Living in tight spaces getting you down? How to use a routine to have a date with kids around!

More than ever, parents with children at home are struggling to find space for themselves amongst this new normal of COVID-19 social distancing. But how can you make sure to continue having dates with your partner while the kids, teens or other family are around?

If you are living in tight a space with all your kids at home and possibly even your extended family, it is really important that you have some space for yourselves. This becomes even more crucial if you are caring for someone with a disability. When we have a child (or 2) who has a disability, they often need more of our time and can be very dependent on us.

This past week, my husband and I had our first “new normal” date night in while our children were around. We did it while 5 of us were sharing a one floor, two-bedroom space with no basement! How did we achieve this? By setting out a schedule for the kids to keep them occupied. As I pointed out in my previous podcast about visual schedules, even older children and teens benefit from this schedule as it takes away fights and arguments between the kids by laying out ahead of time what is expected of them.

It’s important to set up this routine where they can do most of it in one room (preferably with a door like a bedroom). The reason for this is to free up some tight living space for your date. I’ve also seen it done in reverse, where the parents take a room and set up dinner in that room.

The routine we set up looked like this:

  1. Kids eat dinner together alone: We had set up one of the bedrooms as a restaurant for them by pushing the mattress up against the wall and setting up a small folding table in the room. This played to the creative side of my girls and they spent an hour before setting the space up and even creating artwork to have their “restaurant” ready. They knew ahead of time what they were eating and had chosen it themselves so they were extra excited. For our teenager, we made sure he could choose food that was fun for him too. They had a bottle of 7up with their main meal and of course dessert. (about 30 minutes with dessert). At 14 he was a good sport going along with it and we made sure to tell him that!
  1. Kids play board game alone: Next up was a board game that the 3 kids had pre-agreed upon. This is essential to limit fights or arguments at the time when they switch to the activity. We also help ensure that the game they pick is something they have played before to avoid confusion, stress and ultimately fights…remember the goal is for you and your partner to get a chunk of time off. (this took about 30 minutes)
  2. Get ready for a movie by getting into pj’s and brushing teeth – This part is essential and I’ve used it for years with my kids. When they are excited for their next activity they are motivated to get ready for bed because they really want to do the next activity. My kids have added their own step to this by making it a game where they aren’t’ allowed to talk….this was brilliant as even though they had to pass through our date night to get to the bathroom….they did it with giggles and otherwise complete silence! (10 minutes)
  3. Movie Time: The kids watch a movie they have pre-chosen together. This is a step that creates a lot of fights for my kids. Because they are older and can stay up later we help this step by allowing them to pick 2 movies or 3 shows. This gives everyone a chance to have a choice. Another nice thing about them having to watch together is that my kids have had to watch things that the other one likes and they’ve often discovered new shows they have in common. If this won’t work for your family…no problem, have them watch separately.
  4. Bedtime Routine Book & Song: This is often the hardest transition as kids often don’t want to go to bed. They often want their parents for this part. The amazing part is, they can still get a bedtime routine by using their siblings. When I started this I had my 8-year-old daughter at the time reading to her 6-year-old sister and my 9-year-old son singing to her. Each older child picked their “role”. When we started this, they were so proud to be able to do a “parent” job. To this day my youngest daughter loves getting a song from her older brother. I couldn’t predict that this would also bring out a nurturing side of my son.

It really really important if you have younger children and children with disabilities to use a visual schedule…which would have all the steps drawn out and look something like this picture below. Remember it is not the quality of the pictures that are important, it is important that they are all there. For more information on creating a visual schedule, see my post from last week.

In all, we managed to get about 4 hours of date-time where our kids were having fun and doing something they liked that had clear expectations and guidelines.

When you are first putting this in place it is really important that if they interrupt you during one of their activities that you direct them back to the visual schedule to see what is next. For younger children or those with a disability, it may take a few date night tries to get them following the routine…don’t give up as this will set you up for years of date time to come!

For kids that can understand rules, make sure that they understand that this routine is for them to do alone and that interrupting mom and dad is only allowed if there is an emergency or the problem can’t be solved on their own. In the early years when my kids were younger, we did get interrupted more often as they were learning to be independent…but now we often can get hours of uninterrupted time.

So for all of you out there anxious for a quiet dinner or coffee time with your partner…go ahead and try it tonight! Remember that research shows that if you don’t put a step in place in the next 24-48 hours…you most likely won’t do anything at all.

Happy Date Night!