For hundreds of years, love letters were the way people showed their feelings for each other. Letters evolved into greeting cards. Then after World War Two, gifts such as roses and chocolates were added. In the 1980’s the diamond industry got into the act to promote jewelry as a Valentine’s gift. The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. When you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities the figure goes up to 1 billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines. Millions more people use digital means of creating and sending Valentine’s Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.
I remember as a young boy, I enjoyed sneaking around my neighborhood delivering valentines. We did the tradition of ringing the doorbell and running away before we were seen. One year there was a foot of snow on the ground (or so it seemed to an eight year old). One of my friends lived on a small farm, so I made my way carefully through a field to the back door. Doing my best GI Joe moves through the bushes and maneuvering behind trees I deposited the card on the back door step, rang the door bell and sprinted back to the bushes. My heart was pounding as I saw my friends mom look down, pick up the card and gaze around to spy the culprit. All she seemed to find were the two sets of small foot prints in the fresh snow. Back then the goal was not to get caught and had little to do with sharing a valentine message.
Many years later Valentine’s Day took on new meaning when I proposed marriage to my wife on February 14th. Every year this date has a doubly sweet meaning for us both.
So what is the take home message of Valentine’s Day?
I think the Youth Services message is Unconditional Love. Many parents feel they love their children unconditionally, especially when they are young and cute. But later on as teenagers, Unconditional Love can wear thin for parents who have been disappointed, lied to and taken advantage of.
It is so important to see the child and their behavior as two distinct things. When there are disagreements and conflicts, take the long view. Keep in mind the love you had for that little one who has now grown up. Long after our kids have left our home, all we will have left will be memories if we don’t keep up a strong, loving relationship.
If that is a tough sell, keep this thought in mind. The child you raise will one day be the adult who picks out your nursing home. So, for many reasons and on many levels, Unconditional Love is the best Valentine’s Day gift we can renew each year with our kids.
How hard is it to balance the two competing needs of rules and relationships? Please share your thoughts.