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Try This at Home: 8 Date Night Ideas for Exhausted Parents

I just googled “date night” and found over 84 million results. People are clearly into date night – with good reason. According to doctor Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute, many well-intentioned couples direct time and energy toward their children at the expense of the marriage.


While parents may think this is best for their children, it’s to the detriment of the entire family when parents fail to nurture their relationship with one another. Skyler says, “It may seem less logical to take care of [your relationship] first, [but] it actually does affect the family in a positive way. A happy marriage makes a happy family.”

But getting out for date night requires childcare. As we all know, good sitters are rare and precious, not to mention expensive.

Enter the SAHDN (stay at home date night). My Pinterest feed is filled with date night ideas to try at home. Some are far-fetched. Others are downright unreasonable. I admit to hate-reading websites advising me to dress up as the movie character of my husband’s choice, and to have him dress up as whatever movie character I choose. I can barely get my act together for Halloween, a holiday for which I have 365 days’ notice.

Other ideas I can’t get behind: Eye bombing, doing an insane workout while watching a show, drinking game style, or creating a scavenger hunt.

My husband and I love each other, but we’re exhausted. After wrestling kids into jammies and bringing them that final drink of water (and then the one after that), we’re lucky if we aren’t falling into bed ourselves.

As one of my Facebook friends so eloquently responded when I asked for fun at-home date night ideas, “Are you effing kidding me???? Sleeping at the same time is our date night.”

Date night doesn’t have to be a five-course dinner, tantric sex, or even an entire movie. The point is to connect. As in, put your phones away and pay attention to each other.

First, put your kids to bed earlier than usual, if at all possible. Skip naps, have them run laps around the house, turn the clocks back, or do all three. Whatever works. You deserve some alone time with your partner. If you’re waiting to have dinner until your kids are down, feed them something painfully simple – something that requires very limited clean-up. I’m talking peanut butter and jelly and carrot sticks on paper plates.

Save your limited energy for staying up and talking about things that are not your kids, and reminding each other of the fun, energetic, fabulous people you were before said kids made you tired and poor.

Here are seven ideas for at-home date nights for real parents. Because the best date is the one that actually happens.

1 | Eat grown-up food together

Once your kids are asleep, you are probably very hungry. You might be tempted to eat the crusts of their sandwiches while you wait for your own dinner. Do not do this. Instead, have a big glass of water (or wine) and wait to savor something you wouldn’t normally enjoy with your kids.

My husband and I did this recently and we couldn’t get over the fact that we were able to have an uninterrupted conversation at our own table. Or don’t talk. Just enjoy your food together and take in the precious silence.

2 | Go outside (but not far)

Crack a window or grab the baby monitor and hit the backyard. Have a drink on your patio, spread out a blanket and stargaze, or sit by a bonfire or fire pit.

My husband and I made our own fountain last summer and had so much fun enjoying the tranquil sound over a glass of wine as the sun set after our kids were down. (I confess, we bought the supplies together while a sitter was watching our kids. Yes, we made a date out of a trip to the hardware store.)

3 | Create something

It doesn’t have to be complicated or labor intensive. You could turn on some music and do a simple project, like working on a puzzle or painting on canvases. I once got my software-developer, directions-loving, rule-following, lives-entirely-in-his-left-brain husband to make a vision board with me.

If I can do that, I’m pretty sure you can get your spouse – no mater how un-artistically inclined – to make a puzzle or a painting with you.

4 | Netflix and popcorn

Watch a movie or binge watch your favorite show. Or if either of those are too much of a commitment, watch one show, some stand-up comedy, or a few Daily Show clips on You Tube.

As a friend said, having fresh, real popcorn in the mix will keep you sitting close to one another. And if you think snuggling up with your honey and a screen doesn’t count as quality time, research shows it can actually be good for your relationship.

5 | Play a game

If you’re feeling energetic, break out a two-player game, like Scrabble, Jenga, Checkers, Chess, or Cribbage. If you want to raise the stakes, make the loser be the one to get up with the kids in the morning.  

6 | Read aloud to one another

There’s something special about listening to your partner narrating a story – which words they put emphasis on, the accents and inflections they include in different characters’ dialogue, and just listening to the sound of their voice.

