One of my favorite date nights involved a broken down 1967 Cadillac limousine, parked by a friend in our backyard, a bottle of sparkling cider and a bag of burgers served on china. Memories like these bring couples together, and are often interrupted by a knock on the limo door and little voices that need drinks of water and have monsters under their bed. Years of personal research and practice has finally led to some expertise in the area of, "Mom and Dad time" and its impact on children.
The National Marriage Project reports that research shows, "Clearly, husbands and wives who enjoy high levels of couple time together are markedly less likely to divorce." They also state that having couple's time together increases sexual satisfaction and commitment. They reported that, "Thus, couple's time - and by extension, date nights - seems like an important resource to new parents seeking to keep the quality of their relationship high amid the joys, stresses, and challenges of parenthood ... We should also note that the quality of the relationship between parents is one of the key factors associated with the cognitive, social and emotional development of their children ... In short, date nights have the potential to make important contributions to the development of children."
Here are five tips for helping smooth the way to quality couple's time with child cooperation.
1. Plan a weekly designated date night and plan the rest of your life around it
Look carefully at your children's schedules and your work schedules. Which night of the week is least likely to be interrupted by soccer games, church activities and television sports? Name your night and do everything in your power to keep it the same night each week. It can be a work or school night. A date doesn't have to run late into the evening to be quality couple's time. As you can tell by my parked Limo experience, it also does not have to be costly or extravagant to impress your spouse. Be creative and focused on each other for whatever amount of time you choose.
2. Use consistent dates to create a family tradition
Children find security in routine. By doing the same thing regularly, children know what to expect and become increasingly comfortable. Habits are best formed when kids are small. Be consistent and start early. However, if your children are older, start with a family meeting. At first, you may get an, "Eew, that's icky!" However, in time, if you are consistent they will understand your need for alone time. Model for them what you hope they will do when they are in a relationship.
My parents had a weekly date night. Every Friday, everyone in town knew that my father and mother were on a date. Dad volunteered in our local church, but on Friday night between 7 and 9, there was no point in calling him, he wasn't going to answer. It was date night and we all knew it was sacred. Small wonder my spouse and I have the same habit. We have been so consistent I can't think of a week in the last 20 years that we have missed. Our young married children and their spouses are the same. I love calling my daughter to invite her out, only to be turned down because it is her date night.
3. Make your couple's time or date night kids' treat night
Kids hate being stuck in bed, feeling like there is a party in the next room. If you are having a couple's night, there IS a party in the next room. Find small ways to give them a feeling that they are being treated as well. Try a designated stuffed animal, a book on tape, or extra time to read in bed with a flashlight.
If you are leaving children home to go out, leave them with treats or games that are only available on date night. Allow children to listen to music in bed when you are out, or leave a video for the sitter to play after they are ready for bed. Leave behind love notes, new board games, library books or other date night treats that let them know you love and miss them. Create a tradition of extra fun for them, while you are having extra fun as a couple.
4. Set clear boundaries
. Teach children that if a bedroom or bathroom door is closed, they should knock and wait for permission to go in. Knock when you enter your child's room. Teach courtesy and respect and it will pay off when you want time alone together. Do your best to create a sanctuary or haven in your bedroom. This will allow you and your spouse to have a place to recharge your batteries without leaving home.
5. Give kids individual date nights
Take turns taking children out, one at a time, on a formal date night of their own. This should not take the place of your date night. Dress up and let sons open doors for Mom. Let daughters experience having doors opened for them, and having a chair pulled out for them to sit in. It is a great time to secretly teach manners while young children get to play grownups. It is also a great excuse for quality one on one conversations with teens. Kids will be more patient with your date night, if they know their turn is coming.
Live your life the way you want your children to. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. Cultivate love and intimacy by carving out couple's time. At the same time, you will be raising a generation that is watching.
Plan to be a couple a long time by investing in each other. Make your family a part of the plan. "Mom and Dad time" is good for the entire family.