As homeschool moms and special needs moms, we really look forward to those little breaks when we can just hang out with our spouses, right? For me, something as simple as wandering aimlessly around Target can be so refreshing when I am doing it with my husband.
It's been a weird year and I know regular dates sometimes just haven't been possible. Not to mention, with my homeschooling schedule and having kids with special needs, it isn't always super easy to sneak away for a few hours. Can you relate?
My husband and I love Phil Vassar's song "Just Another Day in Paradise." (Gotta love 90's country!) I think we love it so much because it pretty much could be written about our lives. All the blessings and all the struggles. One verse is about the couple trying to have a date night and nothing is working out.
"Friday, you're late, Guess we'll never make our dinner date at the restaurant, you start to cry. Baby, we'll just improvise. Well, plan B looks like
Dominoes' pizza in the candle light..."
I have to laugh because it wouldn't be date night around here if we didn't have something come up trying to mess it up. That's just how it is when you have kids. I bet you can relate, too, right? I mean, it's so important to work on your marriage and get some quality alone time. But the kids don't always make it so easy to do that. Or the finances for that matter.
When we just had one child, people lined up to watch her. We had plenty of date nights. But when we jumped from one child to 4 overnight, after adopting three kids who had significant behavioral issues, the offers stopped. Except for the brave offers of respite from my mother in law and occasionally from church members who saw how much we were struggling for air. But regular date nights stopped.
Now throw in Valentine's Day....
Since Valentine's is just around the corner at the time I write this, I want to say a quick word about Valentine's Day date nights.
You may think Valentine's is a made up holiday that promotes consumerism. Or you may think Valentine's Day is the most romantic day of the year. But I think most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes. I know at least I do.
But somewhere in the trenches of parenting little ones with behavioral issues and medical needs, I began to feel like wanting to do something special with my husband for Valentine's Day was just setting my heart up for resentment. Because often plans would fall through. (And probably, if I am honest, I had a lot of unspoken expectations that my poor husband and my kids just couldn't keep up with.
That is how the "Romantic Family Dinner" was born at our house. I know a lot of families who do some version of this every year. The Romantic Family Dinner came from the idea that if we can't go out for a nice dinner, why not try to have one at home and include the kids? And guess what?! It's become something we all look forward to every year!
The kids dress up in their nice clothes. We do either fancy dishes or special Valentine's paper goods. Boxes of chocolates. Roses and tulips. Fancy drinks. Steak. All the components of a fancy "romantic" meal.
Now let's talk about date nights! When we can't get away for a "traditional" date night, we try these ideas!
1. Front Seat Dates
Okay, this is just plain fun. And we're the kind of parents that love to embarrass our kids a little bit, so we like to be super sappy and affectionate. It's good for kids to see their parents like that, though. It makes them feel secure.
When the kids were little, we fed the kids at home and then buckled them into the car and got a movie or an audio book playing. And then Curtis and I just pretended like there weren't kids in the back seat watching us. Because honestly, they were paying attention to the movie anyway. Obviously if a fight broke out or something happened, we would respond, but otherwise we would just ignore them.
We hold hands and go through the drive through at a restaurant or coffee shop. And we drive around town seeing the sights. This kind of date is especially fun around Christmas when you can go see Christmas lights.
And then after an hour or so, we head back home. This date night option is just a nice time of connection and conversation. We can imagine being transported to another place. Maybe holding hands on the beach instead? And the kids all get to see firsthand how much we value time with each other.
2. Canasta and Delilah
This variation on date night will forever hold a special place in my heart. I have so many wonderful memories of evenings spent playing Canasta and listening to Delilah on the radio. In fact, last weekend, the kids all went to their grandparents for the weekend, and Curtis and I were home alone without kids for the first time in 12 years. What did we do? We played Canasta. Yep...that's how fun these game nights are. In fact, we've kept a journal with our ongoing scores in them (my husband is winning in case you wondered) all the way back since 2005.
This kind of date night doesn't really need much explanation. If you like competition, this is so much fun! Plus, if you've ever read the book His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley, you know how important it is to have fun and recreation time together in a marriage.
Just serve the kids an early dinner, get them in bed, and spend some time playing a game together. It doesn't have to be Canasta. That's our favorite, though, because if it's late in the evening it doesn't require a ton of brain power. You could play a game of Scrabble or Gin or The Cones of Dunshire. (Okay, seriously, if you got that reference, you're my new BFF.) I would recommend not playing Boggle though, unless you want to wake up all the kids with all the shaking!
We also listened to Delilah on the radio. (So sappy!) I have no clue if she's still got a show on the radio since I never listen to it. But you could have your special date night Pandora station or something else instead. Or you could sit in complete silence if that's what floats your boat.
I will tell you that our new favorite games to play are the escape rooms in a box. So fun if you like competition!
3. The Trade-Off
We have gone through phases in our marriage where we traded off childcare with friends and let each other go on dates. If you have kids with behavioral challenges or medical needs, sometimes it's hard to get peace of mind to leave the kids with a babysitter. If you can find other families with kids who have the same needs as yours, you can set up a babysitting swap. If you don't know families to swap with, you could check your community's local special needs support groups for (Down syndrome association, T1 Diabetes, etc.)
I hope these ideas help you build regular date nights into your busy homeschool life!