Parents know all too well that when it comes to finding time to keep the magic alive, the struggle is real. Once the office day job wraps, it’s on to the evening job of taking care of the  kids. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a small window in there at the end of the night for a little bit of alone time between partners before heads hit the pillow and it’s time to do it all over again.

Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

Then, suddenly it’s been days, weeks, or months since mom and dad have had a date night — alone as a couple — without the children around. You remember date night, right? Well it’s not simply reserved for single people. The dream really can become a reality for parents, too.

Establishing a date night is of the utmost importance to surviving the daily grind. Yet it’s often overlooked and set aside, either for the kids, an appointment with your cell phone or tablet, or for overtime emails from the office. It’s time to end the monotony and break away to refresh things and refocus on each other.

But before you can even think about diving into a date night full of candles and romance (and freedom from your duties as mom and dad), it’s imperative to establish some ground rules. Talking about setting up a night alone is one thing. Actually doing it and sticking to this commitment is another, and is of course, the hardest part. Remember, the goal is to make sure date night does exactly what it is designed to do — refresh and refocus.

The Rules of Date Night:
1. Schedule date night into your calendar. Treat it like a meeting that can’t be rescheduled except for in the event of an emergency.
2. Leave the complaining about mundane and everyday challenges for another day. Instead, focus on positivity with each other and really seizing the moment of the enjoyable time alone.
3. Turn off the cell phones, no checking emails. There is only one person that you should want, and need, to talk to tonight… that’s the person right in front of you.

Let’s be clear: a date night is about breaking from the routine to do something both you and your loved one really appreciate and enjoy. And no, “Netflix and Chill” does not count — although some of the best date-night ideas don’t require leaving the house. Now that we’ve established the ground rules, let’s get to 8 ideas that are sure to spark some fun and intrigue (even if you can’t get out of the house) — and ideally, even some good, old-fashioned romance.

Go Camping
Kids aren’t the only ones allowed to build tents out of sheets and pillows in the living room. Once the little ones are tucked away for the night, let your inner outdoorsman go wild and take a page out of your own kids’ playbook. Stage a fort or tent out of sheets and blankets and pillows; cook up some fun camping snacks like s’mores or have some wine and cheese, and hang out while you share scary stories.

Cook Together
Find a dish that’s both tasty to eat and romantic to prepare as a team. For ideas and inspiration, Google and Pinterest are your friends — you can even challenge each other to bring something to the table. If it’s a great meal, awesome. Even if the meal isn’t Bobby Flay quality, you’ll still have the experience to share and you may get a good laugh out of whatever concoction you tried to create.

Theme Night
Who says you need to physically depart in order to enjoy a faraway place and experience a new culture? Put the kids to bed early and then deck out the house in a theme for an exotic locale. Want to go the extra mile? Pick a foreign language or culture and encourage each other to learn and only speak in that language for the night. Prepare a meal or order takeout that goes hand-in-hand with the theme.

Game Night
Break out some old-fashioned board games (Monopoly anyone?) and bring on the competition. It’s a great way to utilize some of those old-school games collecting dust in your closet. Or you can go 21st-century style and have a gamer night with your favorite old-school video game of choice. Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart are all-time classics and sure to provide an evening of fun.

Book a Hotel Room for the Night
For the parents with the chance to step outside of the house and hire a babysitter for the night or leave the kids with some loved ones, take a night out for a quick romantic destination… stay-cation style. Make some dinner reservations and book a hotel nearby. Add some intrigue by tossing in a little role play if you dare — meet at the bar and act like total strangers trying to pick each other up.

Play Hookie
Drop the kids at school and then call in sick to work. Spend the day together doing something totally fun and out of the blue (like checking out a museum). It can be like your own real-life adult version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — minus whole the launching a car into a tree thing.

Sweat Together
This is a fantastic way to unload some built-up stress while getting in shape and dropping a little bit of belly fat in the process. Plus, the added endorphins that kick in from a workout can lead to some steamy post-workout downtime. Take things even further and make it a spa day or night by giving each other a post-sweat-sesh massage.

Double-Date Night
If you can’t get out of house, call up some friends, order some takeout, and enjoy an evening with other adults. Incorporate some of the above tips into the date-night rules with the guest couple: themes, cultures, cooking, game night — the possibilities are endless. Plus, hanging out with fellow adults (that don’t cry because they are overdue for a nap) is refreshing.

Being a great mommy and daddy may be job No. 1, but if the parental unit is not a cohesive and well-oiled machine, the whole dynamic can eventually break down. It’s imperative for couples to step away from the baby talk, the diapers, and the tween drama regularly and focus on the original tandem that started it all. Set time aside for each other to reset and rekindle the romance. It’ll improve your relationship as a couple and indirectly improve your relationship with the rugrats that rule the other six nights of the week.

Cover image courtesy of Ariadna Bruna
Originally appeared on Early to Rise