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Couple time? Sure, but the couch looks more enticing these days, says one mum

by October 23, 2016 General

The concept of 'date nights' has changed since having kids. — Illustration by Lee Shu Li/TODAYThe concept of ‘date nights’ has changed since having kids. — Illustration by Lee Shu Li/TODAYSINGAPORE, Oct 23 — “You haven’t quite paused to breathe,” my husband remarked during our dinner date. The chunky, salt-crusted ribeye was a sizeable 450g slab, but I had no problems devouring it at breakneck speed.

“Well-trained by the kids,” I replied. It was true. I was used to wolfing food with three young children at the dining table, and I had forgotten how to slow down.

“The pace is amazing,” he said with a laugh, “given how you took forever to decide what to order.”

I had combed the menu with exceptional thoroughness, but hey, it was a rare chance to dine without the kids and I had to make this order perfect.

I rummaged my bag for a pack of tissues. Absent-mindedly, I whipped out a diaper pouch instead. (Note to self: for a date, do not simply grab the last-used diaper bag.)

We were chatting about something vaguely important, but lulled by the hypnotic flicker of the candlelight, I yawned. Mid-sentence, my husband yawned too.

“The effects of last night,” he attributed. The cries of our youngest child had awakened us when her little foot got caught between the crib rails.

The cheque came, and my mind wandered to whether the children had already outwitted their babysitter for the evening. I scrolled through my Whatsapp messages apprehensively. No news (which I resolved to see as good news).

Surprised we had been out for only an hour and a half. My husband asked, quite considerately, if I wanted to stroll the waterfront promenade and enjoy night views of the city.

“Sounds good,” I said, and paused to check my watch.

“Or how about this,” I ventured. “We could head home, put the kids to bed and chill out on the couch?”

Readily, he obliged. And that was how our dinner date — the first in many months — as parents of young children, unfolded.

Post-kid syndrome

That date night was a fitting representation of how things had changed post-kids — dinner etiquette plummeting many notches, trying hard to stay awake till dessert, and that strange desire to hang out on the couch when the night was still young.

We promised not to talk about the kids, so we talked about everything else — life in general, work, vacation plans, the gratingly svelte newly-dating couple two tables away — then about the kids.

But it was admittedly lovely to have a quiet meal together without a baby tugging at our sleeves or toddler clamouring for attention. We could eat without thinking about diaper changes and preschooler discipline.

The evening was a much-needed opportunity to reconnect and enjoy uninterrupted conversation, even if it was just for an hour.

We actually had eye contact — instead of eyeballs darting around to account for every kid when we are out — and that was a treat.

It is not like we did not know the merits of date nights before.

Years ago, before we got married, someone we considered a marital expert had emphasised the importance of couple time after children arrive. “Keep the romance alive,” he had said. “Find time to date each other. Do things you enjoy like watching a movie together.”

Date night after kids? “Not a problem,” my husband had said brightly.

Couple outings once a week? “Sure,” I had chirped.

By those counts, how we have laughably fallen short today. Our last date before this one was on my husband’s birthday over six months ago.

The last movie we watched together?

The Hobbit. Part One.

The effort of planning for a babysitter for three young children feels like a military operation. Three very young kids, all under one roof, can be a handful — trust me, I know.

We had fought hard to enforce an early bedtime since they were babies, because we knew we needed some sanity and, sure, it sounded good for them.

But truth is, after long hours at work and tending to children, there is nothing we want more than to do nothing at night. And space out on that couch.

It is the modern-day conundrum for tired parents: When you finally have some time at hand, do you catch up on sleep, interact and even head out, or simply space out in a “me-time” zone and do nothing much in particular?

For us it’s a no-brainer, with the last option particularly enticing. Zoning out and curling up in pyjamas with a good book? Sounds heavenly.

Date nights for parents sometimes seem like a luxury to me. Everyone is trying to juggle work, family, and other commitments.

There are parents around who are struggling to put food on the table, much less think of taking a jaunt about town.

The importance of couple time

But in some ways, carving out quality time to talk and reconnect with our partners is necessary for the long term.

My husband and I have talked about how we hope for our relationship in older years, after the children have grown and flown the coop, to be comfortable with silence, but also powerful in connection and lavish with conversation.

Stepping out from our chaotic everyday routines to focus on each other seems like a critical investment now for building a strong, lasting relationship that will weather times to come.

The point seems painfully obvious, yet easy to forget in the chaos of daily life.

For someone like me who sometimes faces “mother guilt,” the short date was surprisingly rejuvenating. Back home, we were both as excited to see our children, as they were to see us. And this sense of renewal went the extra mile for new challenges that arose that week.

Perhaps happier parents — and parents happier with each other — really do make happier children.

With the demands of parenting, work and other multi-tasking responsibilities, coupled with the pervasiveness of smartphone use and social media, it is a constant battle to preserve couple time.

But we hope to try. We have agreed to take turns and plan a monthly date — baby steps, right? — however short it may be.

For our second date, we kept it simple. We left the family car at home, boarding the bus and train towards town hand-in-hand, just as in our younger dating days. It was no-fuss and felt authentic.

I suppose the concept does not have to be fancy. If we are truly pressed for time, it can be an extended grocery run, just the two of us. If there are slip-ups from time to time, there is no need to get discouraged.

And that beloved couch? Hopefully, instead of mere lounge chair where we space out, it can be the comfortable site of meaningful evening conversation, over durians or ice cream.

It is now my turn to fashion our next date. I am considering making it a “date day,” rather than “date night” — perhaps then we will be more energetic, and can have a meal with a setting that has little potential of making us drowsy.

I am thinking of mookata, the Thai barbecue-steamboat that has been firing up foodies in Singapore in recent years, a game we are, clearly, unfashionably late to. As my husband said, it is probably a good idea to keep candlelights and sleepy settings out of the equation for now. — Denise Lim/TODAY