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Column: Mama Said with Emily Martin

Roses are red, violets are blue, Emily Martin is spending Valentine’s night with the kids (probably) and perhaps you are too. . .

If you’ve ever said the words “date night” to your partner, then “hello”, I am sitting just over here on the other side of the same crowded boat.

“Date night” is the term used by tired couples with children when we attempt to spend some time alone together without them. Sometimes at a restaurant, sometimes at the movies, often in the house doing the same thing we do on just a normal night (dinner and TV), but perhaps with a slightly nicer dinner. I don’t know, maybe prawns on the jacket potato instead of beans when we really push the boat out.

And, as all the passengers and crew of this boat know very well, having a child is like taking an iceberg to the hull of your romantic relationship. And I’m afraid having more than one child is like discovering that there aren’t enough lifeboats.

Mama Said - Emily Martin on the perils of parental ‘date night’ (26324215) (26324215)
Mama Said - Emily Martin on the perils of parental ‘date night’ (26324215) (26324215)

That special someone who once gave you butterflies when you saw their name flash up on a text is now standing in your bathroom at 3am (oh, great!) but wait, they look a bit bleary-eyed and they’re showering sick off a Toy Story duvet cover (oh, right).

Our brains find it very difficult to reconcile things like romance with showering sick off duvet covers. We find it difficult to be the same person who wears a glittering, purple mini-dress out for dinner (“Wow, you look amazing”) and also a purple towelling dressing gown with “Mummy” embroidered on the lapel (“Oh for goodness sake, who’s put the bacon back in the fridge like this?”).

Remarkably, before children it’s actually possible to hide your real personality from your partner. You can be fun and in holiday-mode all the time! Easy going, Netflix and totally chilled about putting out the bins, get some gin and tonics in cans, have spontaneous picnics and stay up all night just laughing and watching Grand Designs repeats.

But once there are children living in the house it’s like you’ve suddenly become work colleagues as well as lovers, which is never a good idea. And you’re not those best-buds work colleagues either, but instead the ones who roll their eyes at each other and send emails. I’m sorry to say to my Valentine (who I do love but. . .) if we were work colleagues, I’d have emailed you several times signing off with the passive aggressive “Kind Regards” and also I’d have Bcc’d our line managers, just to make them aware.

Things get tense once you’re in a job share with your partner and date nights are like the couple version of company away days, where you’re forced out of the office and encouraged to build team spirit by playing rounders or going to Laser Quest. Fun, but unusual.

Also, date nights are very hard won. They involve massive planning, and meetings, logistical negotiations with grandparents, coordinating diaries and packing gigantic bags and, as a result, the pressure to enjoy them can sometimes have a bad effect. It might not be as fun as you’d hoped and especially not when one of you sees it as the chance to air some “issues” away from the kids and it leads to a huge row.

The last date night we had round here was preceded by a date DAY. I know. It was amazing. We had 24 massive child-free hours all on our own and so, feeling like the Queen of Free Time, with oceans of it stretching ahead of me, I greedily went for a nap at 11am. . . and then didn’t wake up until 5pm. “Why didn’t you wake me up?!” I’m afraid I spent the evening in a mood and ruined that date night for us both. It was a good nap though. If you’re getting a lucky date night off the kids this Valentine’s Day, my advice would be: have a plan and don’t have a nap.

“Are you sending any Valentine’s cards this year?” I ask Girl as we’re brushing our teeth together at the sink. “I dunno, probably do one for Grandad,” she replies through a mouthful of minty foam. “Oh yeah, of course,” I say.


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