Tips for taking care of your heart on the holiday of love
Four years ago, for my first Valentine’s Day as a single mom, I decided that my young children would be my dates. We had dinner together at a local Italian restaurant, and we all drank flavored Pellegrinos out of glass bottles. As we were leaving, I grabbed the empty bottles, and we asked the hostess to take a picture of us near the door. Those three bottles have now grown into a collection of nine, commemorating each Valentine’s Day we’ve spent together. On occasion, I’ll buy a bouquet of flowers and break it up between these bottles, combining old memories with something beautiful and new. This year, we will return to our little restaurant, take our bottles home with us, and snap our fourth picture at the door. I’m not sure who is more excited about this evening—me or my kids.
Creating a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a Solo Mom is important. While many argue that this is a commercial holiday and it shouldn’t have relevance in our lives, I know that it can sting when you see your friends’ husbands buying flowers, chocolates, and jewelry while you share your bed with your favorite books and magazines. So, what’s a gal to do?
It’s all about taking care of your heart.
“We would never go several days without changing our clothes or taking a shower, yet we ignore what is on the inside,” says Gretchen Fleisher, a Solo Mom and yoga instructor. “It’s hard for women to say yes to themselves. We are so used to having to say yes to everyone else. But just like they say to put the oxygen mask on yourself first on the airplane, we have to do the same for ourselves.”
Fleisher points out that self-love and self-care are not taught in school, so it’s important to model that at home, especially as a Solo Mom. When we make excuses to not exercise or take care of ourselves, we not only ignore ourselves but also our children see us doing so, leaving them to wonder why they should put forth the effort if mom doesn’t.
Solo Mom Mandy Galbraith, founder of The Flow Dimension—a coaching business that supports women to work soulfully, agrees with Fleisher. “We are so busy getting things done, especially as Solo Moms, that it’s really important to take time for yourself, especially around Valentine’s Day,” she advises. “It can be a challenge, but it’s an essential thing to ask yourself, What makes my heart sing? We tend to complicate things, but it could be simple, like dancing. I love dancing, so I turn on the music and dance. It’s the small, simple things that we can do and even share with our kids.”
It’s important to celebrate your heart on Valentine’s Day, so instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do.
“Take some time to reflect on your past experiences, recalling things that made you happy that you may not get to do very often,” recommends Gay French-Ottaviani, a clinical social worker who specializes in victims/survivors of domestic violence at Hope’s Door and also works in private practice. “Focus on what you can do that is uplifting and inspiring, reminding you of the parts of your life that you enjoy. For example, make calls to your close friends, and let them know how much they mean to you. When you give away the kind of love you’d like to get, it elevates your mood, making you feel good inside.”
Finding a way to do something kind for others can also involve your children. “The year we moved out of our home, my daughter was four,” says Fleisher. “I threw a Valentine’s Day party for her and her friends and asked everyone to bring books to donate to a local community center. The party was such a hit that we did it for several years. I gave so many books to the center that I got a very kind thank-you letter from the president.”
French-Ottaviani recommends that although you can get a lot of joy out of doing things with your children, focus on yourself as well. Hiring a babysitter on Valentine’s Day so that you can spend time with friends can be just as therapeutic. Solo Mom Virginia Wolking agrees. She makes a point of doing something with her friends on Valentine’s Day, understanding that love and romance do not have to come from a sexual partner.
“Two years ago, my friend and I went to a fancy denim boutique and purchased the most expensive pair of jeans we’d ever owned—they fit us perfectly,” she recalls. “Afterwards, at 3:00 in the afternoon, we went to a bar across the street, had drinks, and played the jukebox for two hours. Then we had dinner together and went home. We had so much fun that day, and we were laughing our butts off. There were other couples in the bar with us, but we had more fun than anyone. Spending the day together was the perfect gift.”
But February is not only the month for chalky candy hearts that tell someone they are “hot stuff”; it’s also American Heart Month. Taking care of your heart from a health perspective is just as important. Eve Fogler, a personal trainer specializing in postinjury wellness, recommends a regular routine of cardiovascular exercise, consuming healthy foods, and taking time to slow down so that your heart, pulse, and body get a break.
When with your children, encourage exercise, even if it’s subtle. Fogler likes to incorporate this into game night. For example, when she plays card games with her kids, each suit is an exercise, and each number tells you the reps. So if a child plays a seven of hearts, they may have to do seven jumping jacks.
It’s also important, she says, to pay attention to the early warning signs for cardiovascular trouble. “Cardiovascular disease is a silent killer, and it takes more than one million Americans every year,” explains Fogler. “The American Heart Association has a great video that shows the warning signs, which every woman should watch. In it, Elizabeth Banks portrays a typical mom juggling a million different things, such as laundry, breakfast, work, and making everyone’s lunch. She begins to feel warm, experiences chest and arm pain, gets sloppy with making sandwiches, but continues on. She shows all the warning signs, but ignores them until everyone has left the house. When she finally calls 911, she asks if the responders can take a bit more time in getting to her so she can clean up. It demonstrates our lives perfectly.”
Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. Care for it wisely not just on Valentine’s Day but every day. It’s the only one you’ve got.
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including The Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace and more.
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