For Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I went out for pizza. As we pulled the highchair up to our booth and worked the buckle over our toddler’s wiggling hips, we looked into one another’s eyes, shook our heads and smiled together about the romance we knew we were missing. While most couples we know were somewhere fancy for the night, we opted to keep it low-key and enjoy our family time.
Deciding to bring our son along on our Valentine’s Day date might seem strange to some, but for us, it was business as usual. In the past year, my husband and I have gone out without my son exactly twice, and though it might come as a shock, we’re totally OK with our dateless life.
Before our little one came along, we heard time and again from well-meaning relatives, online advice columns, and acquaintances who’d had kids before us that maintaining a regular date night should be one of our number one priorities after our son was born. Those who preached the importance of date night recommended that we find a regular sitter, set aside one night every other week, get dressed up, and get out of the house. We were told to reserve the night for romance, go somewhere fancy and leave our phones with all their baby pictures and videos behind, while we talked about anything other than our little one.
As fun as date night sounded, those who told us it was a must-do made clear that it wasn’t just for fun, but that it was absolutely essential to ensuring our marriage didn’t crumble under the weight of sippy cups and dirty diapers. And man, before my son was born, I was on board with it. We decided that Thursdays would be our night and that we would start when our son was a month old. I even picked out my first date night outfit, a black dress that was nice, but loose enough that I thought it would flatter my postpartum body so soon after birth.
My son was born in January, and unsurprisingly, the chaos of new parenting sent my life into a whirlwind. It wasn’t until nearly May that my husband and I even remembered we were supposed to be going on dates. We talked about how much fun it would be to get out of the house, but my son, though the size of a 9-month-old, was still nursing in the evenings like a 2-week-old. He took my milk in bottle when he was with his daytime sitter, but in the evenings, he showed how much he missed me by staying latched from the time I walked through the door until he went to bed. We resigned ourselves to the fact that date night would have to wait a little bit longer. I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t gotten out of the house together yet, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my marriage didn’t seem to be crumbling yet.
By the fall, my son had stopped nursing quite so frequently, but by then, we’d started a lovely bedtime routine that involved books and baths and snuggles and rocking. My boy went to bed absolutely perfectly, as long as my husband and I were the ones putting him down of course. We were committed to gentle parenting and had decided months prior that we would never let our boy cry to sleep, so we decided to put off date nights for a few more months, just until he was more independent at bedtime. Though I was anxious to spend a little more one-one-one time with my husband, I was happy to realize that our marriage seemed to be doing pretty well, despite our inability to get out of the house.
By my little guy’s 1st birthday, he was only nursing a few times per day and was happy to go to bed on his own. He was comfortable with a few family members, and it seemed like he’d be happy to be left in their care. By that point, he was, in simple terms, absolutely fantastic. He was laughing and chatting and learning and growing. He was affectionate and inquisitive and incredible. He was also changing so quickly that my husband and I simply couldn’t bear to miss a night with him. Though I wondered if I was dooming my marriage by staying in, I checked in with my husband and was happy to find he also thought we were perfectly happy.
My son is 2 now and has remained simply fantastic. And my husband and I still can’t bear to miss an evening with him. We’re both working parents, and after leaving our boy with a nanny all day while we do our jobs, it just seems wrong to pass him off and miss the precious evening hours we do have with him. I don’t begrudge parents who do date nights religiously. I’m happy that’s what works for them, but I do wish the general public realized that you don’t have to keep a special date night to remain happily married.
My husband and I spend a lot of time together. We eat dinner as a family every night, and after my son goes to bed, we stay up talking or playing cards or watching movies. Sure, we’re in our pajamas, but quality time is quality time. We also have lots of fun with our boy along for the ride; the fact that we’re pushing a stroller doesn’t mean we’re not also connecting as a couple. There are lots of ways for a marriage to thrive, so if you’re like my husband and me and prefer to enjoy your time as a family, as long as you’re happy, you’re probably going to be just fine.
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