When my first child was born, my mother-in law told me she was going to come over regularly to babysit so my husband and I could go out for a date night. I was an exhausted new parent, mentally unprepared for the sleepless nights and the days spent isolated at home nursing and rocking my newborn. I often ate dinner in our recliner chair in the living room, where my daughter nursed while I propped my plate on the edge of the Boppy Pillow. I looked forward to nights when my mother-in law came over. I passed the baby off to her and spent an hour sitting at an actual table in a restaurant while talking with my husband.
My oldest daughter is now 7 years old, with a 3-year-old sister, and my mother-in law has kept her promise through the years. For a long time, I thought my mother-in law was just doing a nice thing for us by giving us an occasional break and some free babysitting. It was only recently that my husband suggested she may have been motivated in part by something deeper: a desire to help our marriage remain strong.
My husband, Josh, and I have seen how easily marriages can crumble. In the last decade, we have watched a number of people we know go through divorces. We’ve seen couples we knew from our college days decide to go separate ways because of personal differences. Couples who have been married for decades and who were active members in churches we’ve attended have had affairs. Relatives on less immediate branches of the family tree have had dalliances outside of their marriages. It’s more personal for my mother-in law, whose divorce from her first husband was finalized shortly before Josh and I married.
My mother-in law remarried a few years ago, and she and her husband come over once or twice a month on babysitting gigs. My girls look forward to the nights when their grandparents show up on our doorstep with Happy Meals and Lifesavers mints. Sometimes they help my older daughter with homework, and after eating, they play with Barbies or watch Frozen together. My oldest told me recently that she likes when Josh and I leave her with her grandparents.
Our Date Night
We love our daughters and have special dinner-table traditions each night with them, like asking them to share their favorite and least-favorite parts of their days. However, out date night is different. Our meal-time prayer is without interruption by a whiny preschooler. No one speaks with gaping mouthfuls of half-chewed food. Everyone sits properly in their chairs. No one pronounces the food to be “yucky” before tasting it.
My husband and I usually drive to one of our favorite locally owned restaurants for our date night. We might also end up at Outback Steakhouse where we treat ourselves to a deep-fried onion and I order the lone pasta entrée on the menu. We talk about our days. I share about what I did at home with the kids or what I’m working on for the blog. He talks about his work at the high school where he teaches. We talk about everything from next summer’s vacation plans, to our faith, to interesting books we’re reading, to our eventual hopes for retirement. We look each other in the eyes, and we hold hands across the table while we quietly pray for our meal. If we feel like splurging, we might stop for Blizzards at Dairy Queen or candy at the dollar store on our way home.
Josh and I originally lived in different states and met through a dating website, and in the early days of our relationship we used to each drive several hours to meet for lunch at restaurants. Sometimes, our date nights remind me a little of those early years and the things that first attracted me to my husband.
Not everyone has the luxury of free babysitting, so I am grateful. Going out to dinner occasionally is not the cure for difficulties that may arise in a marriage, but it is a welcome change from our routine. On nights when my in-laws babysit, Josh and I can focus on just the two of us. And sometimes, in the midst of life and the demands of young children, that’s exactly what our marriage needs.
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