When we think about dating, it’s almost always through the lens of a romantic relationship. If you’re single, dating allows you to get to know a potential partner by connecting intentionally as you get to know each other on a deeper level. You share meals, experiences, conversation and time together as you form a bond.
As a married mother of three small children, I desire that same opportunity for connection with my husband and each of my children. Quite frankly, it can be hard to give any one of my family members my full attention on any given day amid the demands of each of the children, household tasks, meals, groceries, work and other commitments. That’s one reason I started taking my daughters on dates a few years ago.
There are so many reasons why taking your young children on dates is beneficial for them, for you and for your relationship. Most obviously, it makes your child feel incredibly special. When I had just one child, she had my full attention, but as we had more, it’s rare for my younger two to have my undivided attention at any point. Simply being alone with them allows me to focus fully on them in this fleeting moment of their young childhood.
I am experiencing the speed at which kids grow up with appreciation and awareness, most of the time. Trying to notice the little details of how they are at any age is so much easier when there are no other distractions. We’re not hurrying anywhere, we’re not breaking up a sibling argument, we’re just together and I can focus on them.
By creating a precedent of spending time one on one at a young age, we’re also setting ourselves up for that type of connection as they get older. The pre-teen, teen and young adult years can be so challenging for both the child and the parents, and by creating space where we can connect through intentional conversation while our children are young, I hope to create a safe space for connection and conversation as they get older.
When I take one of my daughters on a date, there are a few things I always do. First, I ask them to choose the activity. Especially for my four- and two-year-old daughters, they rarely have agency over where they go and what they do outside of the house. It’s so fun to see what they come up with for ideas, as an expression of their personalities at this age.
I turn my phone off, except to snap photos periodically. I turn my full attention to them, and I ask them open-ended questions. I ask them questions about their preferences and favorites, how they feel about things going on in our lives at the time and what they dream of doing or having. I share my responses to their questions too, intentionally dialoguing with them in the way I would a friend, not in the way I typically do as a parent.
For our dates, we’ve kept it fairly simple. Trips to the local bakery, the dollar store, restaurants, painting pottery, ice cream stands, walks in the park and even a trip to the car wash have been activities we’ve enjoyed together. On my most recent date with my four-year-old, she asked to buy craft supplies to paint with her sisters. It doesn’t have to be an expensive or complicated outing to be incredibly special to our children to have isolated time with us, and we’ll reap the benefits forever.