Should you celebrate Valentine's Day as a family?

Andrea Mara asks if Valentine’s Day should be exclusively for parents to nurture their relationship or if it should also involve their children

Should you celebrate Valentine's Day as a family?

Andrea Mara asks if Valentine’s Day should be exclusively for parents to nurture their relationship or if it should also involve their children

ON our first February 14 together, my now-husband sent me a text, saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day.’ Not exactly hearts and flowers, but, for that stage in our three-week-long relationship, hearts and flowers would have sent me running for the hills.

The following year, we went for dinner, feeling very grown-up. Except, we were crammed so close to the people beside us, I could have dipped my chips in their ketchup without either of us noticing, and we had to give the table back after an hour, because the restaurant was doing three sittings.

That was the start and the end of our Valentine’s Day dating efforts — after that, we stuck to eating-in, welcoming any excuse to cook a nice dinner and open a bottle of wine.

Then, along came kids, and it all changed again. My children start planning Valentine’s Day in early January. They make cards. They look up recipes for heart-shaped cakes. They can’t understand why there isn’t a day off school. I suspect this is partly because it gets them through the cold, dark days, when the glow of Christmas is gone, but evidence of spring is not yet in sight. And commercialised though it might be, I don’t have the heart to dampen their enthusiasm.

So what’s the consensus? Should we be including children in Valentine’s Day celebrations, or is it a time when parents need to claim space for their relationship?

“Whether one chooses to disregard Valentine’s day as a Hallmark holiday or delight in the exchange of flowers and chocolates, there’s no getting away from it,” says Dr Stacey Ball, clinical psychologist at The Insight Centre. “It’s on our televisions, our social media, and even in our children’s crèches and schools. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and extending that to include the whole family can only be a healthy and positive thing. In today’s society, families come in so many different shapes and sizes, it’s important for children to understand that, no matter what their familial or home situation, there is always someone in their life who loves them and who they can express their love for.”

But it’s also time for the grown-ups to look after themselves, she says. “Self-care is vital and often not made a priority for parents. You need to fill your own cup, in order to fill others’. Modelling healthy, self-care relationships also encourages children to do the same. These relationships can be modelled on your marriage, relationship, or, if you’re a lone parent, it can be the self-care relationship you have with yourself.”

And it doesn’t have to mean a night out on February 14, says Dr Ball. “No matter how you do it — be it having a cup of tea together without distraction, going for a walk, going for dinner, watching a film, having a conversation with no phones or distractions — do it, and do it often. You’re making yourself a better parent, ‘filling your cup’ so you’re always ready to fill your child’s cup.”

Eimear Hutchinson, the Cork-based blogger behind TheTwoDarlings.com, feels that February 14 is a time for the grown-ups. “For us, Valentine’s is just a good excuse to get out, go for dinner, and have a few hours to ourselves. When you become parents and have small kids, nights out become a little thin on the ground.”

Eimear, who has three daughters, says she wasn’t always a fan of February 14, but this has changed since having children. “I used to hate the consumerism surrounding Valentine’s Day, but now I’m more than happy to hop on the bandwagon and escape for the night. It’s so important for couples to just sit down across the table from each other, without having to rush off to soothe a child or put on a load of washing.”

With creches and schools doing Valentine’s art, it’s not surprising that February 14 evolves into a family event. But it can go too far, says parent blogger, Sinéad Fox (BumblesofRice.com), who has two sons and a daughter.

“I’ve seen cards in the shops for children to give parents on Valentine’s Day, and that’s something I can’t get on board with. We already have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I know one dad who buys his small daughters flowers on Valentine’s, which is sweet, but with two sons born first, it wasn’t something we ever adopted, and I don’t think my sons would appreciate if we did now. My conclusion: Keep it low-key and for the adults, with homemade crafts for the kids, and, like any holiday, celebrate with cake!”

Mum-of-four, Kellie Kearney (MyLittleBabog.com) follows her children’s lead, but avoids the consumerism. “I’m neither for or against celebrating Valentine’s for kids; mine will probably pick a couple of the neighbour’s daffodils, make some cards at home, and I’ll make heart-shaped pancakes. As for the adults, I don’t buy into it. So my partner gives me a card and flowers the night before, meaning, ‘I know we don’t do Valentine’s Day, so here are some flowers for no reason at all to get around it’!”

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