The Single Parent's Guide To Valentine's Day

Today's commercialized celebration of Valentine's Day is all about an idealized vision of romantic love: hearts and flowers, candlelit dinners and dreamy looks into the eyes of your beloved. That's fine if you have a significant other, not so much fun for those who find themselves without a partner on that fateful day. Of course, many single parents do have that significant other in their lives, and if you're one of them, you don't need anyone to tell you what to do on February 14th! For the rest, here are some ideas for an alternative Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day can be a celebration of love in a deeper, broader sense: the love between parent and child, the companionship of friends, compassion for the needy, and even a bit of love for yourself. Single parents have the chance to make this celebration a meaningful family event, breaking from tradition to create a ritual that can be authentic as well as unique. We can turn Valentine's Day into a reminder of how much love we as parents have in our lives, and take a moment to be truly grateful for that.

Create your tradition
Celebrating Valentine's can be a fun and intimate activity with your kids. You won't have to buy into the commercial practices if you make your own traditions!

Show your kids you care by writing them Valentine's messages that you can put into their lunchboxes. At home, prepare the usual dinner, but serve it in a special way: pour juice into wine goblets, place heart-shaped cookies or homemade cards on each plate, create a floral centerpiece or place a single rose in a slim vase. After dinner, you can take turns answering a question such as, "What do you love about your family?" or take turns honoring each member of the family by saying "What I love about so-and-so is..." You won't spend much, and you'll create a bonding opportunity with your kids.

You can extend Valentine's Day to others by organizing a play date with the friends of your child. Load up on scraps of cloth and lace, washi tape and decorative stickers and throw a mini-party that includes craft activities such as making your Valentine cards. Easy cake or cookie recipes abound online, so include baking yummy goodies in the kitchen as an activity for school age kids.

You can even create a tradition that requires breaking tradition each time. You and your kids can decide every year on how you would like to celebrate that reflects the interests (and financial capability) of the family at the time. Visit the zoo or a theme park. Try out a new sport or activity. If Valentine's falls on a weekend, take a trip to a place you've never explored before. Even a picnic at a nearby park can be a simple yet conscious way of celebrating the day of love with your dearest ones.

Do something good
Those who do volunteer work or acts of charity will confirm the truth of the saying, "Service is its own reward."

Give your kids--and yourself!--a chance to feel a deeper, more universal kind of love by organizing a visit to those in need, whether as a family or through a charity or NGO. Carrying babies and playing with children in an orphanage, spending time with the elderly, or volunteering at a soup kitchen are ways to connect with one's community and expand the heart. Spending time with the less fortunate or the lonely can be a priceless, positive experience for one's children and the family in general, one that can teach countless lessons in compassion and charity.

Spend time with your support network
Throw a potluck party for your partner-less friends or fellow single parents so you can compare notes about the (mis)adventures of single life. Laugh away loneliness and boredom, and ultimately be grateful for the simple but essential things in life: good friends, good food, good drinks, and good children!

Pamper yourself
Yes, you can also spend Valentine's day giving love to--gasp!--yourself! Hire that babysitter and have some much-needed "me time." Treat yourself to a luxurious massage, have a scrumptious lunch with friends, or enjoy a cosmopolitan night on the town. Giving yourself the love that you need is a chance to recharge and affirm yourself so that you can continue to care for the little ones in your life.

For pet lovers who may not have a pet due to building rules that forbid keeping a pet, or maybe one of your kids has an allergy to animals—cat and dog cafés have finally arrived on American shores. These places allow you to grab a cup of joe and mingle and cuddle with its furry residents, so you can get and give the special TLC you can experience with our four-legged friends. Some of these cafés give animal shelter dogs and cats a chance to experience care and affection they normally wouldn't get in a shelter, as well as a chance to find a home. For those who can't adopt, just keep visiting the cafĂ© and know that you're doing your bit to spread love to these adorable creatures, on Valentine's Day and every other day.

No matter how you choose to spend Valentine's Day, make it about the love you share in all the special relationships in your life. To be able to say "I love you" and "Thank you" to those who matter the most can be the most important gift we give to our children and ourselves.