It's the most commonly cited advice in relationship columns: set regular date nights. But for couples like us with five kids under age 10, it's not meant to be.
I’ve been married more than a decade, and having five children in that span, I find that marriage advice columns can be as tedious as parenting advice columns. Because, of course, every family’s situation is so different from every other family’s that the (surely well-meaning) advice is often useless … unless it’s so general as to be obvious.
Take this article from The Federalist on “6 Hurdles to Date Night and How We Get Around Them.” The author starts by saying how much she enjoys going on dates with her husband to keep the flame alive. Of course, they’ve been married eight years, which probably seems like a lot, but is barely enough time for the leaping flames to start to ebb. Then she shares the six excuses she hears: “We’re too busy,” “We don’t have enough money,” “I don’t trust anyone to watch my kids,” “I’m too tired,” “I feel selfish for leaving my kids,” and “I don’t want to spend a whole evening with my husband.” (I should add that the whole column is written from a wife’s point of view.)
The problem is none of the items listed are the hurdles my wife Melanie and I face, (except one is sort of—more on that in a second), and a lot of my friends agreed with me. We love spending time together. We know our kids get plenty of time with us since they’re home schooled, and I work from home a couple days per week. And yeah, we’re tired, but that’s being a parent. You learn to live with it. We know dates don’t have to be expensive. And we spend many evenings curled up with a book, a TV show, or Facebook so free time isn’t an issue.
If we have a hurdle it’s finding someone to watch our kids. It’s not that we don’t trust someone with our kids. It’s that we can’t find someone to watch our kids on a regular basis. The author says: “There is probably someone you’d trust. Find those people.” I want to bang my face on the desk. We have looked. We have asked. Many people have made general offers, but nothing in the realm of being able to watch them all regularly. My 15-year-old niece would happily watch them, but she lives a half hour away. After a night out with my wife, I don’t want to spend another hour in the car driving back and forth. That feels like it misses the point.
We’ve often been asked why we don’t ask at our parish for babysitting help. I know parishes in some places are chock full of lots of people of all ages, but not ours. The one teen we found who was interested for a moment backed out when she realized the size and ages of our brood. And when you home school and the mom is an introvert who doesn’t have a lot of local friends and the dad is one of those middle-age guys who doesn’t have time to spend with friends (that’s a whole other conversation), your options are limited.
There are few people who want to oversee the bedtime ritual of five children 10 and under. (I barely survive it.) The reality is that when you live fruitfully, joyfully accepting the children that God sends you as they come, you are an oddity and your family is … scary.
I know, I know, it’s for a season, we’ll be sad when they’re all grown and the house is quiet. We’ve actually accepted that reality for our marriage at this time. And we do occasionally get a date night when Melanie’s mom or dad or sister visit a few times per year.
But I wonder how many couples are out there thinking there’s something wrong with them because they can’t make it work like these advice-giving columns say they should. How many couples are left wondering if they’re just too selfish or broken or if their kids are just too horrible to get a regular date night?
Here’s some advice we can all live with. Your experience of marriage and parenthood will be different from all others and what you need from it to succeed will be different too. Some couples really need to have those regular date nights, even every week, and whatever they can do to make it happen is fine. Some couples are just as happy and fulfilled with quiet nights spent at home, reading books or watching TV, sometimes in the same room, sometimes not. (After all, introverts need to recharge with alone time, too.) And maybe you really feel like you need those date nights, but you just can’t seem to make them happen now.
It’s okay. It’s normal. You will survive and so will your marriage. Love each other. Be patient. Find joy in what you have and remember that some day this phase will end and another will begin. It’s not the end of the world.