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A new meaning of Valentine’s Day

Families can sign up to send homemade Valentines to seniors across the country at DoSomething.org. Photo: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Valentine’s Day takes on a whole new meaning once you have children. Although I do believe celebrating as a couple is important, finding a babysitter and a dinner reservation for Feb. 14 can be difficult. So plan your date night for another night around the actual day, and use Feb. 14 to celebrate or do something fun as a family. It’s a good occasion to make memorable traditions and a wonderful opportunity to create more love in your family, especially between or among siblings. Here are a few fun ideas that will have everyone in your family feeling the love:

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

Make the day special with little touches that let everyone know this is a special day. Make a special breakfast with heart-shaped pancakes or pink smoothies. For lunch, add a little note in your child’s and spouse’s lunchbox letting them know how much you love them and why. For dinner, plan a special family-favorite meal and eat by candlelight with cloth napkins. Have everyone share three reasons each family member is loved. These can also be written using a separate sheet of paper for each person. Younger children might need some help, but given the chance, they sometimes come up with the most honest and heartfelt responses.

One of my favorite activities is a family scavenger hunt after dinner. The kids can help make and hide the clues that include notes of love and appreciation or homemade coupons for extra chores or even hugs. End the evening with a new book your family can read together or a sweet treat for everyone to enjoy.

FAMILY DATE NIGHT

If going out is more your preference, plan a fun family night with something you wouldn’t normally do so it feels special. This could include a family-favorite restaurant — and these tend to be a little easier to get reservations for on Valentine’s night.

Other family date night ideas include going to a museum like the DeYoung or the Academy of Sciences, or if you prefer something more active, maybe it’s a night at the bowling alley. We recently did this as a family and had so much fun. With bumpers and light balls, even our 4-year-old could play along and enjoy. It created a little bit of a competitive spirit and lots of laughs.

The night can be as simple as going to the bookstore and everyone getting a new book and then sharing the choices. It could also be attending a sporting event at the local high school or college. These tickets are less expensive than professional sports tickets, and there is probably something close to home.

SPREAD THE LOVE

A great way to spend Valentine’s Day is not just by spreading love to each other but as a family spreading love to others. This is a simple and effective way to teach your children the importance of giving back and how sometimes even the simplest things can make someone’s day. Most of us must bring Valentines for our children’s classes, so have your child make a few extra and send them to older relatives, especially ones whose spouse has passed away. Valentine’s Day can be tough on those who have lost a loved one, so it’s nice to let them know they are being thought of.

We recently discovered a great organization, DoSomething.org (dosomething.org/us/campaigns/love-letters-challenge). They have a love letter campaign where you can sign up to send homemade Valentines to seniors across the country. Also, many local hospitals and nursing homes have programs where you can drop off Valentines.

Another group often forgotten around Valentine’s Day is our veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a program every February around Valentine’s Day where volunteers can contact their local VA medical centers for information on distributing Valentines and other ways to show our veterans love and support.

Before children, Valentine’s Day possibly had a different meaning and was marked by dinner, flowers, and a box of chocolates. Now that you have children, it can still be a special day. Sometimes, it is as simple as remembering to say “I love you” despite the hustle and bustle of daily life. I hope this Valentine’s Day holds a romantic dinner and box of chocolates for you, but I also hope one of these ideas inspires you and your family to celebrate together and create a new meaning of Valentine’s Day.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Previously, she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com.

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