When I was enormously pregnant with our second child and unable to find a comfortable position in which to even hold my Kindle, my husband read me a chapter or two of “The Rosie Project” every night. He’s done a lot of sweet things for me over the years, but that ranks among the most romantic.  

7 | Just talk

Put your phones away and just talk. Ask each other questions. Not questions like “Have you seen the checkbook?” or “Are you going to schedule the sewer clean out or should I?” No, ask real, juicy questions. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this fabulous list for inspiration.

8 | Get physical

Have sex. Or don’t. There are a million different ways to be intimate with your partner, other than intercourse. Take a shower or a bath together, give each other back rubs, or just kiss. Cuddling is known to cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a huge role in pair bonding.

Whether it happens weekly, monthly, or sporadically, date night is a time for parents to nurture their relationship. It’s a time to remember that we’re still the same people we were before whisper-yelling, “It’s your turn to tuck her back in!” and being careful to avoid the pain of stepping on a rogue Lego. Date night is a time to have a conversation beyond whether the dishwasher is clean or dirty.

So don’t worry about creating the perfect, novel date. Focus instead on making it low-key, because the date you actually go on is the date that gives you a chance to re-connect.

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I was at my midwife appointment two weeks before my due date. After hearing my daughter's heartbeat and answering some questions, the midwife asked if I was planning to breastfeed.

Mentally scanning my perfectly outlined first-time-mom birth plan—complete with bullet points and bolded phrases which I had carefully picked—I realized that I hadn't even considered this notion until half a second ago. I was so preoccupied with the details surrounding how I was going to get this baby out of me that I hadn't contemplated how I would actually keep her alive once she was disconnected from my placenta.

I shrugged and replied, "Sure, I guess I will if I can." So I added my breastfeeding bullet point to my birth plan.

I woke up to my buzzing phone on the morning of March 29th. "Due Date" popped up as a notification on my calendar, as if the birth of my child could be scheduled in the same way you would an oil change.

I had everything planned. I would first labor quietly, un-medicated, wearing makeup and using my hypnobirthing techniques I been studying. Then, when I was ready to push, my baby would be delivered in a very reasonable amount of time with minimal tearing.

She would be placed on my chest where together we would soak in the hormonal love cocktail that I had read so much about. Afterward, I would unpack my laptop to check work emails during the downtime that I had assured myself would be bountiful during our hospital stay.

Growing more impatient as the time lingered since my due date notification, the hours turned to days. My water finally broke three long days later. My actual labor started quickly after I began bragging to my visitors about how manageable the contractions were.

I sweated my makeup off soon after. The calm and meditative laboring state I had prepared myself for was more akin to the calmness one would have upon placing the palms of their hands onto the burners of a searing hot stove.

The intervals between my contractions vanished as I eventually ripped my clothes off, hoping I could somehow crawl out of my skin. I gasped for breath between sobs when my midwife assured me that I was two whole centimeters dilated.

As fate would have it, 48 hours later, I would deliver my bruised and exhausted baby laying on my back, crying and shaking on an ice cold operating table.

As it turns out, enjoying approximately 35 seconds of sleep in a span of days doesn't do much for one's patience levels. Sore and freshly bound around the abdomen, I couldn't possibly be expected to employ my motherly duties yet, could I?

Whoever was supposed to serve me the hormonal love cocktail I was promised, apparently skipped my hospital room. My emails went unanswered as I ineptly tended to my shrieking newborn.

"The Universe laughs when you have a plan," I once read. The Universe must have taken one look at me and rejoiced: Boy was I in for a lesson.

Once settled in at home, I realized that breastfeeding wasn't going to work for us after all. Then I experienced a heavy period of postpartum depression.

Just weeks prior, I had everything planned so precisely. Things that pertained not just to the infancy stage I was so freshly experiencing now, but things that I had no right to plan, as I wouldn't truly understand them for months and some even years.

I had sworn to myself that I would always treat my child with kindness and patience...and look good while doing so. I told myself that I would reserve time for me to enjoy my hobbies and never "lose sight of myself." But suddenly, intellectually stimulating toys, perfectly situated hair bows, and frankly, brushed teeth meant much less to me.

