Q: Do you have any recommendations for celebrating Valentine's Day? I'd like my daughter to be able to enjoy the experience, but I don't want to reinforce our culture's misguided ideas about romance.
Jim: You're wise to recognize that Valentine's Day has the potential to promote the wrong ideas about love. But there's no reason why you can't get beyond the glitter of cards, flowers and boxes of candy to help your child understand love's real meaning. Here are some suggestions of things you might do to encourage a proper perspective on the subject.
-- List the characteristics that distinguish true love from infatuation. Place the lists side by side and have your child decide which set of qualities she wants in her life.
-- Talk about the signs or evidence of true love: How do you know when two people really love one another? Have your child provide specific examples from relationships she respects. Discuss her reasons for feeling this way.
-- Take a critical look at television, movies, music and even greeting cards with your child, and help her discern the messages they communicate. Are they promoting infatuation or real love? Shallow feelings or genuine intimacy? Mere physical chemistry or a deep, selfless commitment to relationship? You'd be surprised what a valuable exercise this might turn out to be.
All things considered, this holiday can be a great time to help kids -- teens in particular -- consider the larger issues of love and the importance of choosing a spouse wisely. Emotions and chemistry aren't necessarily wrong -- after all, who wants a passionless marriage without any spark? But if romance is only an emotional "buzz," it's not love at all. Flowers, cards and chocolates can be wonderful expressions of affection, but it's important that kids learn to keep these things in their proper place.
Q: Is it a good idea for married couples to take separate vacations? My husband was invited to take an out-of-state trip with a friend of his. I've always thought that those times should be spent exclusively with each other.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are actually two different questions you and your husband need to answer. The first is: Does your husband want to go, and if so, why would this be a bad thing for your relationship? The uncertainty you've expressed isn't uncommon, especially for newlyweds who often feel they've found total fulfillment in each other. But this attitude is neither healthy nor realistic. No matter how much they have in common or enjoy one another, couples need the input of and interaction with others if they are to grow together and as individuals.
The second question spouses who are considering a separate vacation should ask is: "Why do I want to go?" There are actually lots of great reasons. In your husband's case, it could be to develop a deeper, encouraging and enriching relationship with his friend. In others, one spouse may have a strong desire to travel somewhere that the other has no interest. Or it could be an opportunity to connect and bond with a child -- such as prior to the onset of adolescence.
That said, separate vacations should be an "addition," not a substitute, for time away with just the two of you. If there are tensions and difficulties in your marriage, and the desire for a vacation is merely to escape from having to deal with these issues, the time away will only lead to a greater sense of loneliness and exacerbate the problems in your relationship. Otherwise, a long weekend away with the girls, or camping with the guys is a good way to rejuvenate, grow and strengthen a healthy marriage.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.