February is the month of LOVE, highlighted by a culture-bound (and Hallmark-enhanced) national “holiday” that can mean different things to different people, depending on the state of relations at that moment in time. Valentine’s Day spells out, in no uncertain terms, the absence or presence of a love interest in your son or daughter’s life. While some kids take this in stride, or don’t consider it an identity-maker (or breaker), others can feel markedly uncomfortable around the pressures and expectations that this day inspires.
What if my son/daughter doesn’t have a love interest?
Be supportive. And, if you can, share your own “war stories” from the front. Let them know that, back in the day, you struggled at times with caring for someone who didn’t notice you—or perhaps noticed you too much, and it wasn’t from the one you wanted. It’s ok to reflect that you had a heartbreak of your own, and lived to tell the tale. While most of the time our kids don’t want to hear too much about their parents’ relationship experiences, in this case a little shared wisdom can be reassuring for them. The caveat here: once you’ve shared a little, stop sharing. That’s enough about you.
Listen. Listen more.
Be a great listener; it’s the single-most important thing you can do for a teen who is willing to talk. Sharing their concerns or disappointments can be a relief for kids who are struggling. It’s already difficult for some teens to modulate their feelings and reactions to budding romantic thoughts. Most of this gets shared with peers, but on some occasions a teen might feel ostracized if everyone in their friend group appears to be in a couple. If they feel like odd-man-out, your open and non-judgmental support, without advice or admonitions, can do a world of good.
Red-Hot making you nervous? Set limits, early and often.
What if your teen is love-struck and their love interest reciprocates? Exciting for them, a little scary for you! Part of the job of parenting a teen is to set clear and appropriate guidelines for behavior. Remind them that it’s ok to think and feel whatever thoughts and emotions they have, but that behaviors should be aligned with your family values. Be sure they know what those are! As a parent you may have become accustomed to managing your child’s schedule, but in the area of love and romance it is largely an internalized experience for your teen. Where love and attraction is involved, don’t expect to be in the loop about everything, but make sure they know what your parental expectations are regarding dating and relationships.
Love is more than romance…
If your son or daughter doesn’t have a love interest this month, remember that family time can spell love and happy memories as well. What about starting a standing family tradition that marks Valentine’s Day, or the month of February, with something related to fun family rituals? Kids are comforted and grounded by the love and support that moms and dads (and even siblings!) provide—at all ages and stages. This Valentine’s Day can be another opportunity to build family traditions that bring joy and connection, and can be passed along to the next generation.
Happy Valentine’s Day!