I used to hate Valentine's Day. Nominating one day out of the year where we're all supposed to be mushy and buy flowers and chocolates to proclaim our love sounds a whole lot like peer pressure and nothing like actual love to me. I actually hated it so much that on our wedding day, I made my husband promise to never buy me flowers on Valentine's Day.
And here I am, a few kids later, bursting at the seams to celebrate Valentine's Day. I used to think it was all about romance and relationships, but it means something totally different to me now. My school-aged kids are becoming more aware of their space, who they are, and how they fit in. They aren't constantly within the walls of our own home where I get to dictate all the things they learn and comprehend. Now they spend a lot of time at school, surrounded by other children, raised by other adults who have different beliefs and ideologies than I do. Suddenly, they're forming their own opinions based on the stories of other humans. Those humans, mostly children, don't always have the same values as I do. But my kids are listening. And so Valentine's Day has become one big opportunity for me to reiterate to my children what love really is.
I'm teaching them love for the kids that are teased. Love for the kids that do the teasing. Love for the kids who are trying to figure out who they are. And most importantly, an abundance of love for themselves.
I've never met a human who was tired of hearing how loved they are. And so my husband and I buy our kids little heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and write them each their own love note. And then, we help them do the same. The kids will pick out a treat and include a special note for one of their friends at school. My older ones are elementary-age and will write things they like about their friend. One year my boy wrote "I like how good you are at football" and my daughter wrote about playing on the monkey bars together everyday. We try to steer them toward complimenting qualities rather than fashion statements, but sometimes that happens too. I've learned not to correct them because I want them to speak their own thoughts and I know that regardless of what they say, they're still doing an intentionally kind thing. The action alone is good. But we also take that opportunity to help them understand their own value system by asking questions like "Why do you enjoy playing with this friend at recess?" or "What are important characteristics in a friend? How does this friend display those?"
And then we provide them with an opportunity to practice self-love. The truth is, someone, at some point, is going to say something that will hurt each of them. We've all go through it and there is simply no avoiding it. When I was a kid, we were told things like "if he's teasing you, he likes you" and we were taught to take another's inappropriateness as a compliment. I don't want my kids to think that. Rather, I want them to hear that hurtful comment and immediately know that it's not true. I want them to be filled with so much love for themselves that they don't question their own truth based on someone else's opinion. But I know the only way they will truly feel that love for themselves is if I teach them how.
So the first week of February, I grab cut-out hearts from the dollar bins at Target and I have them write things they love about themselves. We give them total freedom to write anything they want. Their answers have ranged from "I'm fun" and "I'm brave," to "I'm a fast runner." Then we hang them up in the hallway next to their bedrooms so they see them each day. It's a simple exercise that has brought so much value to our family. It is my hope that teaching our children to remind themselves of their truths allows them to continually cultivate self love.
Is Valentine's Day an overly commercialized holiday full of forced flower purchases and two-hour long dinner waits? Probably so. But for my family, it's also a really great opportunity to teach our children how to love themselves and others — overpriced chocolates optional.