Oh, February — the keeper of Valentine’s Day and the month to celebrate romantic love.
It’s hard to ignore the commercialism of love this time of year. Everywhere you look, you see heart-shaped candies, boxes of chocolates, and overstuffed teddy bears holding big red hearts. I don’t know about you, but this “season of love” brings up a lot of feelings for me — some happy and sweet, and some a bit more challenging.
Many children and most adults live with trauma associated with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). They are carrying scars from exposure to domestic violence, substance addiction, or some type of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. These experiences create complicated feelings of overwhelming pain, shame and loneliness in heavy hearts. Hearts that may not want to be bombarded by the seemingly easy breezy “season of love.”
So, this year, I am reclaiming the month of February! I am recognizing that love comes in many forms. And, I am choosing to focus on the love that really matters.
For me, I am starting with self-love. In my work at CALM, I am consistently reminded that the only way to take care of others is to first take care of ourselves. This is the only way to ensure we are ready to help each individual child and family that enters CALM’s doors.
And, loving ourselves begins with taking care of ourselves. It’s listening to our needs, taking time to recharge and relax, and finding moments of joy and laughter in our daily lives. As a very busy working mom, I know how difficult this can be. And yet, I challenge each of us to turn “I’m yours” into “I’m mine.” I think we all deserve it.
The other focus I have is to prioritize the connection I am building with my two amazing daughters. At CALM, we believe in “protecting the most important relationship in the world” — the connection built between caregiver and child.
We know it is this one relationship that predicts the well-being and success of a young person for the rest of his or her life. We believe that a healthy attachment between parent and child is the core building block for a healthy life. A strong connection to a caregiver mitigates stress in young children and helps them feel safe enough to explore, to attempt challenges, and to learn new things.
As a result, I am leaning into fun times with my girls. So far this month, I’ve jumped in puddles and baked some cupcakes. I’ve paused dinner for a rockin’ dance party and took time to read stories and snuggle on the couch. These moments ensure my girls know they are loved. And, from this critical foundation, they will know — for the rest of their lives — that they are deserving of love and that they have the deep capacity to love.
So, I ask you, how can you reclaim February? How can you focus on the love that really matters?
Here are some suggestions for you to consider:
» Play. Play whenever and wherever you can. Play games, play with dolls, play tag, play catch — whatever it is your child enjoys, play with them. Play is the language that children enjoy most. Research has shown that playing with children decreases attention seeking behaviors and separation anxiety by fulfilling their emotional needs.
» Gratitude. With a pack of post-it notes, write one word or phrase per note describing something you appreciate about your loved one. Then arrange your sticky notes into a heart in a place they will find it — on a mirror, on a placemat, or on a piece of paper that can be put into a backpack or mailed across the country. This simple activity can be done for your partner/spouse, child, sibling, co-worker, friend, or anyone that you care about. The good news is that not only will your loved one’s day be brightened when they see it, but your own well-being is enhanced as you commit yourself to a gratitude practice.
» Writing. For older children and many adults, journaling can produce great benefits, including stress reduction and improved health. While journaling is usually thought of as a solitary activity, literally under lock and key, collaborative journaling can be a good way to build communication and connection. If started early enough, a shared journal can provide a non-threatening opportunity to better connect with your teen or tween. I also know of couples that keep a weekly journal via email, asking and answering questions of each other, and then finding time to talk about their responses.
» Service. Many teens today are more aware of social issues than generations before them. They want to get involved in their communities and make a difference. Why not support their passions by volunteering together? It shows that you are taking an interest in something they care about and creates an opportunity to spend time together.
And, please remember that while we are all so focused on taking care of others — making sure everyone is where they need to be with everything they need — that we must be sure to take care of ourselves. We need to prioritize ourselves and put our needs at the top of the to-do list.
Personally, I am choosing to wake up early twice per week because when I take time to stretch, I feel better all day long. I’m also trying to be more intentional about my meal planning (adding more colorful foods in my diet!) and scheduling beach walks with friends on the weekends. We live in a beautiful place and getting into nature really helps me put everything into perspective.
So again, I ask you: how can you reclaim February? How can you focus on the love that really matters?
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.