Valentine’s Day has always been fraught for me.
In middle school, I desperately hoped for an admirer’s carnation to be delivered in front of all my friends in the cafeteria (what adult decided that was a good student council fundraiser?) In high school, I was shy and embarrassed that I had no one to “Be Mine,” and when I did start dating, I found myself caring too much about whether or not my beloved would get Valentine’s Day “right.”
But through it all, I knew I would always have at least one Valentine I could count on: my mom. Whether I was feeling hopelessly romantic or totally disillusioned with love, I would always come home to something special from mom. Usually it was a hand-made, poster board-sized declaration of her affection, accompanied by sweet hearts or chocolate. Although I sometimes rolled my eyes (who wants a Valentine from their mother?), the message stuck with me: No matter how you feel today, you are loved.
As an adult, I have never celebrated Valentine’s Day with my husband. Our relationship is powerful and intimate; convoluting that with forced affection and appreciation seems disingenuous. Instead of battling the crowds at restaurants on February 14, we dine out on our anniversary a month later, a date that is much more significant to us. He buys me flowers throughout the year, and I cook meals he likes because we love each other, not because Valentine’s Day (or its awful follow-up: Steak and Blow-job Day) declares that we should. We show our love naturally in the ways that reflect the values of our relationship.
This year, I think an over-the-top love note and some cliché heart-shaped cookies will be a silly but significant start to the most important lesson I’ll ever teach my daughter.
I don’t think twice about not celebrating Valentine’s Day with my husband, but I’ve been surprised that I really want to celebrate it with my child. It’s not just because she’s two, and any excuse for a celebration is a good one (although, that too). It’s because I know that there will be times when this so-called holiday seems tough for her, and I always want to remind her that she is loved.
There will be years when my daughter feels as if she hasn’t been chosen on Valentine’s Day, and maybe even years when she feels heartbroken. Although it’s “just” a Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s can be another opportunity for kids and teens to feel separated from their peers.
I can’t save my child from heartbreak or rejection, but I can let her know that she always has a safe space to land.
Valentine’s Day is most closely associated with romantic love, so taking the day to celebrate platonic or parental love feels like adapting the holiday to something that fits our family. If I am going to teach my daughter that she will always be loved and chosen, I have to start early, before she starts to think that Valentines from Mom aren’t cool enough.
This year, I think an over-the-top love note and some cliché heart-shaped cookies will be a silly but significant start to the most important lesson I’ll ever teach my daughter. And while I’m at it, I’ll send some to my own mom as well.