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Breaking the Couch Potato Habit

Dec23

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Hi Amy,

Thanks for all the laughs over the years! I am looking for some recommendations from you and your readers. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of putting the kids to bed at night and collapsing in front of the television until one and/or both of us glaze over and fall asleep. Not a terrible thing a couple of times a week, but it’s now every night.

We have a 4 and 2 year old, my husband has demanding job, and I’m home with the kids full-time. Yes, we are tired by 8pm, but realistically we (usually) get enough sleep and I’d like to get more out of our time alone together. What do grown-ups do in the evenings? We don’t really have “hobbies.” In the movies it’s all so romantic: Take a tango class! Work together to solve world problems! Drink fancy martinis in front of a fire! Unfortunately, we can’t leave the house, our dedication to healthcare reform loses some passion after a long day, and too much booze on a weeknight is ill-advised.

We’ve tried relaxing in a room without a TV, but eventually one of us checks their phone and then we look up an hour later with no idea where the evening went. What a first world problem, huh?

Thanks for any ideas!
Couch Potato

What do grown-ups do in the evenings? Let’s see. We usually put the kids to bed and then collapse in front of the television until one and/or both of us glaze over and fall asleep. Is that wrong?

In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself right now. Your kids are little and your jobs (outside and in) are demanding and you’re probably just now getting acclimated to everybody having an actual bedtime that sticks after years of pregnancy/newborn/baby/young toddler interruptions. It’s perfectly natural to not feel up to anything more ambitious than binge-watching Breaking Bad after a long day of Nick Jr.

Of course, you don’t want to go TOO far in that direction and settle into a boring, passionless roommate-type scenario with your spouse. Or to become That Mom who essentially turns her brain off whenever she’s not around their kids (since admittedly kids are not really known for providing the deepest levels of mental stimulation to begin with), so if you’re looking for other stuff to “do” — either together or separately — here are some ideas from a fellow TV junkie grown-up who does occasionally try to get up off the couch at night:

1) Do-ahead baking and cooking. My husband and I always enjoyed cooking, but since having kids we’ve really developed a love of cooking and baking stuff from scratch. (Bonus: Saves money because our children have hollow legs and are never not hungry.) We do most of our regular projects after the kids go to bed. We make our own bread, homemade chicken, fish or veggie nuggets for the freezer, batches of snacks for the lunchboxes like granola bars and snack cakes, and sometimes we’ll even get super ambitious and do some canning/jarring/preserving. We also use our slow cooker a lot and will prepare the next days’ dinner. We do it together, too, or at least keep each other company in the kitchen and chat. We do one project every other night or so…and then we head to the couch and TV, at least feeling SOME sense of accomplishment.

2) You Time. Not necessarily something to do together, but for your own sense of self and relaxation, do something for YOU after the kids go to bed. Take a bubble bath, soak your feet, paint your toenails something fun and glittery. Try out a hairstyle or makeup tutorial you saw online with the goal of mastering the Perfect Messy Topknot and Smoky Eye by your next date night or playgroup. This suggestion goes double on days when you maybe didn’t get into the shower until 3 p.m. and never got out of the yoga pants. (Back rubs and massages are good too!)

3) Exercise. Together, separately, both. I KNOW. BUT FOR REAL. Find a workout DVD you both can dig or download some fitness apps and motivate each other to commit to at least 30 minutes of SOMETHING before the TV glaze slides over you both.

4) Hobbies. Yes, I know you said you don’t have any. No reason that can’t change! I am, for example, the proud new owner of a sewing machine and am teaching myself to sew. Me! The least crafty person I know. (Be prepared for a lot of blog posts about me sewing my fingers to various things.) Learn to knit or embroider so you can at least make decent hostess gifts of tea cozies and towels. Cross-stitch is easy and fun, especially since you can get all kinds of naughty/geeky patterns. Get a home-brew kit and make your own beer. Repaint your bedside tables, read some true crime or history books, research Japanese flower arranging, whatever crazy random thing on Pinterest that you’ve always wished you could do.

