Connecting as a couple while parenting in this day and age can be tough.

At the end of busy days juggling work and kids, marriage can easily fall to the back burner, crowded out by constant pressing needs. We can spend all our time and resources on important things and have nothing left for each other. But marriage is the most important relationship God has given us! When we nurture it, we’re more prepared to face the constant bombardment of other needs that come our way.

We’re in a season where we don’t get much time together during the week, so we have to be really intentional with what little time we do have. Date nights are a life line for our marriage, giving us the space to reconnect more deeply than we can at other times.

I know, you may be thinking, “We can’t afford date nights!” To be honest, we can’t either. We’d spend more on babysitting than dinner! But we desperately need time for us, which means we had to get creative. I know we’re not the only ones in this boat, so we’re going to share some things that have worked to give us intentional date nights that strengthen our marriage.

In this first post we’ll share our ideas for carving out margin for regular dates. In the next post we’ll set some ground rules for dating your spouse to make the most of your time together. In future posts, we’ll share printable resources to help you reconnect on a deeper level instead of just staring at that vaguely familiar person across the table and trying to think of something to talk about. (We’ve been there!)

First things first, create space for the Date.
As parents of young children, we have very limited time, money, and energy for date nights. But necessity is the mother of invention. Here are five creative date night ideas that have worked to give us space to connect.

1) Find a Go-To Babysitter
We personally are very particular about who watches our kids, so this area has always been a challenge for us. When family members are unavailable, some of our best sitters have been college students we met through our church community. They’re mature enough to be able to handle our children’s unique set of needs, but they are young enough to have energy to keep up with our kids! Some of them even babysat for free because our family became an extension of their family while they were far from home–a win-win situation. Try to find someone you trust who is available on a regular basis, and be willing to invest in that relationship.

Another option is to trade babysitting with a like-minded family. We swap date nights with another family who lives nearby, so barring sickness or a special occasion we can expect to have 1-2 free date nights a month. Granted, the week it’s on us to babysit we are in charge of eight kids under the age of 12, but that’s where the likemindedness comes in–because our families have similar parenting styles, rhythms and expectations, it’s not as crazy around here as you might think. The kids tend to pair off and play well together, so we usually have less bickering than when it’s just our four at home. Put on a movie and fix chicken nuggets and popcorn–easy peasy. 😉

2) Have Stay-at-Home Dates
Feed the kids something easy one night and put them to bed a bit early, then have a dress-up candlelight dinner together. Or have a one-dish meal on the patio under the stars. Or spread out blankets and pillows in the living room or your bedroom and have an indoor picnic. Or have a little bubbly and a rich dessert with a hot bath after the kids are in bed. Just be intentional to create an inviting space, make sure there are no interruptions (come back tomorrow for the ground rules), and connect. At-home dates require a bit more creative energy and time, but they’re easy on the budget.

*Disclaimer: This has only been possible for us because our children already have very predictable early bedtime routines. We’ve had to work hard to make that happen, but our children are almost always in bed by 8 PM and they are not allowed out of their rooms until the next morning (barring genuine illness or a trip to the bathroom). So a 7:30 bedtime with books to read before lights out isn’t unreasonable to them, especially when they know it’s for Mommy-Daddy time. It’s good for them to see their parents making marriage a priority.

3) Awanas! (or, Make the Most of Opportunities)
I know some of you may be chuckling, but the Awana program has been a HUGE blessing to us. (A friend once joked that their tag line should be “saving marriages all across the country.”) While our children are in weekly classes that reinforce what we teach at home, we get two hours kid-free each Sunday night. We often use Awana time for double dates with other parents whose kids are in classes with ours, and the intentional conversations we have really encourage and strengthen us. (This could also be true of sports practices or weekly lessons if both spouses can make it there. Even a cup of coffee together in the car is a mini-date you wouldn’t have otherwise!)

We’ve also seen a number of church, school, or therapy groups offering a parents’ night out every few months, especially around the holidays. This is a great ministry to busy parents and is often free or low cost as a service to families. Look for these opportunities in your area, or influence groups in your circle to pursue this idea as an outreach!

4) Deals for Variety and Economy
Because we have a limited budget for date nights, we turn to Groupon (or similar services) to find deals for cheap dates. Since our date is set by whatever happens to be available in a particular week, we’ve found some great little restaurants and fun activities we’d never consider otherwise, from a small creperie in a nearby town to a painting class. Variety like this can keep date nights fun and interesting when you get into a rut.

5) Get Physical
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, sex is an important part of a healthy marriage, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here. “Date night” is usually presented as dinner and a movie, but think outside the box. It can be a Saturday hike through trails at a nearby park, a trip to an indoor rock-climbing center, or introductory dance classes for couples. Pottery making, strolling the streets of downtown, a tennis match, or building a bonfire after the kids are in bed–doing something together is the key. Even if you feel silly trying something new, at least you’ll feel silly together. Just remember to laugh a lot to get those endorphins flowing. And take pictures. 🙂

Now that you have some ideas for carving out space, check out the next post where we lay some ground rules for keeping date nights intentional!