The holiday decorations and the wrapping paper have barely been put away. In fact, I still see Christmas lights on the house down the street. Despite this, boxes of valentines and candy have been on the shelves in Target for at least a week. So as a mother of a kindergartener, it’s time to think about Valentine’s Day, not in terms of it being a romantic holiday, but getting valentines for my son’s class.
I think five year olds giving and receiving valentines is cute, and I love the idea of the class coming together as a community to practice important social skills, such as how to accept attention from different peers. I also like the idea of my son having the job of choosing Valentines that appeal to him. He gets to practice writing his and his classmates’ names, so it’s a little writing practice in disguise.
But this year I find myself feeling uncomfortable about the pressure that is placed on moms. Some parents not only send valentines to school but also create little goodie bags to go with them. Last year, when my son was in preschool, he received some that had candy in them and others that had a small toy. It was a lovely idea, and much appreciated, but I wondered, “Did I do enough? Was I supposed to do more? Maybe I missed a memo or something?”
The goodie bags aren’t the only things that have me questioning if I’ve done enough. I also see really crafty valentines that clearly involved a DIY field day with glue guns and glitter. A lot of time and creativity were involved. The thing is, I am really not good at crafting. In fact, I can barely draw a straight line, even with a ruler. So the idea of cutting out hearts and helping my son make 20 individual Valentines gives me a little bit of heartburn (pun intended).
I’m sure I’m not the only mother who feels this pressure when it comes to various holiday events at school. If you are thinking, “this seems to be about more than Valentines,” you’re right! These activities are designed to help the kids learn, but they put pressure on parents to figure out what feels right in terms of how much to give/participate. When does it become competitive?.
I work hard to balance being a mother and working full time. I try to give 100% to my family and also 100% to work— this means I have to make decisions about what’s enough. So when goodie bags or those fancy artfully made valentines come home I need to remind myself that buying a box of Valentines is enough, and try not to feel uncomfortable about it. My son and I enjoy choosing them together and writing them together. I have to remind myself that my value as a parent isn’t really being measured by anyone except me.
Of course, I would love to come to every party at school, bake cookies instead of buy them and maybe even be the class mom, but I can’t do everything, so I try to do a few things really well instead of spreading myself too thin. I know I need to accept my limits, and I mean really accept them without judgment. That means more than just saying, “this is enough.” It means saying it and also acting as if that were true. It means being mindful that sometimes I wish I could do more and sometimes I don’t.
My son came home with an adorable winter craft that he made that says, “Love never melts.” Sappy, sure, but true. It’s the love part that’s the important part. He won’t remember if I baked or bought cookies (or if I was the one who signed up to send paper goods into class), but he will remember the time we spent together. And that’s what’s important.
Rachel Busman, PsyD, is a Senior Clinical Psychologist and director of the Selective Mutism Service at the Child Mind Institute. She leads a team of clinicians providing evaluation and innovative treatment to children with selective mutism. She is also a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center. Dr. Busman has extensive experience providing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to children, teenagers and young adults struggling with anxiety disorders, school difficulties and behavioral problems. She also has specific interest and expertise in the evaluation and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
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