5) Indoor date night. Look, I’m a huuuuge believer in the family sit-down dinner, away from devices and screens. But every once in awhile my husband and I treat ourselves to a grown-up dinner, no babysitter required. I make the boys something fun and easy. Jason stops at the store on his way home from work and picks up something for us. A nice cut of fish or meat, bottle of wine, whatever vegetable looks particularly yummy. Boys eat, go to bed a tad on the early side, and we make our dinner and have grown-up conversation and candles and all that crap. It’s lovely and relaxing. And these nights rarely end in front of the TV, if you know what I mean.

Okay readers, your turn! What do the grown-ups in your household do at night, after the kids go to bed? Any activities you recommend to break the exhausted couch-potato cycle? (And try to keep it clean, naughties.)

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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20 Responses to “Breaking the Couch Potato Habit”

  1. Wendy Dec 23 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t think it really matters what you choose to do, its just important to make the time.  Schedule a time once a week for the two of you to do something together and stick to it.  It’s so easy to just turn on the TV (or check your phone).  There is nothing wrong with veggin out, but I guarantee you won’t feel so guilty about it if you know you have your time scheduled to do something else. It doesn’t have to be dinner and candles, it could be anything you both enjoy.  For you, I would recommend something more often.  Especially since you’re home full time. Like Amy said, children are not exactly the best providers of deep mental stimulation, and you don’t want all the pressure of providing entertainment to land on your husband. Personally, I have a class I like to go to a few times a week which is just for me and when I get home from that, I don’t mind sitting in front of the TV with my hubby (usually with a phone in my hand at the same time) looking forward to our weekly “date”.

  2. Danielle Dec 23 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    A late grown-ups dinner after the kids go to bed once in a while is a favorite for us, too, though candles are not usually involved. We also read to each other.

  3. Jenny Dec 23 at 3:02 pm Reply Reply

    We play backgammon, or gin or cribbage (or any other two-person game that only my grandparents generation knows how to play!). It’s a hobby that I adopted through my husband actually knowing how to play them. Also, though, the majority of the time, we crash on the coach and watch whatever is on our DVR. Sometimes, we only make it through a half-hour show…

  4. Kerry Dec 23 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    Can I add reading? And then the added bonus/most annoying thing that comes from reading: wanting to tell your spouse about something mildly interesting that you just read, that they don’t really care about but will feign interest in anyways.  

    (What you read is really up to you…non-fiction works best if your goal is to increase the number of mildly interesting facts you have to share with people that they won’t really care about but might be impressed that you know. Some kind of classic literature is great if you want to improve your sense of “doing something meaningful.” What did you do today? Oh I just read War and Peace. If you actually want to improve your ability to have fun conversations with people, go with whatever the hot new guilty pleasure read is now, even if you just want to be able to make more valid points about how it’s stupid and a sign of society’s downfall. Or you could also read something you just enjoy reading.)

    • Carolyn Jan 04 at 7:53 pm Reply Reply

      My hubby and I like to pick the same book to start reading at the same time, so that we CAN talk to each other about it (I’m not picky about what to read, so he generally picks a few options he enjoys and then I pick from those). My favorite place to read is the bathtub and his is the bed, so since our bedroom and bathroom are connected, we can each be in our favorite places, doing something we like, and chatting/laughing with each other at the same time :) 

  5. Daisy Dec 23 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I each have a few of “our” things. He sails competitively (so, ok yeah, not the best example) and I enjoy riding my bike and I’m in a book club that meets once a month. Doing fun things outside of each other gives us something to talk about outside of the baby and the bills and the calendar ahead. We tend to cook dinner together after the baby goes down, which is a nice way to unwind. But yeah…a lot of nights in front of the television happen as well :-)

  6. Kristen Dec 23 at 4:23 pm Reply Reply

    We started watching the online series “Tabletop” and that brought us to a lot of games we like to play. We love “Pandemic,” which is insanely addictive and is nice because it’s cooperative, so you’re not going against each other. We have a game night once a week and it’s really been great.

