I have a confession to make. In the first year of my daughter’s life, my husband and I went on exactly two dates: one on our anniversary and one on my birthday.
Sure, a global pandemic complicated things, but the truth is that between the seemingly endless feedings, diaper changes, and unexpected health issues that cropped up in my daughter’s infancy, there seemed to be little time for sleep —nevermind romance.
Most days found us crawling into bed early, desperately snatching a couple of hours of rest before jumping back up to soothe the baby. I wore pajamas 24/7, and the scrunchie that held up my messy bun was basically fused to my head. The last thing on my mind was getting dressed up to go out for dinner.
When we first discovered we were expecting, I swore that having a baby was not going to change our relationship. My husband and I are both very social; we love to try new restaurants, hang out at coffee shops, and dance at our neighborhood Latin club. I was determined that starting a family would not shift our dynamic. I wasn’t sure exactly what including a baby in our date nights would look like — perhaps we could stow an infant seat under the bar? Or ask the DJ to lower the volume a bit so as not to wake up the baby?
Once our daughter was born, I quickly realized that like it or not, our relationship had fundamentally changed.
I was even more surprised to discover that it had actually changed for the better.
Becoming parents brought a special closeness and intimacy to our relationship, one that was born of all the sacrifice and struggles that having a baby entails. Seeing my husband become a father — and seeing his love for me reflected in his love for our daughter — deepened our relationship in ways that I could never have imagined.
Because my husband was indefinitely working from home, we were able to spend almost every day together with our daughter, an unexpected silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic. Spending so much time together and learning to rely on one another in new ways as we learned to become parents was truly a blessing.
But though we shared nearly every meal, and plowed through most of Netflix while the baby slept, our attempts at home dates couldn’t emulate the sparkle of our pre-parent, pre-pandemic lives. It seemed like our days of sitting side by side at the bar sampling cocktails and people-watching were well and truly over. And though my daughter brought immeasurable joy to our lives, a little part of me yearned for the late nights and uninterrupted conversations of dates gone by.
I always felt guilty when I caught myself daydreaming of those days — surely, I should feel fulfilled and content in my new role as a mother; surely the snatched bits of conversation at dinner with my husband before our daughter decided she was done with the highchair was enough of a date for now.
It was only after my husband and I went on our momentous second date of the year that we really realized how badly we needed the time together. We were like mischievous kids playing hooky, and I felt almost weightless walking to the restaurant without the usual baby paraphernalia.
As we sat at the restaurant’s outdoor patio and leisurely ordered drinks, I realized with a shock that I had no idea what to talk about. Somehow, our usual topics of conversation (which typically centered around our daughter’s health or latest escapade) didn’t seem appropriate for the sunny patio. Had motherhood made me an awkward date?
Slowly, cautiously, and a little awkwardly, conversation unfolded. My husband told me about a cycling trip he’d taken through Belgium in grad school; I told him about the tattoo I never got and wished I had. We talked about different countries we wanted to visit, and about how it was absurd that the U.S. still hadn’t adopted the metric system. We talked about everything and nothing, and we didn’t have to worry about the baby flinging her sippy cup across the restaurant.
It wasn’t like our dates when we were married but before we had a child, when the easy confidence of deeply knowing each other rendered conversation unnecessary. It was more like the first few dates when we had just met, when the anticipation and nerves of seeing him went to my head like champagne and when every word, every story felt like a priceless treasure he was entrusting to me alone. Instead of people-watching, we physically and emotionally turned toward each other, seeing the other with new eyes, delighting in each other’s company, and rediscovering each other as spouses — instead of just as parents.
As we drove back to pick up my daughter from her grandparents’ house, I realized that in place of feeling guilty for spending time away from our daughter, I felt refreshed. Our date had felt like an oasis in the journey of parenthood, a desperately needed reminder of who we were outside of “Mom and Dad”. Curiously enough, our time together wasn’t just beneficial to us; in fact, by intentionally creating the time to build up our relationship and our marriage by going on our date, we were strengthening the foundation of our family and becoming better parents for our daughter.
Contrary to what I had previously believed, my daughter’s needs and those of our marriage were not actually in conflict; rather than being a tug-of-war, it was really a balancing act. While my husband and I couldn’t go back in time to the carefree dates of our pre-parenting days, we also couldn’t solely focus on our daughter’s needs. Doing so was not only unhealthy for our marriage, but detrimental to our daughter.
Though it may seem daunting, going through the herculean tasks of finding childcare, making a reservation, and actually getting out the door for a few hours is important for a healthy marriage and for a balanced family life. Creating the opportunity to rediscover your spouse as your soulmate — and not just a diaper-duty alternate — nurtures your relationship, which in turn strengthens the very core of family life.
I know it’s hard to schedule date night. I know how easy it can be to be satisfied with pizza and Netflix on the couch, or to convince yourself that being away from your child is selfish. But I’ve come to realize that being the best mother for my daughter begins with living the fullness of my vocation as a wife.