing on the beach in the winter reconnecting as a couple is a rare treat and building memories that will last a lifetime, even if we’ll miss the kids a little. For those that are wondering what the trip is costing us, 7 nights at a nice all-inclusive (food and drink) in DR, including airfare, was $1,250 per person. You can find some good deals out there, but it usually isn’t about the money, it is about finding a way to leave the kids in responsible hands.