  7. carolyn Dec 23 at 4:55 pm Reply Reply

    Another +1 to tabletop/board games.  As Kristen mentioned, Pandemic is awesome and cooperative.  My husband and I also like to play King of Tokyo, which is competitive but it’s fun, short, and easy to learn.  

    BoardGameGeek has an ongoing list of games for sleep-deprived parents without a lot of free time:
     http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/54493/shes-asleep-games-for-time-poor-couples-with-inf

  8. Chelsea Dec 23 at 5:52 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah…we’re solidly in the tv rut also, and my husband is in school in addition to work, so he’s probably studying and I’m on pinterest, pinning things I will never do.  Our son is only 18 months old, and I’m still getting used to actually sleeping at night :)

    BUT I really wrote this comment to ask Amy if she will share her recipes for the chicken, fish, and veggie nuggets she makes.  I am in a major food rut also (sensing a pattern here) and would love some different options to put in front of my picky toddler.
    Time for another recipe post, Amy!  Um…please?

    • Sam Dec 24 at 12:06 am Reply Reply

      I want the homemade chicken nugget recipie too!

    • Erica Dec 30 at 12:25 pm Reply Reply

      The veggie nugget recipe. Yes and please.

  9. karen Dec 23 at 8:08 pm Reply Reply

    My husband’s 30 minutes of carefree time is SportsCenter which I can’t stand but RF-headphones have solved that problem. I read. Books of the paper kind. Also, PUZZLES are so soothing. And good motivation to fully clean off the dinner table each evening.

  10. trish Dec 23 at 10:48 pm Reply Reply

    We do jigsaw puzzles. We have one of those mats that rolls up and it works quite well. 

  11. kaycee Dec 23 at 10:51 pm Reply Reply

    I concur with the games idea. One variation that my hubby and I went through a phase of doing was snuggling up in bed and working crosswords together.

  12. Autumn Dec 23 at 11:34 pm Reply Reply

    On the weekends, we really enjoy Wii Mario cart under the influence.  It’s a bit more of a challenge after a drink or 2.  

    During the week, he usually retreats to the basement to watch TV shows I’m not interested int.  I peruse my cookbooks and food blogs for fun stuff to make, or a computer game, or read a book.  If our hockey team is on, I’ll join him.  

    We did the long distance thing for 8 years before we got married, and now 8 years later, we still just like having a bit of personal time

  13. Marnie Dec 24 at 12:03 pm Reply Reply

    We work puzzles or Legos together. It gives us a chance to just physically enjoy each others company while watching a show or chatting. We love it. We alternate with me time, I run and hubby does his own hobby things. We have 3 kids with another on the way!

  14. RB Dec 24 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    Cancel your cable, or if you’re event more adventurous get rid of your TV. It’s scary but liberating.

    To avoid the “stare at phones and get sucked into a rabbit hole” habit, try implementing occasional “internet sabbaths”, where you turn off your wireless for a day (or from 8pm on).  Or, turn off your devices, deposit them in a box, and put them away somewhere.

  15. Olivia Dec 26 at 9:13 am Reply Reply

    We watch a lot of tv, but then we pause it and talk about it or something we think of while watching. Does that count? I also crochet or paint my nails and after the kids are asleep, but before I’m too tired, is when we have Adult Time, ahem.

  16. ras Dec 31 at 12:08 am Reply Reply

    For “together” activities, I’m with the board game crowd. We like Carcasonne and Settlers of Catan a lot. Also, every once in a great while, we remember to turn on the Xbox.

    I also heartily second the suggestion to develop hobbies. I learned to quilt this year after years of kind of wishing I could, and I love it. An hour’s worth of work can net you a huge chunk of progress on a baby or a lap quilt, which is satisfying and oddly confidence-building.

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