Date nights. Self-care. Scrapbooking. For me, there was the daily to-do list (you know, like, survival stuff) and then there were the “extras.” These were the back burner items, the shoulds, the negotiables. But, as our first post-birth Valentine’s Day approached, my husband and I felt pressured to do what we’d always done in the past: dress up and go on a real date, only this time it would mean leaving our 3-month-old baby in Grandma’s care.
I remember it vividly. I wore black tights, a gray dress, and tall leather boots. The tights were nearly impossible to hike up over my still-healing postpartum body, the dress was tighter than I had hoped, the boots felt ridiculous and showy. As we entered the busy restaurant and made our way to the table, I realized that I no longer knew how to be confident in public. After months being isolated at home with our new baby, I suddenly felt raw and exposed. I was exhausted beyond measure, still bleeding, thinking about my baby every three seconds and the only thing on the menu that sounded good was strong, hot coffee with lots of cream.
I also remember feeling so relieved to be out of the house. That’s the thing with being a new mom. You learn to hold tension between completely opposing emotions All. The. Time.
My husband cracked jokes with our waitress. Drank cold, delicious beer, relaxed. I watched the tiny bubbles rise in his glass in a sleep deprived fog. I was anxious and envious but tried to act like I was relaxed too. I glanced around at all of the women in red, heard the sounds of easeful laughter and glasses clinking together in holiday spirit. My breasts were on their own schedule and I began to long for my sweatpants and the latch of our sweet baby. Is this what date night would be like from now on?
It was one of those stark contrast moments. The split that happens the moment you become a parent. The before and after. Everything you thought you knew will be revised. Camping as a form of rest and rejuvenation? Sorry. Taking a nap on Thanksgiving Day? Nope. Night as a time to sleep? Forget about it.
But, as one wise mom pointed out, there are seasons. And when you have a new baby, it’s not peak date night season. Things won’t always be so intense, so demanding, so full of love and exhaustion and devotion all at the same time. We won’t always be up at midnight on Christmas eve wrapping presents and filling stockings and bracing ourselves for the next sugar cookie crash.
So, because it’s Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the fact that date nights don’t have to be fancy and luxurious to be successful. What matters most is that we make time for quality connection and slow down enough to really see each other. Whether you plan a date with a partner, friend, your own little one or even just with yourself, spending quality time and honoring your relationships deserves a spot on the to-do list, even if that means that the dishes stay piled in the sink and the laundry gets all wrinkled and your un-walked dog gives you a dirty look.
Going out might be just what you need and if that feels good and exciting and fun – do it! Wearing something you love and having the guarantee that it will remain spit-up free for at least a couple of hours is indeed quite glamorous. Being served when you spend all day everyday serving a tiny human feels wonderful. Oh, and eating a meal that’s actually still hot while being able form complete sentences and have an entire conversation with another adult (especially one you love) is pure gold.
But, staying in counts too! Just giving each other permission to take the night off and snuggle up with a movie and bowl of popcorn can be super romantic. Sometimes, it’s just about being close and remembering that raising kids is hard work and that you’re in this together and that you both deserve moments of peace. Chocolate and roses and written words never hurt. You might as well hold hands, too, and laugh about how crazy kids are. Because they are CRAZY and laughter is medicine.
If you have more than one little sweetie on your hands, you’ve probably learned the value of planning special one on one dates with each of your children. In this case, you’re the expert on what would make you both light up and, truthfully, they don’t really care what you do together, they just want your undivided attention. Go for a manicure or dress up for afternoon tea or a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. Swing on the swings, build a snowman or draw with sidewalk chalk- they just want our eyes and ears and heart all to themselves for a little while. When it comes to special time between parent and child, a little goes a long way.
Dates with friends are important too but they don’t have to be elaborate and if anyone understands that, it’ll be your closest friends. Do whatever sounds nourishing and try to laugh and cry and give voice to your experience. It’s important to know you’re not alone and it’s really important to find friends who will understand if you need to cancel or reschedule. As a new parent, these are your people.
Valentine’s Day, ultimately, is supposed to be one day out of the year when we celebrate love and if there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s unshakable love. So today, let that love be unique to you and those closest to you. Let that love carry you through.