When I was in high school, I hated Valentine’s Day. I was a nerdy high school student and despite my valiant efforts, I plodded through most of my high school days without a boyfriend. That meant, no Valentine’s flower deliveries to the front office with my name, no secret Valentine candy bars stuffed in my locker, and no dates for the Sweetheart Dance. The whole week, at least in my mind, only served to highlight how seemingly unpopular and unloved I was.
Now, as a happily married adult, I still mostly boycott the overly-commercialized holiday. I prefer receiving random flowers picked from my own garden and surprise chocolates (or better yet — sneakers!). If I buy my husband a Valentine’s Day card, it’s filled with snark. Or puppies.
But I still remember how hurt I was in high school when I didn’t receive the attention or affection I so desperately craved. I don’t want my teenage sons to experience that hurt like I did. Which is why I try to remind them that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be solely about romantic love. My sons might not leave our house knowing how to handle every laundry mishap, how to pay their taxes, or how to use the quadratic formula without fail—but I guarantee they’ll leave the house knowing they’re loved by their mom.
On Valentine’s Day, I show my kids I love them in silly and sincere ways. Here are some ideas that you might try, too:
1. Surprise them with a favorite meal.
The way to my teenagers’ hearts is definitely through their stomachs, and after years of practice, I know which of my meals get automatic rave reviews. From the time he was young, my older son has loved my homemade pizza (he used to call it “Mommy Pizza”) and spicy Ethiopian doro wat, while my younger son requests made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese or chicken curry. Sometime in early February, I’ll be sure to add their favorites to the menu, adding in some beloved homemade desserts. They’ll leave the table with full stomachs and full hearts.
2. Stock up on snacks.
Valentine’s Day provides a chance to deliver some favorite store-bought snacks. Whether it’s a giant bag of Sour Patch Kids or spicy chips that leave processed dust on fingers and furniture, I’ll purchase some on my next Target run and leave them as a surprise in their bedrooms. If they’re lucky, I’ll grab one of those disgusting, sugar-laden energy drinks, too.
3. Share their interests.
Trying to meet our teens where they are can often lead to eyerolls of epic proportions, but from my experience trying new recipes on Pinterest or learning the latest TikTok dance, I can tell you that it’s worth doing if you want to strengthen your familial bonds. Is your kid interested in a specific sports team? Sit down and watch a game with her. Is he trying to learn a new language for fun? Quiz him on his vocab words. Super into NFTs or the metaverse? Try to learn what that is so you can have a coherent conversation. (I’m not there yet.) Engage with their interests and you might find a surprising way to connect.
4. Sneak them special gifts.
You’ll find tons of online lists sharing creative gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, but you know your own teen best. From cute reusable water bottles, to socks with inspirational sayings, to LED lights that add some twinkle to their room, you can easily find a gift for under $25. Get a clever coffee mug or a graphic t-shirt from their favorite movie or show. Every time they take a sip or slip their arms through the sleeves, they’ll think of you and be thankful for your thoughtful surprise.
5. Serve with a smile.
Maybe there’s a little task you can do for Valentine’s Day that will loudly declare your love. Surprise your daughter by taking her car through the car wash, and, if you’re feeling extra generous, fill the car’s tank with gas and attach a sweet sticky note on the dashboard. If your teen has an extra-busy week at school, let him off the hook for one of his normal chores if you have time to unload the dishwasher or take out the trash. I know we moms spend most of our days serving our teens one way or another, but an out-of-the-ordinary act of kindness goes a long way.
6. Shower them with silly notes.
One year, starting on February 1, I cut out paper hearts and wrote something silly I loved about each of my sons before taping it on their bedroom door. It’s okay if your hearts aren’t symmetrical. Mine aren’t either! “I love hearing you laugh when we watch The Office.” “I love your hustle on the basketball court.” “I love how you always try to get under your dad’s skin.” I did this every day until Valentine’s Day when I wrote a longer letter explaining just how much I loved them and what I hoped for their futures. Maybe they thought it was cheesy, but years later, both of my boys still have those notes. I think they got the point.
7. Sincerely say, “I love you.”
Not everyone is moved by words of affection, but an extra “I love you for who you are, not what you do” might be appreciated by those teens who aren’t getting invited to the dances or writing sappy sonnets for their significant others.
With a little effort and a sprinkle of fun, it’s easy to show our kids we love them. Maybe Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be such a dreaded holiday after all.