I hope you had the opportunity to take your wife out on a date for Valentine's Day. In fact, I hope you take your wife on dates often. If you don't, chances are good that, eventually, somebody else will.
As a husband, one of your responsibilities vis-a-vis dating involves finding a decent babysitter. Unfortunately, that may be one of life's most difficult challenges, on a par with achieving financial independence or getting a straight answer out of a White House press secretary.
If you do manage to find one (a good babysitter, I mean, not an honest press secretary), do everything in your power to keep her, excluding, perhaps, abduction, except in extreme circumstances. You may even want to consider adopting her, if you can get her parents to agree -- which, if she's a teenager, they probably will.
(Excuse my perpetuation of gender stereotypes here. I'm sure there are many fine male babysitters out there, working hard to pay their way through interior design school.)
If you happen to have built-in babysitters, in the form of relatives nearby or older siblings, consider yourself lucky. Any problems that may arise from living near other members of your extended family (and that's another column in itself, or perhaps a Jerry Springer episode) will be more than offset during the child rearing years by the proximity of readily available babysitting.
Of course, not all grandparents live to entertain toddlers while their adult children amuse themselves, but even the most reluctant can usually be persuaded. Just threaten to withhold visitation rights.
When it comes to leaving young children with an older child, the question always arises: how old is old enough to babysit? Here's a simple and scientific formula: multiply the age of your oldest child by the number of months since your last date. If the product is at least 24, you have a babysitter.
Example: Your last date was two months ago. Your oldest child is 12. Viola! Haven't been out in three months? An 8-year-old will do. In a couple of weeks, you can probably leave your 3-year-old by himself.
On the other hand, if you have both a teenager and a toddler at home, you may have been doing just a little too much "dating," if you know what I mean. But that's your business. You might even have planned it that way just so you would one day have a built-in babysitter. If so, be sure to let your teenager know that's what you had in mind. It will be sure to raise her self-esteem.
Regardless of the difficulty, you must be the one to find a sitter. Then your wife will be worry-free, with nothing to do but get ready for the big date. And while she's getting ready, you can go to pick up the babysitter, or perhaps earn a Ph.D. in genetics and clone your own.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter//www.familymanthebook.com/.