During the recent school vacation, my wife had to work. So, I was home with the boys and in charge of our daily activities. Not wanting to rely completely on screen time, and with only so many playdates possible, I took my children out. You could say we went on a date.
Ever had a bad date with your children? Of course you have, because we all have. Maybe it involved throwing up, or crying or whining... Whatever it was, the date sucked, and you wanted it over.
Ever had a bad romantic date before? Of course you have, because we all have. Maybe it involved boring conversation, arguments or whining... The reasons are endless and you wanted it over.
Clearly, there are a lot of similarities between bad dates with your children and bad dates with a romantic interest.
But there are differences as well. And those differences can be rough.
1. More people to please.
A romantic date involves two people. When you are planning a date, you have one person to please. While I planned to enjoy my dates, my main concern was the woman. So if she didn't like something, no problem. We could just do something else. One person, one set of quirks, one set of needs, one set of peculiarities. Planning was rather simple.
I have children, plural. Two. So, in theory, the quirks, needs and peculiarities should not have quadrupled. Yet somehow, they do. It can take hours to find something both boys will enjoy. Sometimes one will wait to hear what the other one wants to do before deciding he does NOT want to do the same thing. Planning for a nuclear meltdown would be easier.
2. Getting ready.
When you get to your date's house, you expect her/him to be ready. You honk the horn or knock on the door and she/he appears and the two of you are off. You might have to give an opinion on clothes/appearance, but (if handled properly), this is brief. OK, it might be a few minutes. Reasonable. Even the worst dates don't usually go awry at this point.
Children need you to do EVERYTHING. They don't do preparing. So, you have to do everything. Wash them, get their clothes out, remind them to go to the bathroom, zip their coats... If your children are of a certain age, preparations take longer than the outing. When you finally do get out of the house, if you've forgotten something, you're screwed. Not having a drink is fixable, but low charge on the electronic device can lead to an eruption. Prepare poorly and the date has no chance.
3. They ain't faking it.
Do you smile for the camera even if you don't feel like it? Most of us do. Being an adult means trying to make the best of any situation. We grit our freakin' teeth, praying for the damn moment to end. Your date may suck, but instead of b*tching, you fake smile and then suddenly remember a reason why you have to be home. It's over -- mercifully.
Children don't know they are supposed to fake it -- or don't know how to fake it. Seriously, if your children are like mine, they tell you exactly how they feel. Everything is out there. That can be refreshing or NOT. Yup, if they are not entertained for every second, they will sigh, whine and say, "I'm bored." No faking here. You know just where you stand as they watch you sink mercilessly.
Bad dates happen. Sure, when you scheduled the date, you hoped for a good time. Yet, no one goes through the dating life unscathed. While the dates may have sucked at the time, they are probably the basis for half your stories. Remember the time when... You laugh at them at this point, and use them as conversation starters.
A crappy date with your children is reason for therapy. For all of you. Your kids are on the sofa telling the psychologist all about the horrible outing and how it made them feel. Yup, they're traumatized. Meanwhile, you're out in the waiting room with a check for $175. You're bleeding money, feeling guilty as all hell and anxious about your turn to talk.
5. No escape.
Do you know the best part of a bad date with a romantic interest? The end!! Good night, take care, bye-bye. Never see you again. You get to go back to your home and never see her/him again. By the time you're back on the sofa flipping through the channels, your mind is more focused on SportsCenter or Lifetime and your chocolate doughnut than the crappy date you just had. Space is a beautiful thing!
Do you know the worst part of a bad date with your kids? It doesn't end. You get home and they come with you. Tough luck, parent! That person who just lost it or caused you to lose it or joined you in losing it is still there. They ain't going no place! You can watch a SportsCenter or Lifetime marathon and eat a box of Entenmann's doughnuts and it won't matter. You have no space!
But if the date goes well, you get a different kind of lucky.
A great romantic date ends in a certain way. Maybe it's physical pleasure. Maybe it's a step towards love. Even better, maybe it's both. Whatever it is, when the plans work and you're with someone you care about, it can be magical. It's Disney, Hallmark and Harlequin rolled into one. Bliss.
When the date with your kids ends and everyone is happy, you feel warm inside. You see the contentment on their faces and you know you've done your job as a parent. You created moments that they'll remember -- and you will, too. It's a joy that makes everything else worthwhile. Bliss.
An earlier version of this piece appeared on Larry Bernstein's personal blog, Me Myself and Kids. You can also find him on Facebook.