Through the birth of my second daughter, I learned that a healthy baby is enough, no matter how they get here. This time, using medication, I graciously welcomed her into the world. Promptly after enjoying the love cocktail I had waited so patiently for, I let the nurses whisk her off to care for her in the nursery as I took a well-deserved nap.

Life with two small children required adjustments and another shift in expectations, but this time around I laughed my way through it. (And I learned to appreciate the texture of my unwashed hair, too.)

It wasn't until I finally let go of who I thought I should be that I finally felt satisfied by who I am. I am often frazzled, over-stressed and disheveled. I don't always feel very interesting and I am no longer the perfectly curated woman I once was.

I'm chronically late and not unlike my oldest daughter, I often burst in exhausted, bruised and five days late. Deadlines and appointments sometimes slip by and surprisingly, my heart continues to beat.

But most importantly, I'm an extremely good mother. Pay no attention to the non-organic popsicle stains running down my children's mismatched clothing or the bird nests of hair sitting atop their heads: because we are happy. And that is what is important.

Despite my earlier expectations that I have fallen quite short of, my children are well. They are not perfect, nor am I. Neither were any of the women who have come before or will come after me. I only make plans now with the caveat that they must be subject to change. The Universe can now laugh with me, not at me.

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You might be feeling duped at this point. The doctors, blogs and baby books were all very clear—this pregnancy business lasts 40 weeks.

And yet, here you are, a week (or more) over this hard and fast deadline, with no end in sight, your belly still painfully swollen as your baby continues to stretch and arch without any seeming interest in ever moving out.

You are most likely very, very over it.

If you're like me, you fluctuate (sometimes by the hour) between tears and laughter. Your Google search history alternates exclusively between "natural ways to induce labor" and "earliest signs of labor," the latter tapped out on your keyboard with the hesitant hope that maybe that extra heartburn you had this afternoon is a good sign? Maybe those weird (and extremely uncomfortable) pushes on your cervix are actually early labor? (Spoiler alert: Probably not.)

Because you're still pregnant.

I see you, desperately ticking off every suggestion in that "natural ways to induce labor" list, living off a diet of spicy food and pineapple washed down with raspberry leaf tea. You walk and walk and walk despite sciatica or run-of-the-mill nerve twinges every time your baby bears down.

You have sex (whether or not you're feeling particularly sexy) and break out your breast pump because your sister's co-worker's wife swears that's what sent her into labor in the end. You listen to (and attempt) every off-hand suggestion friends, relatives, and perfect strangers offer.

And you're still pregnant.

In short, you try everything. And nothing works. You wonder if, in fact, you are a medical marvel and pause on googling the risks of castor oil to look up the longest pregnancy on record. (375 days—a whopping three months longer than normal—but the details are a little fishy.)

Sometimes you're able to laugh at yourself, quoting the gestation of an elephant (a year and a half, but you already knew that re: the aforementioned Googling) and answering every inquiry into your well-being with, "Well, I'm still pregnant! So…!"

Other times, you're borderline inconsolable. Late night doubts keep you up despite your doctor or midwife's recommendations to take advantage of the opportunity for more sleep. You worry you're doing something wrong, as the "what is going on in there" questions continue to build in your mind. You worry something is wrong with your baby, the "what-ifs" and "what will be's" rolling through your brain like the world's worst broken record. You worry that you're broken.

And you're still pregnant.

Every contraction becomes a taunt, a tease of something as you start to tentatively track or lie down at night certain that tonight will be the real thing...only to wake the next morning, all signs of labor having dissipated in the night. Leaving you still uncertain. Still anxious. Still pregnant.

Maybe you feel yourself start to stop trusting your body, or at least question whether it really knows what to do or when things are ready. Even if this isn't your first baby rodeo, you wonder, "Do I even know what labor feels like?"

You begin to forget the time before you were pregnant.

Maybe you start to lose sense of the space-time continuum as everyone and their dog seems to be bringing home their babies around you. Even friends with later due dates than you. Even celebrities that you swore announced their pregnancies months after you did. Like when the YouTube star whose prenatal workouts you follow announces that she only has 30 days left to go, you find yourself shouting, "IN THEORY, KATRINA!" at your tiny phone screen.

