By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
How do you plan on saying “I love you” this Valentine’s Day?
Many advertisers would have us believe that the best way to express love is with a large box of chocolates, a pair of expensive diamond earrings, or a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Others would recommend a candlelight dinner and a quiet evening together. At the very least, some suggest the perfect card with eloquent words written by a greeting card professional to express your loving feelings.
But what if you were to look beyond flowers, chocolates, and candlelight dinners this Valentine’s Day? What if the single best gift you could give your spouse is one that enables your children to see more than a commercial-style Valentine’s love? What if the gift you commit to this Valentine’s Day helps your children realize that you truly love their mother or father every day of the year?
Below are a few ideas to communicate, “I love you,” on February 14th and on every day following. They are designed to touch the heart and the soul of your partner as well as those of your children.
This year . . .
Be a listener more than a talker. Put down the newspaper, turn off the television, put the cell phone on vibrate, and focus on your spouse. Seek first to understand her wants, needs and feelings about a particular situation or the past day’s events. There will be another time for you to share your personal wants and feelings. Be there for your spouse and let your children see that.
Share your appreciation for your spouse publicly. Let your partner know that you appreciate him and all that he is doing for the family. Do not do this with words that evaluate and rate performance, such as “good,” “fantastic,” “wonderful.” Instead, be specific about what you appreciate and describe the effect his effort has had on you and your family life. Let your children overhear some of this specific appreciation.
Refuse to speak negatively about your spouse (or ex-spouse) in front of your children. Keep your feelings and comments to yourself or share them privately with the person in question, regardless of the circumstances. When you need to vent, do it with a friend, a family member, or a therapist. Negative comments about your child’s other parent are never to be uttered in their presence. This is especially important in divorce situations. Remember, no matter how you feel toward your ex-spouse, he or she is still your children’s parent. It does not hurt the ex when you make negative comments in front of your children. It hurts your children.
Demonstrate support for your spouse by encouraging her aspirations and interests. Remember, you are parenting as a team. Rearrange your schedule if needed so that your partner can enjoy yoga, volleyball, or reading quietly. When only one person’s interests are being met in a relationship, imbalance occurs and the entire family feels the effects of the load being placed on the other parent. Create balance by supporting your spouse’s interests so that your family can run more smoothly.
Keep your commitments. Do what you said you would do. When you say that you are going to pick the kids up at a specific time, do it. If you say that you will watch the children while your spouse takes a parenting break, then step up and handle the situations that arise.
Establish a date night every couple of weeks and actually spend time together as adults. Get a babysitter, pass the kids to the grandparents, or take turns watching another couple’s children. Make the time to nurture your relationship on a regular basis. The kids will be comforted in knowing that Mom and Dad take care of themselves, too.
Succeed at home first. Yes, your professional lives are important. Yes, it is important that your careers flourish and that you find meaningful work that is satisfying and rewarding. And what is the value of being successful away from home if you are unsuccessful in creating a loving, connected family? Make one of your Valentine gifts to your family a commitment to place family first.
The traditional chocolates or flowers, accompanied by a meaningful card, is one way to say, “I love you.” This year, let that be only the first step in communicating love for your spouse and children. Why not take the next step? Go beyond flowers and chocolates this year and use Valentine’s Day to make a new commitment to those you love the most. Say, “I love you,” every day by using the above suggestions to help your children see real affection in action throughout the entire year.