Ever wonder what you did with all your free time before you had kids? I sure do, because now it’s such a precious commodity that I can’t remember what it’s like to regularly have evenings and weekends to myself. Over the years, though, I’ve come up with tactics to make sure that my husband and I still have a life outside of our parenting existence. These strategies have kept us happy and sane and, oh yes, they’ve made us better parents, too.
1. Give each other weekday nights off.
My husband and I regularly alternate bedtime so the other can have the evening free. When it’s my turn, sometimes I’ll whip up a nice dinner for the two of us (this is a treat because as working parents, we tend to rely on takeout). Or I’ll have dinner with a friend and maybe see a show, too. Going out on a school night feels extra-delicious — like I’m so baaaaad.
2. Take advantage of Parents Night Out programs.
Both my daughter’s gymnastics center and the gym we go to offer Parents Night Out programs where, for a small fee, we can drop off the kids for several hours, then head out and do our own thing. A growing number of YMCAs, kid activity places, and churches also run parents night out, so it’s worth looking into in your area.
3. Vow not to talk about the kids.
Years ago, a relationship expert told me that one of the biggest mistakes parents make is to mostly talk about stuff related to their kids (who’s picking them up from art class next week, what the kindergarten teacher said, kid blah blah blah). “Couples need to talk about their hopes and dreams, not just the practicalities of life, to have a strong relationship,” she said. My husband and I have a deal: When we’re out, for the first 15 minutes or 20 minutes we can talk about our children. After that, kid talk is taboo and it’s all about us.
4. Hire a sitter … for when you’re home.
On occasion, I’ll splurge and hire a sitter to be around when I’m at home. This enables me to tackle approximately eleventy billion things on my to-do list without a child whining, “I’m boooooo-red!!!” or “I can’t find my sparkly purple ball!!!” Plowing through chores means more pockets of free time. Wheeee!
5. Commit to having a good time.
I’ve gotten my husband gift certificates for golf outings, and he’s bought me ones for spa treatments and, once, horseback riding lessons. It’s one thing to say you’ll go (but then never make plans); it’s another thing to not want to waste a Groupon. I’ve found the same applies with the gym; paying for a series of classes makes me more compelled to go to them. I also rely on peer pressure for amusement — I joined a book club so I know that one Sunday evening a month, I’ll be there with girls assessing our latest read … and analyzing a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
6. Do date mornings.
Date nights on weekends always rock, but sometimes my husband and I do date mornings. We get the sitter to come over around 10 a.m. and we head out for brunch, with our armload of newspapers. Once in a while, friends join us. Doing brunch sans kids isn’t just relaxing; there’s something all sweet and sentimental about spending Sunday morning like we used to when we were first dating.
7. Find an influential fun friend.
“Hey, wanna see this with me?” That’s the kind of email I regularly get from one of my bff’s about upcoming shows and performances, ordinarily stuff I’d neglect to look up myself. If it weren’t for her, I’d be severely culturally impaired. Every mom needs a friend like this in her life. Unless you are that person, in which case, please add me to your email list about upcoming events.
8. Make your me-time absolutely non-negotiable.
At least one Saturday morning a month, I head out for a long bike ride. I put it on the calendar. I tell my husband days in advance and remind him (and the kids) the day before too. And then, no matter what (well, barring a monsoon), I get out there and I ride. And when I come back, no matter what state of a mess the kitchen is in or how much TV the kids have watched while I’m gone, I feel totally relaxed — and the feeling lasts.
9. Consider a babysitting co-op.
You can save big-time bucks on babysitting (yet more motivation to get out with your spouse). The gist of the concept: you trade babysitting hours on a point basis. If you use a sitter, you spend points; if you babysit, you rack up points. Site like Sitting Around help you set up and manage a co-op.
10. Lock the kids in the basement.
KID-DING! We did, however, create a super-fun space for them down there (complete with a Wii console, board games, a craft closet, and even a mini snack/drink fridge) so that they actually want to hang out by themselves while my husband and I lounge around upstairs, catching up or ignoring each other as we check email (one of those).
11. Bribe your relatives or friends or …
… whoever will take the kids for a weekend so you can have an actual getaway. One road trip without the kids equals approximately 50 date nights. The trick, I’ve found, is leaving Friday night so you get two whole days (plus two whole mornings of sleeping in).
12. Have the kids do stuff you like.
When my kids were little, we spent weekends at the park, the zoo, or in germ-infested children’s play museums. As they got older, my husband and I realized that they could have just as much fun at places that weren’t for kids only. Us, too! I don’t mean that we started sneaking them into R-rated movies and wineries or anything. We simply took them to museums, photography exhibits, botanical gardens and, once, a sushi-making class. The kids enjoy themselves (in fact, my daughter now loves modern dance performances). My husband and I feel like two people — not just parents — enjoying ourselves. Win win.