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Reinventing Valentine’s Day As a Family (when you’re not a romantic)

By KRISTEN THOMPSON, Feb. 2018. Originally published in The View magazine

Every year, I always secretly hope the world will skip over Valentine’s Day. I felt this way when I was single, when I was in relationships, and even after I got married (perhaps even more so after I got married).

Truthfully, it’s always felt like the year’s most contrived holiday. Each Feb. 14, my husband and I would sit on opposite ends of the couch watching Netflix and cheers-ing in celebration of being home in our PJs, rather than out for forced romantic dinner.

But the nature of holidays – even the Hallmarkiest of holidays – changes when you have school-aged kids, and we can no longer avoid Valentine’s Day with our usual bitterness. Our kindergartner is actually excited about the hearts, cherubs and stuffed pink toys. She has already planned what cards she’s handing out to her friends.

So my husband and I are reluctantly opening our previously cold hearts to the idea of Valentine’s Day, by reinterpreting it in a way that includes our children, while still avoiding the chocolates, flowers and cheese (not edible cheese – the other kind of cheese. Cheese is delicious. I’d never avoid it). Our new version of Valentine’s Day is not about romance, but about celebrating each other, and expressing gratitude for having love in our lives.

Last year was our first attempt to reinvent Valentine’s Day, and it started – where else? In the kitchen.

I got the idea from a friend, who makes her kids heart-shaped food all day long: Pink pancakes, heart-shaped sandwiches for lunch accompanied by “I love you” notes, and heart pizzas for dinner. It was a hit. But of course, in our family, the way to your heart is through your stomach.

Here are some other ideas we tried last year, and ones we hope will become part of our family’s Valentine’s Day tradition:

Getting crafty

One of my favourite childhood memories is of making homemade Valentine cards for my classmates with my mom. She carved heart shapes into of potatoes, which we then dipped in poster paint to stamp on cardstock. This year we’ve already made homemade play dough, dyed pink, which we’ll use to make pretend Valentine cookies.


Finding creative ways to express your love

A friend of mine collaborated with her kids on Valentine’s Day last year to make an epic gift for her husband. Together, they came up with 52 things they loved about their dad, wrote each thing a piece of paper, then put it all in a jar. For a whole year he got to pull one love note out every week.

Inspired by this idea, we did something similar – on a smaller scale. Each of us got one large piece of coloured paper cut into a heart, then wrote down all the things we loved about that person: their kindness, their love of puns, their talent at making pancakes. We put these love messages on display in the living room.

Similar ideas include putting each thing you love about someone on a separate heart-shaped card, then taping all the hearts to their bedroom door. Or hiding little love notes around the house for family members to find in a scavenger hunt.

Reading books about love

During the holidays, I like to collect all the books related to that holiday, and keep them in the living room for the kids to read.

With little kids, we have no shortage of books about love. But some have extra special messages, or resonate in particular with one of us as parents, or even with the kids. And there’s so much more to the concept of “love” than the idea of love between parents and children. There’s also the love of sisters in our Frozen story book. Or the love of friends in Charlotte’s Web or Lost and Found. And this is our chance to talk about what love looks like, and how it comes in places you might not always expect.

Have a night in

The part of Valentine’s Day I loved the most last year was snuggling under a blanket on the couch for a family movie night about love. We watched Up (bring a tissue if you follow suit, and prepare to be hounded for a million helium balloons). This year I’m thinking Wall-E.

Go out for a family date

With little kids, we are often homebodies. But in the future, I’d like to pick a place the whole family likes going together, and to treat Valentine’s Day like a family date. Maybe we’ll go to a special restaurant, or do back-to-back movies at the theatre.

The point is for us to be able to talk openly and honestly about love: Our love for each other, as well as what love looks like in different families (like those with two daddies, or those with just a mommy and a grandma). We want to fill our kids’ emotional cups with reminders that we love them, and why we love them.

Despite my previous disdain, I do recognize that Valentine’s Day is meant to celebrate love. Not just romantic love, but the love we have for our family, and for the friendships we’re so fortunate to have.

Take the love outside of the house

This year, my four year old decided she wanted to give Valentine’s Day cards to people who could use a little extra love. A friend of ours works at a long-term care facility, and was kind enough to help us drop off – in person – home-made Valentine’s Day cards and stuffed animals to five of the residents. Isla was shy and nervous while we were there, but elated on the drive home, explaining to me how it felt knowing her cards made other people feel happy and loved.

How does your family celebrate Valentine’s Day?

What important traditions to you have?


There’s more to Valentine’s Day than chocolates and flowers — although those are always a good idea! Here are five gift ideas that are sure to warm the heart of the little people in your life.



BoPi2On Feb. 14, take the family out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner at Boston Pizza, and order a heart-shaped pizza. $1 from every pizza sold goes toward Boston Pizza Foundation Future Prospects role model and mentoring program.

  •  Starting at $11 for small and medium create-your-own pizzas. Available at Boston Pizza,



Check out Carter’s OshKosh for some cute baby, toddler and big kid clothes that are sure to give you all the feels.

  • Sparkle Rainbow Heart-Shaped Sunglasses, $10; boys’ graphic Tee, $10; girls’ long-sleeve graphic Love Tee, $10. Available at Carter’s OshKosh,



Celebrate the season of love with this picnic set, featuring a besotted cou- ple enjoying a picnic beneath a blooming tree. Set includes a picnic blanket, bouquet of flowers and food and drink accessories.



Give your little artist crayons that think outside of the box for Valentine’s Day. These stackable heart- shaped crayons are easy to hold and even more fun to colour with.


HuggyKissyScreen Shot 2017-02-17 at 2.35.43 PMCurl up with your little people and talk about love and feelings with some of the great Valentine’s Day books from Indigo.

  • Huggy Kissy by Leslie Patricelli, $9.50; Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, $10.99. Available at Indigo,


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