An after school pickup conversation a few days ago:
Me: Are you and your husband doing anything for Valentine’s Day?
Friend: [Silent eye roll.]
Second friend: You did not just ask that, did you?
Third friend: Are you kidding? Seriously, are you kidding?
So goes the year’s supposedly most romantic holiday. For parents, the day can be more of a burden (oversee/make the cards for classmates; endure either the post-class-party-sugar-crash or the emotional crash after a day of adolescent drama) than one to explore the deeper contours of their romantic lives.
But parents skip the holiday at their own peril according to D.C. therapist and advice columnist Stacy Notaras Murphy.
Notaras Murphy says it is imperative for parents who tend to leave their relationship low on the priority list to make the effort today, “no matter how small,” she told me when I asked for her thoughts on the holiday.
“Being deliberate on Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have gone corporate, it means you are making an effort to nurture something you consider important.”
She goes on:
“You don’t have to go the flowers-chocolate-candlelight route, but when every store window you pass on the way home is heckling you with red hearts, couples who don’t make the effort to relate are actually sending a message through their inaction: I don’t feel connected at all. If you can’t come through when all the stores and TV commercials are blanketed in red and pink, then what are the chances you will luck into making your spouse feel loved and appreciated when he/she really needs it on an average Thursday night?
“Sure, Valentine’s Day has become the holiday to hate: it’s contrived, it’s awkward, and yet, full of expectations. But the truth is that intimacy-while-parenting — particularly when your kids are young — is basically all of those things:contrived, awkward, and full of expectations...
“February actually is a great month to check back in with your partner, since the end-of-year busy-ness is passed. We can use the holiday as a reminder that we still have an intimate partner despite the complications of parenthood, perhaps launching us back into a routine of being conscious about our relationship health.
“When I suggest ‘regularly scheduled couple time’ — anything from choosing to sit...together while you watch TV to setting a place and time for sex — I often see some push back from my clients.
“They roll their eyes or look terrified that I’ve judged them as the ‘sort of people’ who need to use a calendar to ensure that each partner’s needs are being met. But busy people, parents or not, get caught up in their individual calendars and we have to be honest that this reduces the opportunities for spontaneous connection.
“Since many women with children report less sex than their non-parenting counterparts, any couples out there thinking that scheduled intimacy is for losers might just be labeling their friends and neighbors. There is nothing wrong with making an effort by arranging intentional time to be together — this actually ensures that you will be together, and that is the ultimate point.”
Beyond the partner relationship Notaras Murphy makes the case that the stronger emotional connection such intentional efforts produce will “make you a better parent.”
“Investing in your marriage boosts your kids’ feeling of security in the home, making them more confident and able to connect to others in childhood and well beyond. Showing the kids that mom and dad do make time for one another is incredibly valuable because that model gets recorded along with all the other familial messages about coupling.
“This has an impact on choice of partner and future behaviors and expectations in relationships. Regular date nights, bringing home flowers, a moderate amount of PG-grade PDA, saying please and thank you to each other, even just making eye contact when you speak — all of these are intimate acts that those little witnesses are taking to heart.
“To be clear, this is not about making a show of giving ‘things,’ that sort of measure can backfire. Those teens who don’t receive a red rose on Valentine’s Day in the school’s flower sale may take it harder if, say, mom made a big deal about not getting exactly the right type of floral arrangement for her own Valentine’s Day year after year. This is another great opportunity to teach kids that love is shown through actions, not items.
“Single parents can also use this time to model good behavior for their kids. It may be difficult, but try to avoid falling for the hype and looking depressed if you don’t have a Valentine this year. You can help your kids set realistic expectations on a day when improbable fantasies run out of control. Chances are good that your kids will spend more than a few solo Valentine’s Days in the future, and you are providing a road map for dealing with those feelings. You can use this moment to show them that being alone on Valentine’s Day is not a catastrophe. In fact, it can be a fun opportunity to celebrate other kinds of love — for family, for friends, for pets, etc.”
What do you think? Is celebrating Valentine’s Day necessary?