Valentines Day: No Sitter? No Problem!

Some people dismiss it as just another day – after all, we should be showering our loved ones with love every day, not just Valentine’s Day, right? Well, sure we should. But hardworking parents often can’t even make it through a conversation as simple as, “How was your day?” without getting cut off by a kid. We can really use a reminder to carve out special time for our partners; just one day that is supposed to be all about us, instead of our tiny dictators.

That said, traditional “date nights” can be a pain for parents to coordinate, and it can put a real hurting on the wallet. Babysitters in my area charge $15 an hour, which means we’ve already spent the same amount as we’d spend on one entrée, before my husband and I even get to the restaurant!

That’s why we opt for celebrating at home. My husband and I have a tried-and-true Valentine’s tradition (see #1), but if you’d like to start customizing your own, here are 8 options for making your holiday every bit as romantic as a fancy night out.

1) Happy Hour: Ever since we started dating (which, coincidentally was on Valentine’s Day!) my husband and I would have a happy hour, where we put on some tunes, put out some cheese and crackers and pop open some wine. We would just sit around for hours talking, sometimes not even starting to make dinner until 8 or 9 o’clock.

Now we recreate this tradition for our little anniversary, so our workaround with kids is to put them in front of a movie with some popcorn after we give them their dinner. (If your kids are too little for a movie, you can always try to keep them occupied with something “forbidden,” like playing with the Tupperware or your smart phones).

Once they’re situated, we put on some of those old tunes we listened to in the good old days (like David Gray and Dave Matthews), and we take our time enjoying cheese and wine, really connecting, just like we did back then. We exchange cards that say a bunch of mushy, romantic things, and it all ends up to be a lot more intimate than dinner in a crowded restaurant.

2) Lunch Date – If your kids are school-aged, why not meet out at a restaurant for a Valentines lunch instead of dinner? Chances are the restaurants will be a lot less crowded in the afternoon, and because you’re skipping the sitter costs, you may be able to go somewhere a little more special. If fancy isn’t in the budget, you could choose a mid-range restaurant but one that reflects a special meal. For instance, choose an Italian restaurant if you had a pasta bar at your wedding, or go to a Mexican place if that’s what you did on your first date.

3) Movie Picnic – After the kids go to bed, put out a picnic spread on your living room floor. It can be a menu as simple as chips and dips, veggie tray, meat and cheese plate and a dessert. Then put on your favorite romantic movie or an old classic you’ve never seen, like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After the food’s cleared away, there’ll be plenty of room for snuggling with pillows and blankets.

4) DIY His & Hers Spa – Make your own variation of a romantic couples massage after the kids go to bed. Put on robes, light a bunch of aromatic candles, turn on some soft music and get out some massage oil (if you have that sort of thing on hand. I don’t! Regular body lotion will work just fine). Take turns giving each other back and foot massages, or just plain back-scratches—that would be my personal slice of heaven!

5) Stargazing – February can hold some clear and chilly nights, and there are few experiences as romantic as snuggling under a thick blanket, contemplating the cosmos. Bundle up and sit on the porch, deck or patio with your sweetie. Brew up some decaf coffee (spiked with liqueur) or hot chocolate in a thermos. If you have a chimnea or fire pit, all the better, or just make your own heat (wink, wink).

6) Dinner Served by the Kids – Remember that old movie, The Parent Trap, with Hayley Mills? My sister and I loved that movie when we were kids, and we got really excited about the scene where the sisters put together a makeshift Italian restaurant and recreated their parents’ first date.

If your kids are older, in the 6-12 year age range, get them involved in your holiday romance. Help them in creating (and executing) a menu that comes close to your first date or wedding menu, and let them use their own creativity to put together some scenery for recreating the venue. Have them set the table and even act as waiters, waitresses, and busboys for your dinner. This will not only bring you all a bunch of giggles, it will serve as a great learning experience for the kids. Cooking, serving and cleaning up dinner is not as easy as it looks!

7) Pizza & Planning – How much time do parents get to sit down and focus on planning anything at all, let alone things for themselves? In the weeks leading up to Valentines Day, ask your partner to think of some ideas of future getaways, outings, date nights—a couple’s bucket list. Then, order some pizza for the whole family on the actual holiday, and when the kids go to bed, spend your night compiling all your ideas, researching on the computer, and making your plans. Even if you can’t make all the plans come to actual fruition, half the fun is in dreaming up all these special things to do with someone you love.

8) One on One – If you and your mate have a playful relationship and a love of healthy competition, plan a game night for Valentines Day! Games for two like Scrabble, cards, checkers, chess, Jenga or even Twister would be perfect. To sweeten the pot, you could even both come up with a gentle To-Do list (back massage, breakfast in bed, etc) for the “loser.” For a game with some deeper meaning, try Table Topics for Couples; it’s a card game that asks questions to start important conversations between you and your loved one. (One card example asks the question: What does your partner do that lets you know you’re loved)?

These are just a few low-budget, low-maintenance, sitter-free ideas to make Valentine’s Day meaningful for you and the love of your life. Because even when you can’t get away, you can always celebrate being in it together.

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