Dining In: 'Parent Date Night' Offers Normalcy to Couples
Cook Children's brings elegant evening to parents in the hospital
The tables are set and a three-course meal is ready to be served. Six couples find their names on place cards and seat themselves in front of carefully arranged china and flatware. Soon, they’ll be watching Sleepless in Seattle while waiters serve perfectly prepared filet mignon. Each couple, dining by candlelight, is taking advantage of two short hours without their children.
No, these parents didn’t go out on the town for an intimate night together. Instead, they walked downstairs to a quiet room, tucked inside Cook Children’s Medical Center.
At the end of the movie, they will return to reality and the continuous beeping of monitors in their child’s hospital room.
“We wanted to do something that would give parents a sense of normalcy,” said Kristi Rico, Family Programs Specialist at Cook Children’s. “We have a lot of families who are here for months. Often, they don’t want to leave their child, so we created ‘Parent Date Night’ as a way to help them relax and reconnect without having to leave the hospital.”
Parent Date Night isn’t just dinner and a movie. Developed in the summer of 2016, it’s an evening meticulously planned by Rico and the Nutrition and Food Services team at Cook Children’s. First, Rico comes up with a theme and then hospital chefs develop a menu around it.
“We’ve made steak and eggs to pair with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and chicken piccata with angel hair for Roman Holiday,” said JoAnn Williams, Executive Chef/Senior Manager of Food and Nutrition Services at Cook Children’s.
Each meal begins with a salad and ends with a dessert, like tiramisu or cheesecake. To the surprise of many, all of the food is made in-house with parents in mind.
“We try to make it really elegant because these parents have missed so many meals and so much time together,” said Williams. “We want it to be something they will remember.”
Some of the first Parent Date Night events were attended by Stephanie and Reggie Campbell. The couple spent four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) last year with their newly adopted son, Owens. He was just 4 days old when they arrived after traveling all the way from their home in Lancaster, South Carolina.
“Being in the NICU is really stressful, so knowing that you could get out of the hospital room and escape the beeps and noises for a little bit helped,” said Stephanie. “It also helped to be able to meet other parents going through similar things and know that if you were needed, you were just downstairs.”
“It’s important for parents to be able to meet and talk to one another,” said Rico. “They’re all here because they have a child who is not well. We want them to be able to share their experiences, if they choose.”
For the Campbell family, having the opportunity to connect with other parents has had a long lasting impact. While they are now back home in South Carolina with their happy 10-month-old son, they still keep up with the friends they made at Cook Children’s.
“Some families don’t want to break away from their children, but that’s unfortunate because you really need to,” said Stephanie. “Being in the hospital will wear you down if you don’t step away every now and then.”