You may have gone a little pregnancy stir-crazy.

I see you, mama, because I've felt those overdue pains, those overdue stretches, and that overdue stress. I've read and reread the same articles and sent my midwife panicked texts and stared at my belly, tears in my eyes, and wondered what am I doing wrong.

And while I waited, I tried to remember:

Odds are, everything is totally and completely fine. Most of the time babies are born when they are ready to be born—even if it's way past when we're ready. Due dates are necessary, but they're also estimations. Setting our hearts on them is a quick way to set ourselves up for disappointment.

This is actually way more common than you think. Only about 5% of babies are born on their actual due dates. The more people you tell you are overdue, the more the stories of overdue babies start to pour out. So many of my friends were overdue babies, and even more have had overdue newborns of their own. As isolating as it feels, you're actually joining a very big club of very strong women.

There's still so much to appreciate about this time. When it feels like you're rivaling that elephant in gestation time, it can be hard to remember what a fleeting time this is. But please remember how short pregnancy really is in the grand scheme of things. And if this is your last pregnancy, do your best to still feel a bit of wonder at the magic of your baby moving in your belly. Marvel in the miracle happening in your body right now. And, at the very least, do your best to take advantage of these last few days when you can sleep through the night and don't always have your hands full.

There's not a wrong way to bring a healthy baby into the world. You are not broken, mama. You are not failing because your body isn't cooperating with your self-inflicted expectations. Every day of your overdue pregnancy will one day be part of your baby's story—and yours. Let go of your expectations or the idea of a "perfect" pregnancy. Because, trust me, your baby will be perfect either way.

One day (so soon!), this will all just be part of your baby's story.

Think of it as the perfect fodder to guilt your kid when he's a teenager! (Kidding!) (Kind of!) When you're waiting for an overdue baby, it feels like your whole life is on hold until you can break through into the next phase. But once it happens, every extra day of pregnancy suddenly fades away. All you remember is how much you wanted this tiny baby who is now in your arms, and everything you had to do to get there was just part of the journey—and feels so, SO worth it.

And they will come out—promise.

[Editor's note: Justine works here at Motherly, and we are very pleased to say that she did, in fact, welcome a beautiful, healthy baby into the world. (Congrats, Justine!) So hold on, mama! You've got this.]

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Bathing frequency

There is no scientific or biological answer to how often you should bathe your child. During pre-modern times, parents hardly ever bathed their children. The modern era made it a societal norm to bathe your child daily.

Many babies and toddlers, especially those who aren't walking yet, don't need to be washed with soap every day. If a child has dry, sensitive skin, parents should wash their child with a mild soap once a week.

On other nights, the child may simply soak or rinse off in a lukewarm, plain water bath if they are staying fairly clean. Additionally, parents can soak their children in a water bath without soap most nights or as needed as part of a routine.

Cause of skin sensitivity

Many problems with sensitive, irritated skin are made worse by bathing habits that unintentionally dry out the skin too much. Soaking in a hot bath for long periods of time and scrubbing will lead to dry skin. Additionally, many existing skin conditions will worsen if you over-scrub your child or use drying, perfumed soaps.

Some skin conditions, like childhood eczema (atopic dermatitis), are not caused by dirt or lack of hygiene. Therefore, parents do not need to scrub the inflamed areas. Scrubbing will cause dry, sensitive skin to become even more dry.

Tips for bath time

Some best practices for bath time for kids who have dry, itchy, sensitive skin or eczema include.

  • The proper temperature for a bath is lukewarm
  • Baths should be brief (5-10 minutes long)
  • To avoid drying out your child's skin, use mild, fragrance-free soaps (or non-soap cleansers)
  • Use small amounts of soap and wash the child with your hands, rather than scrubbing with a soapy washcloth.
  • Do not let your child sit and play in the tub or basin if the water is all soapy.
  • Use the soap at the end of the bath, not the beginning.
  • When finishing the bath, rinse your child with warm fresh water to remove the soap from their body. Let the child "dance" or "wiggle" for a few seconds to shake off some of the water, and then apply moisturizing ointments, creams, or lotions while their skin is still wet.
  • Simple store-brand petroleum jelly is a wonderful moisturizer, especially if applied right when the child leaves the tub while the skin is still wet.
  • Avoid creams with fragrances, coloring agents, preservatives, and other chemicals. Simple, white, or colorless products are often better for children's skin.
  • Do not use alcohol-based products.

