Q: Valentine's Day was a lot of fun when I was a kid. But that was a more innocent time. I'd like my child to have the same experience, but I don't want to reinforce our culture's misguided ideas about romance. What can I do?
Jim: In December I encouraged parents to diffuse the materialism of Christmas by teaching their kids about the historical St. Nicholas. And I'm pleased to report that history can also be your ally when it comes to Valentine's Day!
According to Catholic Online, the original St. Valentine, Valentinus, lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II at a time when the Roman army was involved in many bloody and unpopular military campaigns. Claudius was having difficulty recruiting soldiers, and he believed the reason was that men did not want to leave their lovers or families. As a result, he cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentinus was a Christian priest who performed secret marriages in defiance of the emperor's decree. As a result, he was apprehended and condemned to death, suffering martyrdom on Feb. 14, around the year 270 (www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159).
While there is certainly something "romantic" about this story, it is not the self-centered, boyfriend- or girlfriend-obsessed brand of romance that we associate with the modern observance of St. Valentine's Day. Valentinus' life exemplified a very different set of values, namely selflessness and sacrifice. And those are character traits that are certainly worth encouraging in your child.
With that in mind, you might also consider a few other activities to help your child maintain a healthy perspective on Valentine's Day. For example, list a few characteristics that distinguish true love from mere infatuation. Place the lists side by side and have your child decide which set of qualities he or she most wants to characterize his or her life. Or, sit down and talk with your child about a romantic movie or TV show. Are the characters demonstrating infatuation or real love? Shallow feelings or genuine intimacy?
With a little guidance and creativity from you, Valentine's Day can be both fun and educational for your kids. Supplementing your discussion with chocolate wouldn't hurt, either!
Q: My mother-in-law is extremely controlling and critical of my parenting. My husband seems oblivious to how much stress she causes me. How should I handle this?
Juli: One reason why "in-law tension" can be so difficult is because it is not primarily your relationship. Anything you do or say will impact your mother-in-law's relationship with your husband, so you probably feel like you are between a rock and a hard place.
I would first encourage you to view this as a marriage issue. You and your husband must decide together how you want to interact with his mother. How often should she come over? What comments will you tolerate? How will you respond if she is critical? Your question implies that you and your husband disagree about how you would answer these questions. Because your husband probably doesn't recognize how controlling and critical his mother is of you, you may need to meet with a third party (such as a counselor or mentor) to talk this through.
I would also encourage you to consider why your mother-in-law acts the way she does. Her controlling and critical behavior is most likely a reaction to her fears and insecurities. Perhaps she views you as a threat to her relationship with her son. Or she may even be reacting to her own parenting failures. Remembering this may help you to respond with empathy rather than anger.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)