Picture: Pixabay

Going on a bona fide date with my husband used to be as simple as making an Open Table reservation and taking a nightoff from the kitchen. But now that we have a pair of young children underfoot, getting out the door comes at such a steep cost - including the babysitter and the sky-high expectations - that the evening often feels doomed to fail before it begins.

After welcoming our second child last year, we redoubled our commitment to semiregular dates. We quickly learned, though, that we were no longer very good at dating. 

There was the fight over parking on the drive to one of Washington's most romantic restaurants, which left us sipping cocktails through clenched teeth. And the birthday dinner reservation at a Michelin-starred eatery that was nearly derailed by a detour (Google maps was confused, not me!). Not to mention the night I forgot my breast pump and struggled to pretend I wasn't in pain the entire evening.

Instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, we decided to learn from them. After all, experts say married couples who go out monthly are less likely to split up. And those date nights are even more important once there are kids on the scene.

For starters, couples who have regular date nights have better communication and fewer conflicts. Trying new things together can foster the sort of closeness that can weather even the sleepless nights of early parenting.

Determined to stick it out, I started a "How to not ruin date night" note on my iPhone, where I've been jotting down ideas for the past year. Here are some of the tips I've gleaned, from both experience and experts.

- Rarely make reservations. Reservations equal expectations, and parents don't need any help conjuring up their next when-we-leave-the-house fantasy. Also, getting somewhere on schedule, in my experience, gets 15 minutes more impossible with each child you add to the family. 

- Don't go too fancy. Sure, you want to get dressed up. I get that. But the formality of a four-course dinner can feel a little jarring when you've only just brushed the spit up out of your hair (and not very well). Wear what you want, where you want, and you'll blend right in.

- Feel young again. Laugh. The best way to not miss the kids you left behind is to act like them (tantrums notwithstanding). Buying tickets to a local air guitar competition, on a whim, turned into one of our top dates this year. I had no idea strumming invisible strings was a competitive sport.

- Consider the day date. If you have semi-flexible work schedules or a long lunch break, this can be a great way to squeeze in a date. Meet your spouse at the picnic tables behind the office with a sack lunch and catch some vitamin D while catching up. 

- Warm up to it. Les Parrott, a psychologist and author who founded DeepLove.com with his wife Leslie Parrott, says datenight can be like a mini vacation: "Part of the joy is looking forward to it." But that doesn't mean it's easy to switch gears, particularly after a long day or week of caring for clients and children. If it's a work day, send a text that you're looking forward to date night (romantic emoji and all). On weekends, don't wait until the sitter has arrived to connect with your spouse.

- Don't talk about it. Finances, schedules or disciplinary tactics - or any other subjects that raise your parental blood pressure - are off the table. 

After all, dating is still about getting to know someone. And there's no one more worthy of that effort than the one you loved before having kids (and hopefully still do).

- The Washington Post