Going Nuts? Go Out Instead
With four kids ranging in age from 2 to 12, Ann Douglas still manages to steal romantic dinners with her husband -- candles, a bottle of wine, a movie later -- even if they're only sitting at their kitchen table and just pretending to be in some exotic restaurant.
She says it's a matter of self-preservation.
"When weeks go by without that kind of a break as a couple, you start to get on each other's nerves, lose all connection and just feel like, 'Where's this relationship headed?' " says Douglas, author of "The Unofficial Guide to Childcare" (Macmillan, 1998).
Sure, there are tons of excuses for letting "date night" (or morning or afternoon) opportunities slip by: Good babysitters are a hot commodity. Sleep is all you want by the time your baby finally nods off. Or you may worry about leaving your child, especially during that 6- to 18-months-old period when separation anxiety kicks in.
But refueling your relationship with the other parent is important for your kids, experts say, in large part because it's important for you.
"If you're not taking care of your own needs as an adult and as a couple, you're in a much less healthy position to be of value to that young child," says Dr. Daniel Kessler, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Children's Health Center of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. It makes intuitive sense that a troubled marriage can negatively affect a child's emotional, cognitive and physical health.
Getting Out the Door (or at Least Behind One)
The time you spend with your partner or spouse won't necessarily make or break a marriage or a partnership, but it may help you manage the stresses that new parenthood places on a relationship, says Jay Belsky, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University. Among 250 new parents he tracked, half reported that they had grown farther apart by their child's third birthday.
"Time together gives couples time to catch up on each other's lives and experience the pleasure of each other's company," says Belsky, author of "The Transition to Parenthood: How a First Child Changes a Marriage" (Delacorte, 1994). Otherwise, "Before long they will just become a team of parents, partnered in raising children."
As most parents will attest, leaving your baby for the first time is always the hardest, so ease into it with a quick getaway, like dessert at a coffeehouse or a walk in the park.
"Don't try to go for dinner and a movie if you're going to be a basketcase by the time the entrée arrives," says Douglas, "and if you're paranoid, call from the restaurant. Who cares if they think you're obsessive? You're allowed. You're a parent."
If you can't get out, get creative. Some couples wait until the baby's down for a three- or four-hour stretch, then order a nice meal, dim the lights, and ignore the phone and other household distractions. There isn't anything magical about Saturday nights, either -- take the time whenever you can.
My Time Is Your Time
The Oberholtzers of Evanston, Ill., have a standing date on Wednesday mornings. James takes time from his law practice, Katherine -- a marriage and family therapist -- doesn't schedule appointments, and the two hit a yoga class, then do lunch.
"We're firm believers that parents should get out at least once a week," says Katherine, who has three children, ages 11, 7 and 3. "When we haven't been able to do that, we feel it."
To find a good babysitter for your trysts:
Since a good sitter is hard to find and keep, be prepared to pay top dollar ($5 to $7 per hour for a teen-ager and $7 or more per hour for a college student) and treat them with respect: Return home on time, pay anyway if you have to cancel at the last minute and spend time teaching them what you expect.