The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I used to hate Valentine’s Day. And then I had a kid.

Placeholder while article actions load

Valentine’s Day. That day in bleak mid-February that polarizes people to the extreme. That dreaded holiday that falls on the 14th is of dubious historical origins, and seems to exist primarily to prop up the greeting-card industry. For most of us, Valentine’s Day is either the most romantic day of the year, or a deeply hated, senseless holiday.

It’s easy to dislike Valentine’s Day, with its push for couples to conform to cookie-cutter ideas of what love and partnership should look like. But for kids, Valentine’s Day often looks different. In fact, until having a child, I was staunchly anti-valentine. Now that I’m gearing up to observe it with my 3-year-old, kids’ Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect antidote to everything I despise about the holiday.

I’ve spent all of my adult life hating Valentine’s Day. When I was single, the emphasis on being coupled above all else got under my skin, and when I’ve been coupled, I’ve felt annoyed by the pressure to perform a certain kind of romance. It isn’t just the cheesy hearts and flower motifs on everything, it’s the intense requirement to spend. You aren’t just supposed to buy your loved one a card and a box of chocolates, you’re also supposed to go out for an expensive meal and probably buy a pricey gift, as well. Although I love my partner dearly, I just can’t imagine dropping that kind of cash on something they don’t really need. And, hey, I’m highly allergic to many flowers, especially roses, making being almost anywhere in public on Feb. 14 a real thorn in my side.

Teaching my daughter that love is love

It isn’t that I hate romance; it’s just the opposite. As a hopeless romantic, I’m committed to romance 365 days a year. Dressing up one day feels contrived.

And while I expected parenthood to shift a lot of my identity and ideas about the world, it never occurred to me that it could change how I felt about this day in the middle of February. I have so many other holidays to enjoy with my child, so why would I care about Valentine’s Day? But now that my kid is getting a little older, I find myself embarrassingly interested. No longer trying to ignore the day altogether, I am on Pinterest searching things such as “easy preschool valentines,” “duckling valentine” and “pink cookies.”

What is it about kids’ Valentine’s Day that makes it so much more appealing than the grown-up version? Is it just that having a kid turns you into a big sap who suddenly likes terrible things? I mean, I have developed the ability to sit through multiple episodes of “My Little Pony” without wanting to gauge my eyes out.

But I think there is something more going on.

Holidays are different with kids than they are with adults. Valentine’s Day is no exception. The serious trappings of romance are gone, instead leaving technicolor reds and pinks, silly cartoonish faces asking you to “be mine” without ever explaining what that even means. Kids’ Valentine’s Day takes the cheese factor that was always lurking just below the surface, puts it in the spotlight and expands upon it. Conversation hearts, terrible puns and an excess of glitter: All of these aspects add up to make Valentine’s Day, at least the children’s version, the essence of campiness.

It isn’t just that I find the kids’ aesthetic a welcome reprieve from the lingerie and jewelry advertisements, although I do. There is something deeper happening.

For children, Valentine’s Day isn’t about giving something nice to one special person, it’s about sharing with all of your friends. It’s liberating to expand the notion of sparkly heart love to include everyone you like. Why not make a V-Day card for your mom, your best friend, your next-door neighbor? (This is so fun!)

Kids’ Valentine’s Day is not about one couple, and it’s not going to leave the uncoupled feeling down and out. Kids' Valentine’s Day is about being loving in general. And being big-hearted and affectionate is definitely something I want for my kid.

Looking back on my last decade and a half of bad-mouthing Valentine’s Day, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I can remember at least three times in my 20s that I found myself musing, “What if I just gave valentines to all of my friends?” It was a plan that I daydreamed about a little too late, only to shrug it off when everyone else seemed to get swept up in the capitalist dream of fancy dates and bouquets.

I can see the potential pitfalls of kids’ Valentine’s Day. Character-themed cards are expensive, and the Pinterest pressure could easily turn DIY efforts into a competitive headache for parents. I won’t begrudge any other parents being the Valentine’s Day version of Scrooge. But I’m excited. If nothing else, celebrating Valentine’s Day with a preschooler is an excuse to break out the glitter.

David Minerva Clover is a queer and trans writer, covering everything from parenting to dinosaurs. He lives in Detroit Michigan with his partner, his child, and an embarrassing amount of animals.

Follow On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and updates. You can sign up here for our weekly newsletter. Join our discussion group here to talk about parenting and balancing a career.

More reading:

Worried you’re messing up as a parent? Try doing less.

A cat, my daughter and our broken hearts

My dad’s lesson in parenting through grief, served with a side of eggs