Recently at a mom’s night out with friends, the conversation turned to first date nights after baby’s arrival. My friends quipped about dropping off newborns to go out of town for the evening, even crossing state lines for big events and leaving the grandparents in charge. I remained conspicuously silent. Our first “date night” (if you could call it that) was accepting a friend’s invitation to a couples’ Shabbat dinner when our son was roughly 18 months old. At that point, he was going to bed early enough that we could leave the house without him ever knowing. We left grandparents in charge to watch the baby monitor as he slept through without ever being disturbed by the idea that Mommy and Daddy were out for a few hours. He’s now over two years old and we haven’t been out since. And we’re okay with that.
Before he was born, my husband would talk about leaving our son with the grandparents so we could have alone time. I entertained his notions. After all, who was I to argue? He’d grown up with two working parents and spent plenty of time with his grandparents and sitters growing up. The concept was foreign to me, the late in life surprise child whose arrival inspired her parents to do yard sales to afford diapers. My parents couldn’t afford sitters let alone dinners out. More than that, the idea of hiring a sitter out of a newspaper horrified my then-geriatric mother whose baby-raising notions were distinctly pre-women’s lib. I was a part of the family whose focus was time together. I never had a sitter who wasn’t my much-older brother and even that was a rare occurrence. Yet, somehow we made it work without killing each other and nearly 50 years later my parents are doing just fine.
It was our son who let us know very quickly that date nights were out of the question. By the time he was old enough and sleeping well enough that we thought we could do more than get out to the car and collapse from exhaustion, it became very clear that he was not going to stay at home with anyone but mom and dad. Sure, we could make him stay with his grandparents and go out anyway. But, was it worth paying the price of never being able to so much as leave the room for the next month without him having a panic attack? Nope.
Date nights quickly morphed into watching the first 30 minutes of a movie on the couch between getting him to bed and falling asleep ourselves. Instead of fighting our new roles as mom and dad we accepted them lock, stock, and barrel. Friends would look at us sideways when we’d turn down invitations to come out. Every teenage girl at our temple probably thinks we think they’re unqualified to babysit. We don’t, really. We’re actually quite comfortable with our routine. It’s what works for us.
But, we’re the exception, not the rule. Most couples today put off having children until later into their relationship. More stable finances mean more money for nights out and sitters. A daycare culture makes it easier to hand your baby off to a sitter because chances are they spend most of their day out of your sight as it is. Perhaps, more than anything, pushing off kids until your late thirties does make them seem like a foreign presence in an already well-established household. It isn’t that you don’t want your baby. You just can’t figure out how to incorporate him into your already hectic routine. Hence kids tend to be typified as marriage wreckers and date nights as the parental safe space that will save the marriage.
Recently our son let us know he was ready to hang out with grandma and grandpa alone. Watching him come to that conclusion on his own was incredibly rewarding for both of us. Instead of feeling guilty, we actually sorta cried (not really; maybe I pouted a bit) that he wasn’t our little baby anymore. We have yet to go out on a date night, though. The reality is that he’s become such a part of “us” that we feel rather lonely without him. My husband, ironically, would prefer to spend his down time with our son in tow. He figures date nights will happen when our son decides he’d rather hang out with his friends than us. And I’m cool with that.