Remember what it was like when you were young and single and Valentine’s Day rolled around?
Perhaps you hoped the roses being paraded through the office would land on your desk. That you’d open your mailbox to find chocolates or a card from a secret admirer.
Fast-forward to parenthood and you’re celebrating a different kind of love. Valentine’s Day has become an all-out affair for kids, one that goes far beyond the two-faced cards exchanged in grade school.
The holiday has been reinvented as a day to celebrate the love of family, when children decorate the house with paper chains, share a family meal of heart-shaped pancakes and are showered with pink and red candies or heart-covered teddy bears.
“Valentine’s Day is a very big deal for young children,” says Debra Immergut, senior editor of Family Fun magazine. “It kind of glows with positive vibes, and even the littlest kids know the phrase ‘I love you.’
“It’s a natural fit for kids in a sort of wonderful, innocent way.”
So how exactly did Valentine’s go from ripe for romance to all about family?
“There’s a kid-centricity in our culture today,” says Kit Yarrow, a business professor at Golden Gate University.
The candy-coated combination of greater parental involvement, more holiday products and greater expectations has taken kiddie Valentine’s Day to new heights, she says.
“It’s a completely different holiday than it was for the parents of today’s kids,” Yarrow says. “It’s a theme party.”
And kids love a party, especially one full of sweets.
Every year, Heather Tenney throws a “family love party,” with pink streamers, heart-shaped pizza and small gifts. After dinner, she tries to get her kids, ages 4 and 8, off to bed a little bit early so she and her husband can have an at-home date night.
“I used to expect big fireworks on Valentine’s Day,” says Tenney, of Florence, Ky. “But in truth, this is even better.”
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating with children, as long as parents aren’t shortchanging themselves, says Yarrow, who is also a psychologist.
With two daughters, ages 3 and 5, who love the holiday, Jennifer Amorosi doesn’t mind that it’s become all about the children. She and her husband try to get out once a month anyway, and may designate another night in February to be Valentine’s Day.
“It has become a family day for us,” says Amorosi, of Whitehouse Station, N.J. “Crafts, special treats and being together is the perfect Valentine’s Day for our family.
“I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.”