Commentary: Married couples with kids have no time or need for Valentine’s Day
Any homemaker would be in no mood for romantic gestures if there's a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, says mum writer June Yong.
SINGAPORE: Last week, as a cheeky move to tease my husband, I casually reminded him that Valentine’s Day was just round the corner.
He choked on a bit of saliva, let out a nervous laugh and said: “How about we just celebrate during our anniversary since it’s coming up soon?”
The conversation was like deja vu. You see, Valentine’s Day has become a non-event for us since we ushered our first baby into the world 13 years ago.
That year was an endless cycle of feeding, napping, burping and diaper changing. And as we grew from a family of three to five within the subsequent few years – with more babies to tend to and more toddler tantrums to calm – one would totally understand why.
To his credit, occasionally the husband does show up at our front door with a stalk of rose or a box of chocolates – on Feb 14.
It’s nice to be appreciated and lavished with a gift, but if you were to ask us what the date means to us, I think we’d both be equally stumped and reply with the same answer: “Nothing.”
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
After being married for more than a decade, I must admit that the romance in our relationship has fizzled out a little.
Instead of a sizzling campfire, it resembles more a flickering flame. Yet it is cosy, familiar, secure, and does its job of keeping me warm on cold nights.
I don’t mean to sound like a Valentine’s Day scrooge. It does have its place especially among young dating couples, but I suspect my love-hate affair with this annual day of love is triggered by the commercialisation of love itself.
What could be just a simple night out for couples has turned into an over-the-top expectation-heavy affair, complete with six-course candlelit meals, fluffy rabbits and bears, and exorbitantly priced pink-and-red roses.
Granted, there are couples who take the chance to hire a babysitter and steal away somewhere quiet by themselves. For them, it’s less about making a fanfare than it is about finding time for each other.
Perhaps being married with three kids, we just don’t have the time, bandwidth, and mental space to think much about celebrating. On nights where we do have any of the above, we’d probably choose the practical thing – to catch up on housework or sleep.
Besides, ask any homemaker around and they’d likely say they won’t be in the mood for Valentine’s Day or any other romantic gestures if there is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.
Playing Romeo or Juliet on this day doesn’t mean you can disregard the other seemingly mundane matters – the chores at home, the acts of service, the quality time that your spouse desires.
And this extends beyond Valentine’s day to birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other milestones.
DON’T OVERLOOK THE EVERYDAY THINGS
This is not to say that our marriage has taken a backseat for the past 13 years. We’ve consistently made small intentional efforts on this front, either with regular date nights, setting aside time to listen to each other or to problem-solve recurring issues in our relationship.
We even have something called “tea therapy” – which is basically him getting me my favourite cup of milk tea (without my asking) when I’m having a bad day.
So, while the practical things count, these small, everyday gestures of love are the lifeblood of a thriving marriage.
And these regular rhythms and rituals may amount to far greater than what splashing out on a single annual day of affection can do; the daily habits we cultivate could even make or break a marriage.
One 2019 study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research examined relationship rituals and found that rituals are associated with greater positive emotions and relationship satisfaction. The caveat is that couples must agree that they have a ritual, and it is symbolically meaningful to them.
THE WEIGHT OF EXPECTATIONS
One of the best things that came with turning 40 is that we are finally comfortable in our own skin.
Societal norms and expectations release their grip on us, and we find our true selves slowly rising to the surface, instead of being buried under.
Maybe that’s why we’re finding it easier to resist the sparkly allure of Valentine’s Day.
While in my 30s, I might have felt the urge to post a wefie or a beautiful bouquet of flowers on my Instagram, now I can forego the customary post, or simply put up a picture of us tucking into a steaming hot bowl of ramen or kway chap (flat rice noodles served with an assortment of pork cuts, egg and tofu).
The other thing about expectations is that the more we psych ourselves up to make the day special, the worse it usually turns out.
We have experienced going out for fancy dinners where we were so caught up with the surroundings or taking photos of the food, we didn’t quite get to sharing about the things important to us.
Perhaps this is the flipside of upholding certain romantic ideals – one can get caught in the performance side of things, while neglecting the heart, which holds the key to intimacy.
MARKING OUR OWN CELEBRATORY RITUALS
Our second decade of marriage looks very different from our first.
Things are more subdued as we’ve moved from the storming phase of parenthood and nesting to a more stable phase.
There are less tears and growing pains, and our roles have shifted slightly from being disciplinarians to coaches, but all this doesn’t mean we’ve stopped learning and growing together.
Each time our kids meet a new milestone – whether it is PSLE or learning to take public transport on their own – it feels like we should turn up the volume and do a dance (which we sometimes do).
And when they encounter problems, whether it is bullying or difficulties at school, we also rally together and form a human wall around them.
This shared responsibility of parenting isn’t exactly romantic, but when we meet with breakthroughs or blessings, we do what most do when an achievement has been clocked at the office – head out for a meal, break out the bubbly and give ourselves a pat on the back.
Thankfully, we don’t need Valentine’s Day or expensive dinners to remind us that we’re on the same team.
Neither do we have to wait for a special day to take time off to celebrate life and love.
Time and attention are perhaps the best gifts we can give each other, and I intend to make this happen 365 days a year.
June Yong is Lead of Insights at Focus on the Family Singapore and owner of MamaWearPapaShirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.