Before we had children, my husband and I regularly went on romantic weekend getaways. We adored slipping away to a bed and breakfast or a country inn, or even taking a quick plane ride to recharge in a quiet hotel room. Getting away from our everyday distractions helped us relax and reconnect—emotionally, physically, and romantically.
Once we became parents, it seemed like our opportunities to sneak away evaporated. Our desire to reconnect and rest was greater than ever, but figuring out the logistics (Who would watch the baby? Where would we go?) and steeling ourselves for the emotional component—Will she cry the whole time? Are we bad parents for leaving her?—left us feeling overwhelmed. Plus, I worried that taking a weekend away to commit to my marriage would come at the expense of my daughter. And so, despite mounting exhaustion and a deepening distance in our marriage, we stayed put and tried to reconnect during fleeting moments here and there.
According to Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy in New York City and is the author of Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents' Guide to Getting It On Again, our conundrum was totally normal. "All new parents want to raise happy children. But happy children have happy parents. And happy parents are the ones who stay connected and intimate," says Dr. Kerner. His advice: "The best thing you can do for your newborn is to be a little selfish about holding onto your pre-baby identities."
One of the best ways I felt my husband and I could get our couple mojo back was to head to a hotel. And so Operation: Night Away from Charlotte was implemented when my daughter was 4 months old. Fast-forward five years: In addition to our daughter, we now have a 2-year-old son, and my husband and I still manage to steal away for a night or two several times a year.
Sound indulgent? It's not. It's been the secret to maintaining a sexy marriage—and staying sane—while parenting two children under four. You can do it, too.
Think small. When I first started thinking about a night away, I fantasized about lying on a beach somewhere exotic sipping a piña colada. While that sounded amazing, the idea of planning an elaborate trip that involved getting on a plane was emotionally and logistically overwhelming, and out of the question financially. "The first time you're away from your baby, you want to be really close so you know you can get home quickly if your infant needs you or you need your child," says Orlando. So I dialed back my expectations. Our first night away from our daughter, we stayed half a mile down the road from our house at the local Best Western. We were gone for less than 24 hours but we returned feeling (almost) completely normal.
Go beyond Grandma. If you have a family member who can care for your baby overnight, you're probably set. But not everyone has a trusted relative close by or willing to lend a hand. Neither my parents nor my in-laws felt comfortable staying overnight with my baby, so step one was finding a caregiver for her. I asked practically everyone I knew for a sitter referral, and finally hired a nursing student who had worked overnights for a friend of mine with three kids. As the years have progressed, we've had my sister-in-law take the kids, one of my daughter's preschool teachers has spent the night, and yes, eventually we even got Grandma to sleep over. The bottom line: Cast a wide net for childcare.
Get everyone prepared. Of course, we didn't just hire a sitter and hit the road. We started with a morning when I was home and worked our way up—leaving Charlotte for a day, an evening, and then for the whole night—over a month until we all felt comfortable with each other. Before we left, I stocked the fridge with food and the freezer with breast milk (with backup formula, just in case). I wrote out my daughter's schedule in detail, plus a long list of emergency contacts. I wrote down our cross streets, gave the sitter the code to our alarm system, and showed her where flashlights and extra batteries were in case of a power outage. I also left emergency cash and my daughter's health insurance card, and made sure to put the sitter's name on Charlotte's HIPPA form at the doctor's office so she would have the legal right to bring her to the doctor. The goal: Not only do you want your child and sitter to be safe, but you want the weekend to go off seamlessly, so you all have the confidence to do it again.
Save by being creative. When you have to pay for a hotel room and a sitter, costs add up. To save, we almost always use points from our credit cards or other loyalty rewards programs to book our hotel rooms. We also zero in on hotels that are frequented by business travelers, which are often empty on the weekends and offer super-low rates. Another way to sweeten the deal: Look for hotels with amenities like an indoor pool, a sauna or steam room, a fitness center, and complimentary evening cocktail hours or breakfast. Another money-saving trick: Pack a romantic picnic dinner to enjoy in your hotel room.
Don't talk about the baby (at first). Orlando suggests that you and your partner agree not to talk about the kids for at least the first few hours so you can concentrate on one another. I actually write down conversation starters so there's no dead air between my husband and me. It sounds dorky, but it works!
Remember the big picture. Yes, it's hard to leave your precious darling. Yes, it's hard to part with the money. Yes, it's hard to pack up and wipe the tears (yours and theirs!) and organize everything. But taking a mini-break with your partner is a long-term investment in your relationship. "I work with so many parents who haven't been on a date night since their child was born," says Kerner. "Those are the couples who end up in my office feeling disconnected, detached, and resentful." Planning a night away, he adds, especially at a hotel, where you don't have to worry about being woken up or interrupted, can help rekindle your romance postbaby. As for my husband and me, we come back from our nights away more relaxed, more in-love partners, which means that we also come back better parents.