Why you NEED a date night!

I wrote about childcare in a previous column — when to start looking for it (ideally about five years before you get pregnant or adopt your child), why you need it (so you can get work done) and how you should feel about it (not guilty).

What strikes me now is how utilitarian this view is. And I don’t think it’s just me; when I talk to other parents about “childcare,” there’s an unspoken agreement that we’re talking about the kind of help that one needs to do work — work that brings in money. It’s the center where you drop off your baby at 7:30 so you can get to work by 8, and then you get charged $1 a minute if you get there after 5:30, for example.

Less discussed is the kind of childcare that allows you to leave the house, alone or as a couple, to do something fun or frivolous or even boring, but without kids. As Esther Perel — an author, psychotherapist and relationship expert — said, hiring a babysitter is often considered a luxury, something that’s not essential.

This all makes a lot of sense in the context of our culture that values work, industriousness and upward mobility so vehemently that we often cast a suspicious eye on anything that appears relaxing or pleasurable.

The high cost of togetherness

But of course childcare is expensive, and after you’ve forked over anywhere from $200 to $700 per week for your daytime care, it can be tough to rationalize spending more just to go out to dinner without companions who fling sugar packets and climb out of their high chairs to slam themselves into the legs of waiters carrying hot soup.

I remember the leader of my “new mother” group addressing this issue in one of our meetings.

“Regular date nights aren’t always realistic,” she said. “When you factor in the cost of a babysitter, the standard dinner-and-a-movie date can end up costing around $150.”

Holding my month-old baby, I remember feeling a vague sense of terror. Of course, I imagined I’d be the kind of parent who prioritized time with her partner after having a kid. I hadn’t really thought about the financial burden of “date night.” 

It pays to pay  

“What are some of the things you miss the most from your life before kids?” a friend asked me recently.

“There are a lot of things, to be honest,” I said. “One thing I miss is going on long bike rides with Nick on the weekends.”

At first, it seemed irrational to pay a babysitter so we could ride our bikes around town by ourselves. We own all manner of devices that allow us to ride our bikes with the kids — why not just bring them along and save the money?

But eventually, I gave in to my decadent impulses and hired a neighbor girl to watch the kids for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon. My husband and I jumped on our bikes and headed toward the Greenway. We rode around like carefree single people, enjoying the freedom of not having a toddler sitting directly behind our handlebars.

I arrived back at home in a good mood. I paid the sitter and was happy to see the kids.

“How much did you pay her?” Nick asked.

“Twenty dollars. Was that enough?”

“Yeah, I think so. Wow, that was a $20 bike ride.”

It was a $20 bike ride, indeed, but I think it was worth it. After all, like they always say, a $20 bike ride is cheaper than a divorce, right?

 Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.