February 12, 2019

To All Moms at Valentine’s Day, Give Yourself Grace

Contributed by Alison Tweedie, Education Specialist

Twelve.

 

That is the number of Valentines my child received from friends in his classroom last year.

 

Zero.

 

That is the number of Valentines we sent in for the children in his classroom last year.

 

He was 5 months old at the time. I thought it was enough of a miracle that I was still nursing, surviving the back to work routine, and remembering to send in diapers and wipes periodically before they ran out. Valentines were not on my radar.

 

I was washed over by a wave of feelings as I pulled each adorable, thoughtful, well-wishing goodie from the stamped baggie in his cubby. Everything from tiny folded cards, sealed with a sticker and signed with a friend’s name, to pouches of applesauce adorned with frilly heart-shaped pendants that read, “You’re My Main Squeeze.”

 

I started to process my feelings. First and foremost was an overwhelming feeling of guilt and failure since I had not thought to send in Valentines from my child. This was followed closely by a combination of equal parts astonishment and judgement—How do these people have time to cut out tiny, frilly hearts and affix them to little pouches with perfectly tied strings?! Slowly, I rolled into a deep state of curiosity… why? In a classroom where children are somewhere between 6 weeks and 18 months old and completely unaware of the Valentine traditions—why do we give Valentines?

 

I should stop here to say that I believe very strongly that all children are people. They are not becoming humans or growing into personhood; they are human beings with every right to be respected as such. I believe that children of all ages (and all adults) need to feel valued, respected, loved, cared for, and appreciated—so I am not suggesting that we don’t encourage the celebration of Valentine’s Day in infant classrooms. It is my understanding that the intention behind the Valentine is to say, “I appreciate you,” and “You are important to me,” so I suggest we find ways to encourage children to show kindness and appreciation for others in a way that they can see, feel, and understand.

 

With that in mind, I reflected on my daily interactions with the children in my son’s class. Each day they receive a smile, a high five, a brief “conversation” in words or babbles while I drop off or pick up. In lieu of Valentines, I say their names as we chat, and make eye contact with them. These simple interactions teach children that adults can be trusted and that the environment is safe (physically and emotionally) and that adults will keep them safe (physically and emotionally). This safety and trust gives them the foundation to later build deeper concepts of confidence, self-esteem, empathy, and just about everything else they will eventually learn. My interactions—everyone’s really—contribute to each child’s brain development and their understanding of the world around them.

 

This reflection eased my mommy guilt a little bit, but I still struggled with not “performing” up to snuff with societal expectations. For that reason, I’m writing this for you just before Valentine’s Day to remind you of one of the most important pieces of advice in parenthood (and life):

 

Give yourself grace.

 

When I say that I mean take a breath and let go a bit. You are the primary caregiver for your little one. The way you care for them is specifically designed for the way your little one is developing. You go together like peanut butter and chocolate! So go with your gut. If you (or your child) experience great joy from cutting out tiny hearts, go for it! If your child couldn’t care less for the making, stamping, signing thing—be at peace and leave this battle behind. Whatever you choose (for Valentine’s Day or almost anything else), take a deep breath and give yourself some grace—then give all the other moms, dads, and caregivers some grace too.

 

Below are some resources and quick tips for the whole range of Valentine-celebration enthusiasm, from the “V-Day Extreme” to the “Not Me”.

My little guy is really into stamping this year. He spent last weekend stamping some papers and I will share those papers (with a handwritten “Happy Valentine’s Day, Love D” note) with his peers this year. To be honest, if he wasn’t interested we would probably forego the exchange again this year. In other news, my three-year-old is showing an INTENSE interest in creating Valentines for every person he has ever met. Ever. I mean that quite literally. He pulled out the paper, scissors, glitter glue, stickers, and stampers last weekend and made over 20 cards with a fervor that hasn’t died down yet. He talks about giving the cards to all of his friends in his classroom, his grandparents, and all the people in his neighborhood and you can see how much he WANTS to do this with each creation.

 

For me, this is what it is all about: helping children build relationships with people and giving them opportunities to authentically express that appreciation, where Valentine’s Day is a starting point, but the message and actions continue throughout the year.

 

I hope this Valentine’s Day leaves you feeling full of joy as you participate in whatever way is your way