The Date Night Alternative


Every parent needs a break–from grabbing a kid-free lunch to a quick walk around the block to a hotel night stay. Date night is the most common advice for the overwhelmed mom.

I’ve heeded this advice, especially as a way to give ME the time-out I needed before a mommy meltdown.

Except… this solution isn’t sustainable. What’s the typical scene after a date night? I’m relishing the amazing dinner I just had, heading back home, maybe even feeling rested and replenished… only to open the door and realize it’s back to the grind.

Because there’s no quitting in motherhood. Anything else in life–a difficult hobby, a stressful job, or even a toxic relationship—we can quit. Feel like sleeping in and not working out? Sure. But that won’t happen when my kids are clamoring for breakfast.

Day in and day out—for years—it’ll be like this. And it can be overwhelming, if not downright depressing, when I’m struggling with the obstacles.

Sometimes I’ve wondered, what have I gotten myself into? Who was I kidding, thinking I could handle this? And I cringe when I think about the days of my old life, when I wasn’t sleep deprived or didn’t dread another tantrum in public.

It’s hard being a mom:

When it takes three months to finally get around to buying makeup at the mall.

When my day revolves around nap times.

When my husband and I are up every few hours tending to three sick children.

Date nights or leaving the kids with a sitter are great, but they don’t always solve the problem of feeling overwhelmed with motherhood. Because the problem with taking temporary breaks is… they’re temporary. They tease you into thinking you can eat at a restaurant and actually enjoy every bite only to remind you that in about two hours, you’re probably not going to do that again for a long while. You go home and feel tethered to your kids again and life can’t be normal until they’re older. (And who knows what challenges will happen then?)

Sometimes we need something more than the afternoon off to feel like we have “a life” again.

So when date nights aren’t working, I do one simple thing:

I involve the kids in my life.

I remember the first time I felt life resume its normalcy: I was sitting in a crepe restaurant with my then-infant son, waiting for my order. It was a daring endeavor: until that point, I had hesitated even bringing him out, and the thought of waiting in a restaurant freaked me out, fearing diaper explosions or an inconsolable baby (with others’ irritated dagger eyes aimed right at me).

But that day, I decided to make a quick stop at a crepe restaurant. I would order something to go, even with baby in tow. And guess what: he sat on my lap, curious as can be, without giving me any problems.

“I can do this,” I thought.

When I feel like I can’t do anything because of the kids, I find one activity—one level up from my comfort zone—and just do it.

I do my best to prepare: I pack the bag with snacks, toys, diapers, wipes—anything I’ll need to make the outing a success (or at least prevent a disaster). And I keep it simple and try not to overestimate my kids’ threshold (like staying out for a long time).

Each time I do this, I realize I can have a life with kids. And perhaps more importantly, challenging myself raises my confidence and makes me feel strong enough to do nearly anything.

With each challenge, I grow into my role, gaining experience and confidence as I go along. I begin to learn the best way to avert a tantrum and how to combine errands with fun kid-related activities.

It’s not just outings. In the past, I’d cook after the kids were asleep, afraid of the chaos if I so much as step into the kitchen for a minute. Now, I cook and clean while they’re awake: I cook quick recipes and the kids play in the kitchen, and life feels normal since I can still get things done even with the kids around.

And it’s not just errands, either. Something as simple as being able to read a book while the kids are playing can be all I need to keep from feeling that life isn’t on pause until they’re asleep (or 18).

My kids are my world. But that doesn’t mean everything else is shoved to the back. By involving the kids in activities I enjoy or need to do, my life has become more normal again.

What activities do you with your kids in tow?

Nina Garcia is a working mom to three boys—a five year old and toddler twins. She blogs at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she’s learning about being a mom.

Photo: Dmitry Boyarin


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Comments (17)

  1. Nikki

    This is a great article. Parenting shouldn’t prohibit you from enjoying life as an adult.

  2. lisacng @ expandng.com

    I completely agree that occasional date night are great & needed but are not sustainable because there’s only so many things you can do in 4 hrs, in the evenings. Plus, it’s costly. Definitely the better solution is to find ways to enjoy life with the kids (not that we don’t enjoy it already, lol). Like going out to eat. OMG I used to dread taking our son! He’d be full on bread & butter before the appetizer even came. Then we’d have trouble keeping him busy. Good Lord, we’d hightail it out of there so fast. Frustrating. THANKFULLY, our daughter is much better & can sit through most of a meal. And our son gets to play on an electronic device after he’s finished ACTUALLY eating. Life’s definitely getting easier and I don’t *neeed* date nights as much as I used to.

    • Nina

      I’m grateful my kids seem to do really well with restaurants like your daughter, Lisa. But yes, we have had those episodes where we’d have to make a quick exit! Every little bit helps, such as cooking or prepping dinner while they play, or for me, even vacuuming the carpet while they were awake! (Before I’d wait until they were asleep.)

  3. Galit Breen

    So much truth to this! It’s hard to keep parts of ourselves separate; we’re more meld-y than we realize, aren’t we?

    • Nina

      “Meld-y”: I love that, Galit! Yes, and each time I do something above my comfort levels, I feel that much more accomplished, like, “Wow, I actually did that! Life feels normal.”

  4. Rea

    Very well-said Nina! I used to dread going out with my son, so afraid of the tantrums and I thought that maybe staying home is the best way to go. But I realized I can’t live with that kind of life. My son needs to go out too and explore. So when there’s a chance, I bring him with me even to the grocery store and I’ve learned how to make him behave. Not all the time.. but hey, he’s a kid so what do I expect.

    • Nina

      Thanks, Rea! Bringing them out and about with us is good not just for us but for our kids as well. They learn how to behave in a grocery store, like your example. Or let’s say you need to cook—they learn to play with the cars in the kitchen while you prep.

  5. Tamara

    Love it! I do errands with the kids. I eat at restaurants with the kids. It’s common to just have one since both have school at different times. My son sits on my lap for haircuts sometimes.. I’m almost embarrassed to say! He does well, though!

    • Nina

      Wow Tamara—a haircut! That’s amazing. I remember a friend saying the same when she’d get pedis, and I was impressed. I was too scared to do that!

  6. Alissa

    I understand what you’re saying…I really do. I have 5 children, and yes, incorporating them into outings with your husband is great.

    Except…in my opinion, you’ve completely missed out on the point of date night. Because…it’s not just about you. It’s about recharging some AND connecting with your husband.

    We need time as husbands and wives to connect with one another without the kids…to remember that we are people beyond being parents.

    Ya see, these little folks grow. So what we do is we try to hang on to every little moment with them because it’s so fleeting!! But in doing that, we often ignore our marriages…our legacy.

    Once again, I understand where you’re coming from, but I thought I’d highlight another side of the issue.

    • Nina

      Great point, Alissa! I’m glad you mentioned that, and I agree date nights serve that purpose very well. Not just date nights, but even alone time with oneself pursuing a hobby or passion, or an outing with friends. I’m a big believer in maintaining your identity so that, when the kids are all grown and gone, you’re not left wondering, “Now what?”

      This essay was more about highlighting the use of date nights as a way of not feeling overwhelmed. Because it’s so easy to not incorporate the kids into daily tasks and feel overwhelmed, only to come back to that time and time again no matter how many date nights or breaks you get.

      But yes, excellent reminder about the importance of retaining a sense of self and partnership even if (and perhaps more so that) we are now parents!

  7. maryanne @ mama smiles

    Great post, Nina! I have learned to do pretty much everything with kids in tow, and it definitely makes being a mom more fun!

    • Nina

      That’s another perk of it, MaryAnne!