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Dear Family Whisperer: 8 Ways to Make Valentine's Day Matter

02/12/2015 01:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015
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I don't need an email to imagine what happens in many families on Valentine's Day: The little ones bring home hand-made red-heart-themed gifts for their parents. Older kids make or buy Valentine cards. Mom and Dad "ooh" and "aah." Hugs and kisses all around. The cards are proudly displayed on the refrigerator. Eventually, the sitter shows up, and the parents go out to dinner.

As Seinfeld famously said, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." But what might happen if you apply "family think" to Valentine's Day? Your family gets stronger when you take time out to celebrate who you are and how much you love each other. Why not on Valentine's Day?

Holidays --"holy days" -- force us to relax. We take a break from our hectic, technology-toting everyday lives. This year, use Valentine's Day to slow down and reconnect, to honor your closest relationships, and to be grateful for your family. You have a whole day to feel the love.

1, Wake everyone up with a Happy Valentine's Day greeting, suggests psychologist Susan Newman. "Ask each family member to be your Valentine. It doesn't matter if older offspring think you are silly." She also reminds us that it's the "little things" that are long remembered.

2. Create a Valentine card together -- for all of you. Your family is a product of everyone in it. What's it "like"? What's good about your family? What's funny? What's annoying? What do you like to do as a family? Using markers, your favorite family photos, and magazine clippings of words and pictures, create a collage on a large piece of poster board that "says" what you value, what you do, and how you love each other.

3. Tell your kids how you met and fell in love. Stories are the ties that bind us. When researchers gave teens a list of questions about their families, they found a correlation between kids knowing about events that happened before they were born and personal strengths, like high self esteem and low anxiety. The first question was, "Do you know how your parents met?" Marshall Duke who led the study, says it's not the content that benefits kids -- it's how they hear it: over dinner or during everyday chatter, or as part of our holiday traditions. This not only strengthens the children and gives them a sense of belonging and safety, story-telling also solidifies "us" as a unit.

Not surprisingly, Dads tend to recall the adventure and mischief, while moms are more likely to highlight the relationship. So just tell your version, and embroider it with lots of details. Your kids will not only get the whole picture, they will realize that love-like most things in life-is not a straight line.

4. Do instead of buying. Think of the long-running Master Card ad campaign. Skip the spending and go right to "priceless." Experiences make us happier than things, especially activities done with others (a scavenger hunt) or for them (wash the car). Sometimes, of course, experiences cost money, especially on V-Day. But you can spend less if you're like this mom: When she discovered that the price of admission to a local Renaissance Fair was double on February 14, she explained to her kids that they could plan the outing but go on a different day!

5. Get wild and crazy. Nothing solidifies a family like laughter. Also, amazing things happen when you decide together to break the rules. So suspend your standards for a day and borrow a page from the mother who invented "pig night," when everyone eats without utensils! Play dress-up -- older kids might pick their favorite romantic characters. Switch roles; let your kids be parents for part of the day. Host a slumber party in the master bedroom or den: picnic on the floor, a movie, cuddles, and a sleep-over. Whatever you do, everyone pitches in to clean up afterward.

6. For at least part of the day, invite your parents. This isn't like Mother's or Father's Day or Thanksgiving and Christmas when you have to include the older generation. But why not? Your parents and in-laws represent the history and continuity of your family. And the more family members you include, the richer your resources. Grandparents' (and aunts' and uncle's) support makes everyone stronger. (Full disclosure: I am of the generation you might not think to invite on Valentine's day!)

7. Spread your love. Hundreds of studies confirm the benefits of giving -- and giving back. Offer help to an elderly neighbor. Grocery-shop for someone who's sick or down on his luck. Pool your money to support an organization that aids children and families. For example, instead of buying an actual bouquet, you might all chip in to purchase a photograph of flowers taken by a volunteer for the Miracle Foundation, a group that "empowers" orphans in India.

8. Send a Valentine to Mother Earth. Don't forget that your clan is part of the bigger "family" of humankind. Barbara Biziou, author of The Joy of Family Ritual and host of Transform Today TV, reminds us, "The earth is our mother, and we need to honor her." Take a few minutes as a family to bless the earth and everyone on it. Then, spend time together cleaning up a park or collecting recyclables. Get other families involved. If you live in a warm climate, plant a tree or flowers. If not, chip in to buy seedlings that you nourish indoors and plant when the earth thaws. Biziou adds, "Don't forget the animals. Buy your dog or cat a special treat. Feed the birds."

Hi, it's Melinda. This piece marks the return of "Dear Family Whisperer" after hand surgery. Do you have a question for me about your family? No topics are off limits, and it's all anonymous. Contact me on Twitter @MelindaBlau #DearFamilyWhisperer, or email me at DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com You'll find much more about "family think" in my book and on FamilyWhispering.com.