Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Date night

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One of those things that parenting books urge you to do every so often is go on a date night with your husband or partner.

What they don't warn you about is how these nights often, initially, aren't such a great idea.

Not only myself, but many friends, have found that your first real date nights can end up mired in recrimination and arguments.

It's the first time you're alone together without having to keep an ear out for the kids; you have high expectations and eagerly anticipate the event, only to find yourself barking at each other like demented dogs in the middle of a swanky restaurant or bar!

And then there's the expense. Babysitter, movie, and dinner out doesn't easily add up to much under $200.

In other words, you may well find yourself, on a rare Saturday night out on the town, having your most expensive argument ever!

Don't do what I once did and declare a moratorium on nights out: persevere. It is worth the effort.

By that I don't just mean the effort to find a babysitter. Get the kids fed, bathed and read to by the time the babysitter comes, leave them a fairly clean toilet and kitchen sink - and some snacks - and remember to have their wages ready by the end of the night.

I also mean that, in the case of myself and others I have spoken to, it means an extra effort must be made to be civil to each other and not treat the date like an opportunity to unload every grievance that's festered for the last month.

Once I got this through my thick skull - and stopped trying to pin my husband down on having a third child, or renovating the house, or collapsing into tears about my recently deceased mother while we supped our pinot noir - the date nights that have ensued have been a whole lot better.

This weekend we made a break for the movies after a particularly gruelling run of sleepless nights.

The kids have sniffles, which haven't had any effect on them except - it seems - the inability to sleep more than a few hours in a row, and finish the night off with a lovely 5.30am wake-up time.

Babysitter in place, glad rags on, we headed over to Mission Bay for a movie and dinner.

Unfortunately our choices were, for reasons of timing, largely confined to Marley and Me and He's Just Not That Into You. Husband groaning necessitates the choice of Marley, which leads to more groaning in the first 15 minutes of the film when husband thinks he's signed up to watch a cute dog flick.

Which of course he has. But we actually (miraculously!) agreed, for once, that the movie was much better than could have been expected.

My husband and I are both journalists - as are Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson in the film - and we also sometimes suffer under the strain of raising little kids, trying to keep our careers going, and experiencing some regret - at times - about choices and sacrifices made.

Of course, we do not live in a mansion with a pool like the two journos in Marley (and only one of them works!). Jennifer Aniston looks trim, toned, tanned and terrific in almost every shot whether she's playing mid-twenties or 15-years-on mother of three.

I have never looked this way, 15 year ago or now. Owen Wilson looks the same in every shot (although he at least does look tired). My husband, bless him, has actually aged. We don't have a big dog called Marley, or any dog, for that matter.

And yet the movie seemed to capture - fairly realistically by Hollywood standards - the exhaustion and joy of raising young kids (and a dog, I guess).

Which was great because it was just enough escapism to enjoy, but enough reality to remind us that most people are equally confronted, challenged and changed by the parenting whirlwind, and that we are not the only ones waking several times a night to crying kids or pondering, occasionally, what might have been.

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Jennifer Aniston in 'Marley and Me' - as it turns out, not a bad date night movie for frazzled parents. Photo / Supplied

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