We are the Cunninghams – 1 dad, 1 mom, 6 kids – whew! Yep, that’s us. People often ask, “How do you make time for 6 kids and still have time for yourself?” The answer, as always, is, “You make time to do what you want to do – if it’s something/someone you love, you’ll make the time.”
That said, I won’t even lie to you – sometimes it is hard! As the kids grow older, their needs seem to grow in exponential proportions. Making time for band rehearsals, ballet recitals, volleyball tryouts as well as visits with grandma and grandpa are all hard enough to pencil in – who needs extra stuff to do?
Not only can finding the time be taxing, figuring out what to do can be equally draining. My 1 and 5 year olds are easy to please. Noah (1) will eat anything he can feed himself and do anything that requires the extensive use of his two legs and his best throwing arm. Maia (5) loves burgers, dolls and dancing. That’s pretty easy too. If I were really a cheapo, I don’t even need to leave the house to keep them entertained. But when it comes to those older kids (8, 11, 12 and 21), I have to get real creative to hold their interest. Heck, this goes for the dinner table let alone a date! This dilemma, however, has forced some of the best bonding time for all of us!
So here’s the deal. Twice a year, my hubby and I plan a one-on-one date for each kid. We started in order from oldest to youngest (seemed only fair…I guess the older kids have waited long enough…you know, paid their dues LOL :)). If you’ve done the math already, you’ll know that means each child gets 2 date nights a year – one with mom and one with dad. So each month, somebody in our house is going on a date WOOHOOOOOO!!! 😉
As you might imagine, it is the talk of the town – well, really only my townhouse but that’s plenty enough :). Each month, the child next in line for date night spends their entire time planning…gathering ideas…dreaming…chatting…rubbing it in their siblings faces…you catch my drift? 🙂
It also creates healthy competition between me and my hubby. He is not a foodie like I am so it’s a real stretch for him to get creative with where and what to eat on a Cunningham date. I am not the fun parent like he is so finding something the kids actually want to do is a stretch for me. Who knew a 10 year old boy had no interest in seeing Phantom of the Opera? !?!?
Now I have this kiddie date thing down to a science after only a couple of years of Cunningham dates (why didn’t we think of this sooner…have we learned nothing from the Huxtables?). Need some tips? I’m your girl Friday ;)! For a kiddie date that’s fun, festive and food-filled (that’s fulfilled for foodies), here are a few guidelines:
- Keep it simple. This may go without saying, but I am an overachiever and tend to try to outdo myself in just about everything. For years, I thought I was anal, but that’s not really it because I’m not obsessed, I just like doing things Big Willy Style! When I first started, date nights were about as big of a deal as birthday outings. B I G mistake! You want your kids to be most excited for celebrating those huge accomplishments like birthdays and graduations. Keep date nights simple. I make sure we eat and have fun and it’s even better when that can be accomplished all in one place.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Again, this is a regular date night. You want the kids to be excited about going, but perhaps more importantly, YOU want to be excited about going. Nothing kills a date like spending more than you’d planned. What with school book fees, summer activity fees, lunch money, etc., you don’t want the kiddie dates to become another reason to recite section 1 of the parental constitution – “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” There are lots of freebies and coupons you can take advantage of and build a date around like museum discount days, groupon deals, local park districts, National Donut Day, Restaurant Week, etc. Do some research and by all means DON’T break the bank ;)!
- Remember it’s a date. My mom used to tell me dating is the season for getting to know a person. In so doing, one has to have the opportunity to talk, decipher body language, gesture, make eye contact, etc. My mom’s point? You can’t get to know someone in the DARK! J Therefore, movies, theaters, plays and basically any venue with low lighting and low attendance were out of the question LOL! Okay…this rule was primarily to keep me out of serious trouble, but it works so well for kiddie dates too. Think of this as the time your child(ren) will share their innermost thoughts with you. You will want them to have your full attention. Plan for dates at places where you can spend most of the time talking to your child. It’s your “getting to know him/her” season. 😉 (And trust me, in those tween and teen years, you’ll be glad you had this time – any other day of the year, you will NOT know your teen LOL!)
- Let your child plan with you. Even a 1 year old (like my Noah) yearns to exercise independence. Helping to plan their date gives your child the opportunity to take ownership of something and revel in his/her accomplishment after the date has ended. It not only creates lifelong memories, but your child gains practical life skills as well. Don’t believe me? Have you ever dated a guy who never knew where to take you or what to do on a date? Start your son early with kiddie dates and he won’t have this problem ;). By the time your child is in his/her early 20’s, they will have had many adventures, know exactly what they like and don’t like to do and developed some level of planning and organization skills. That can go a long way! Even most adults these days can’t plan a trip to the local park let alone a well thought-out outing with another warm-bodied individual. Your child will be prime husband/wife material. J
- Make it a teaching moment. Even after applying steps 1 through 4, you can easily get stuck trying to figure out something new to do on your date. I try to take this opportunity to create an “edutainment” environment when possible. Schedule your date around the next black history month event, newest museum exhibit or even extend a school field trip outing (which are almost always educational, right?). Show your child how much fun education can be.
- Have fun! Remember this is not about you…it’s about what your child likes to do. And being that he/she is a part of you, it’s bound to be something about the date that’s fun for you too. Whatever you decide to do together, create a memorable moment your son or daughter will talk about for years to come. Show them that contrary to popular belief, parents can be cool too! 😉