Photo submitted by April Perry

Amidst all the tasty treats and heart-shaped crafts that our family enjoys each year around Valentine’s Day, we’ve designed an extra special tradition that enables us to spend some real quality time together and create powerful, lasting memories.

We call it our, “We Love to Be a Family Day,” and seriously, it’s one of the best traditions we’ve started.

If you’d like to do something like this with your family, here’s a step-by-step guide (and a planning template!) to make it happen without a lot of stress.

This two-page planning template is simple to use and will help you organize the details of this fun activity.

But I think we need to start with the Ground Rules:

(1) It doesn’t have to be hard.

(2) It doesn’t have to be expensive.

(3) It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Here’s a little secret I’ve learned over the years.  Children don’t remember frills.  They remember substance.

I know that Pinterest is simply loaded with darling ways to give everything in the house a “Valentine’s makeover,” and it’s tempting to want to do all of it at once. But our children won’t remember all the intricate details of our pink ceramic centerpieces or the frosted roses on their pancakes.  They’ll remember how they felt while they were spending time with us.  So unless you just really like spending hours and hours with confetti, glitter, and complicated recipes, keep this as simple as possible.

Basically, “We Love to Be a Family Day” involves you (perhaps with the help of one of your older children and/or your spouse) planning several special “secret” activities that will take place on a specified day. You find an available Saturday or a whole afternoon when your family can be together, and then you let everyone know that they need to protect that day from any outside commitments.  (We usually plan ours about two weeks in advance, so everyone has time to get excited.)

And now, here are five steps to plan your memorable day of simple and fun family activities:

Step One: Do a Five-Minute Brainstorm (with your spouse or perhaps an older child who’ll be your special helper)

What activities would your family enjoy?  (We’re going to choose about seven of these ideas in the next step, so make this list as broad as you can.)

Consider coupons you have, community events, simple at-home games, service ideas, family members’ favorite foods, etc.  Honestly evaluate your energy level, the ages of your children, and the time you’ll have available.  The simpler the better.

Some ideas could include, “Crepes for breakfast, a game of Bananagrams, sweep the neighbor’s porch, soccer at the park, picnic by the fountain, call Grandma and sing her a song, and miniature golfing.”

You might want to record your brainstorm on the planning template that goes with this post.

Step Two: Select the Best Activities

Once you’ve gotten your ideas out on paper, narrow the list to a manageable number of activities that you know your family will enjoy (we do about seven).  Put them in a logical order that will work with the time of day you’ll be out and about, your family budget, and your children’s attention span.  (You might want to build up to the “best” activity.)

For our very first “We Love to Be a Family” Day, we did the following:

  • Had a group hug (okay, so not all that unique, but everyone liked it)
  • Made “I love you” cards for two of our neighbors
  • Delivered some homemade bread I’d made the day before to each of those neighbors
  • Went to the park for a picnic (enjoying our own loaf of homemade bread)
  • Roller skated around the park together
  • Dropped by a candy store to get a couple of treats
  • Went to the movie theater for a fun matinee

I really like making bread, so that wasn’t a stress, and everything else took about five minutes to plan. Here’s a little collage of our photos:

Photo submitted by April Perry

Step Three: Write Your Clues

Our children were still pretty young when we first did this, so we simply wrote each activity on the back of a little heart-shaped piece of paper (“Time to go to the park!”).

Photo by April Perry

Now that they’re getting older, we can get a little more poetic and mysterious and create fun clues to help them guess what each activity is:

For 12 whole months, you’ve been patiently waiting

to put wheels on your feet and hit the rink to go ____________!

Step Four: Create Your Treasure Map

Some parents might want to make the map in advance and have it waiting for their children when they wake up.  I wasn’t that prepared, so while my children were doing their morning jobs and getting dressed, I simply opened up a brown paper grocery sack and drew a procession of hearts to match the clues.  I think it took me three minutes, max.

But that’s the secret . . . you have to have a treasure map.  It makes it seem so “official.”

This simple “map” took three minutes to make, but it was SO exciting to my children.

Step Five: Identify and Complete Next Actions

On the accompanying planning template, there’s a spot for you to record your associated tasks by context (errands, phone calls, at home, computer, and discussions).

Photo submitted by April Perry

On my list, I included things like, “make bread, check showtimes for the movie online, call neighbors to make sure they’ll be home, and talk with Eric to verify the date.”

Easy, right?

On the morning of this special day, we clean the house together, get everyone dressed, and tell our children what a fun day we’re going to have!

We also make plans to get back in time for naps, and I get to bed early the night before so I’m not cranky.  A crying mom totally ruins everything.  I don’t know why.

(As a little side note, this doesn’t have to happen near Valentine’s Day–or even in the month of February.  So if you have morning sickness or a stressful month of basketball practices and choir performances, just stick this idea in your “Someday” file.)

When (if) you do decide to do this activity, be sure to take lots of pictures and turn on fun music.  Time dedicated to family makes a great party.

It’s also helpful to plan that you’ll be hormonal and cranky and annoyed with everyone . . . and anticipate that your children will be whiny, unkind to each other, and disobedient.  Then you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t quite that bad!  (I don’t mean to sound like a downer, but I want to be sure you don’t set yourself up for failure here.)

I think one of the reasons families don’t typically do things like this is because the effort to keep up with the stuff that already has to be done is so high, that there’s not a lot of room for the creative and fun kind of stuff.  But, it’s this creative stuff that helps you bond with your children.  You’ll feel like a really good parent.  Your kids will remember the effort you made (and they’ll forget the fact you wanted to throw in the towel after the first 15 minutes).

My children had such a great time with this in the past that they’ve asked if they can take turns each year planning the surprises.

We don’t make this hard, expensive, or fancy, but we put our best energy into showing our children how much we love them, and then all of us feel like this:

Grace drew this the other day and hung it on our fridge.  It does my heart good to see that my children consider us to be a united, loving family.

QUESTION: What are some of your most unforgettable family Valentine’s Day traditions?

CHALLENGE: Take a few minutes to plan a meaningful Valentine’s tradition for your family (whether you use this idea or one of your own).  Invest in your children’s childhood memories.

(To download the Power of Moms Planning Template, click here. )

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