I have a lot of problems with Valentines Day. Valentines Day is not only a day of celebrating all things gender-unfair, via a hyped celebration of gender roles. It is also (perhaps even equally so) a day of consumerism. Adults spend a great deal of money proving to themselves they’ve realized their full and highest potential as (heterosexual) sentient beings by buying fancy gifts, dinners, lingerie, booze, and so on, for what is supposed to be the good of their relationship. Children are in on this action as well. It is expected that most children bring valentines to school (often the cardboard variety with Disney Princesses) to distribute to their classmates. These little cards often have candy or a treat attached but rarely much of a note. This whole charade in the celebration of gender roles. Now, if this all bothers you, you don’t have to celebrate Valentines Day. Certainly the choice to abstain is yours. But, can we fix it instead? I say yes, and yes we should.
When I was in preschool, we made valentines as a class to give to one another. Each person had a giant paper heart, and the exercise was to write one kind thing on each person’s heart. These were “collective” valentines, recognizing our collective appreciation for one another’s friendship…or so they were intended. So sparked one of the moments most retold in Fair Play Family lore. I was working on a list of compliments and affirmations for each of my peers, the only “homework” I had ever seen in preschool because I hadn’t managed to finish in class. Said Fair Play Supermom, “Emily Fay, you just have to write one nice thing about Andrew. There must be one nice thing you can say.” To which I replied with a sigh, “But mom! There is nothing nice to say about Andrew.”
(Dear Andrew, if you ever read this, I think you are a very nice person. I’m sorry I was a brat when I was four.)
As it turns out, this collective valentine exercise was a wonderful exercise. For the record, I did come up with kind words for each of my peers. Especially in preschool when boys and girls play in same-sex peer groups, and the other sex has cooties, coming up with kind things to say about one another is a great exercise. Think of it as Friendship Thanksgiving (in February). It turned out to be a doubly valuable exercise for my positive social development when my mother read the comments on my own valentine and Andrew had a very kind comment, “I like the way you say nice things.” Oops.
The point of this anecdote is that Valentines Day doesn’t have to be about buying the cardboard cards with the movie character du jour for your child and scotch taping chocolates to them. Giving a card or note to each classmate can be a valuable exercise for your child in reflecting on the positive qualities each person brings to the classroom every day. Sure, not every child is your child’s friend, and some may even be hostile. But every child contributes something, and teaching your child to see the good in someone is an invaluable exercise. As even adults know, finding the good that a difficult person brings to the table can be a challenge. With practice, your child can develop the skills to see the positive potential in everyone. Why not start by turning a consumer holiday inside out?
Purchase (or make!) gender-fair notecards for each child in the class, on the team, in the club, or whatever group you choose. Start by making a list with your child of one positive quality about each person they are celebrating with a card. This might be a frustrating exercise to complete, as my own mother can tell you, but well-worth doing on a page before writing the cards. This way no one is left out — you can’t write a card until you have a compliment or affirmation for each person. Then, the cards themselves are easy!
Friendship Thanksgiving can be an exercise for grownups too. Celebrate the non-romantic relationships in your life with a thoughtful note. I enjoy making simple cards for my friends and writing a brief message, nothing fancy. It feels good to reflect on all the positive people in my life. I don’t believe in taking a day out of the year to play up our gender roles while we also spend a lot of money. I do believe in taking as many days as possible to be thankful for our friends.
(originally posted 2/10/13)