Does parenting lower your dating standards?

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Mel and I were snuggling in bed watching an episode of Lost on the iPad. We always have a “show” we watch as a couple. It used to be Parks and Recreation. Before that it was Parenthood. All three kids were asleep, and we were both in our PJ’s. We try to do this every other night, because frankly, it’s all we have. This is not to say that we don’t try to go out. Or perhaps I should say that we try to try. But with three kids under the age of 9, and no family nearby, dates, formal ones anyways, have become a serious challenge.

It wasn’t always this way.

Once, when Mel and I were dating, I snuck into her apartment. I cooked her a steak dinner, set the table with a dozen roses, and wrote her a song on my guitar. I burned the steaks, the song was really horrible, and when Mel came home to me unexpectedly sitting on her sofa, in the dark, holding a guitar, she screamed. But the thought, the effort, all of it, really worked. She loved it. Honestly, I haven’t done anything like that in years. Sometimes, it’s everything we can do to get a night out. Not that we don’t try.

Just a few weeks ago we scheduled a sitter. But then the sitter canceled, which was good, because Tristan, our oldest, decided to puke all over the hallway. This is marriage with kids. Finding time to date, to be together, becomes a complicated moving target of sitters, time off from work, time off from kid activities, and once that’s all figured out, there is the challenge of doing something fun and exciting. Most of the time it’s all very complicated, until finally, you just want to get the kids to bed and watch a show on Netflix together, snuggle, and maybe, if this all happens before 10 p.m., have sex.

For years this has really bothered me. I don’t want to speak for my wife, but I’m confident it bothers her, too. With everything going on in our lives (work, college classes, kids) it seems like time alone, together, takes a back seat. I try not to compare myself to other couples, but when I see photos on Facebook of friends taking night cruises, or sitting down to candle lit dinners, I often ask myself, “Am I doing it wrong?”

So I decided to ask this question on my blog Facebook page: What’s the best date you’ve had with your husband/wife/significant other since having children?

There were nearly 100 comments. Some mentioned amazing, overnight trips to New York to see a Broadway show, or a spur of the moment flight to a tropical island. But these comments were rare. Some said things like this: “Date? After children? What’s that about? Lol.” This was difficult to hear, because it made me think of my own marriage. But at the same time, it helped to normalize my own struggles.

But most people described something very similar to Mel and I watching Lost on the iPad.

“Anything that includes laughter, holding hands, and eye contact. It’s the simple things, and just having a moment alone with your love is so precious…..(insert wistful sigh).”

Or they described a simple trip to the beach with good friends, or a walk in a garden.

These simple moments, an hour or so alone after the kids go to bed, or getting a sitter for the evening, just so you can take your wife on a walk next to the river, become so cherished after children. I hate to say that my standards of dating have gone down. And looking at it from the outside, I can see how that assumption could be made. But I think what happens, at least when you are a parent of small children, is that you start to really cherish the little things. You become more humble and simplistic, and you look forward to just being alone with your partner, chatting about this or that. This is not an excuse to keep from wowing your significant other. At least that’s not what I’m trying to say. I think it’s important to still go out as much as you are able.

But what I want to get across is that dating when you have small children presents a lot of new challenges, and it’s good to accept that fact, because if you don’t, you might find yourself missing out on fully enjoying a wonderful, simple, moment with the love of your life because all you can think about is how you should be doing something more. At least, that’s what I’ve been struggling with. And this dialogue on my Facebook page really helped me to realize that, indeed, those simple evenings watching a show with my wife are something very special.


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