Originally posted on Children's National Health System's Rise and Shine.

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Instead of spending hours searching for the perfect gift, trust the experts—mamas and kids! We sifted through Target's toy section to find the highest rated products.

Here are some of our favorites:

Cookie Play Food Set

Colorful wooden play food is a foundation for independent play. Featuring 12 sliceable cookies, various toppings and a knife, spatula, kitchen mitt and cookie sheet, you child will have everything they need to bake.

Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set, Target, $16.99

BUY

WubbaNub

With nearly 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating, this pacifier is a favorite. It's made to position easily for baby and with medical grade materials—it's even distributed to hospitals across the nation. Plus, it's machine-washable. 🙌

WubbaNub Giraffe Pacifier, Target, $13.99

BUY

SkeeBall

Old school gifts are back this year and we're obsessed with this miniature skee-ball game. It's foldable so you can transport it with ease and includes five balls and four scoring hoops. Ideal for your little to play on their own or with the entire family.

SkeeBall The Classic Arcade Game, Target, $29.99

BUY

Car Seat Activity Toy

This attaches to the car seat or stroller handle, providing endless entertainment for baby. With a variety of colors, textures, shapes and a teether, rattle and mirror, it'll be the only item you need on the go.

Infantino GaGa Spiral Car Seat Activity Toy, Target, $14.99

BUY

Baby Alive

For the little who wants to play mama too, this baby doll teaches kids how to make food, change diapers and give them a bottle. Perfect for your sidekick!

Baby Alive Sweet Spoonfuls Baby Doll, Target, $19.89

BUY

Teepee

Instead of making a fort out of pillows and blankets, set up this teepee for your child's adventures. The flap rolls back so they can climb in and out and there's a circle cut out that makes a secret entrance. 🤫

Kids Teepee—Pillowfort, Target, $34.99

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Squirrel Game

The entire family will enjoy playing this game. Spin the spinner and use the squeezer to pick up matching acorns. It's perfect for teaching your littles matching and sorting skills. Note: It does have small parts so it's recommended for kids 3+.

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game! Target, $10.55

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Cleaning Set

Teach your child chores in a fun way with this beautiful set. They'll help you around the house and play on their own with the cleaning items.

Melissa & Doug Let's Play House! Dust, Sweep and Mop Set, Target, $24.99

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Ice Cream Cart

Create your own ice cream shop, complete with a magic (hint: magnetic) scooper. We love the music it plays, helping kids develop sensory skills, and the push capabilities.

LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart, Target, $34.99

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Fire Truck

Children who love imaginative play will adore this fire truck. It assembles easily, has its own steering wheel, plus cutouts that allow littles to pop in and out of. What more could we want?

Antsy Pants Vehicle Kit, Fire Truck, Target $49.99

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Alarm Clock + Nightlight

If you're ready to help teach your child a positive nighttime and morning routine, this clock features everything you need. A screen shows animations and the time, a nap timer can be set separately from the regular alarm, and the glow of the screen will let you little know when it's okay to wake up. Pro tip: Teach them that if the light isn't glowing green, they can't jump out of bed just yet.

OK to Wake! Alarm Clock and Night-Light, Target, $29.99

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Magna-Tiles

The 3D magnetic building set teaches kids STEM skills as they work to build their own creation. They'll stay busy for hours imagining endless possibilities.

MAGNA-TILES House 28pc, Target, $49.99

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STEM Robot Mouse

For the coder, we love this activity set. Kids get to create their own maze grid by using the coding cards and then let Colby (the mouse) race to find the cheese. 🧀

Learning Resources STEM Robot Mouse Coding Activity Set, Target, $34.49

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HatchiBabies

Kids will need to 'love' their HatchiBaby with rubs and hugs until it's ready to hatch, then wait to see if you have a boy or girl! Once they've hatched, children can feed, burp and snuggle the HatchiBaby, getting life-like responses back.

Hatchimals HatchiBabies CheeTree, Target, $48.99

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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