Valentine's Day is coming, and the big box stores are ready. On a shopping trip the other day the kids and I spotted a t-shirt for toddler boys that said Heart Breaker. Society expects two-year-olds to break hearts, apparently. Of whom? Little girls?
Online cutesy Star Wars shirt beckon, “Yoda One For Me.” Lightning McQueen valentines declare, "You make my motor race!" Hard as it is to turn down anything Star Wars or Lightning McQueen in this house, we'll be steering clear of those. Because it's all a little weird, right? This idea that little kids are supposed to pick out one special someone to -- to do what with, exactly? Fall in love? And what exactly do they even do when they’re in love?
So far this season we’ve seen “Ladies Love Me” shirts, because the “ladies” in question are capable, somehow, of actually loving little boys, and those boys are crass enough to brag about it. “Heartthrob,” like the wearer is some kind of straight-out sex symbol making all the girls scream. “Little Heart Breaker” and “Mommy’s Little Flirt,” as if children know how to flirt or the consequences of it.
It gets uncomfortable. Each January and February like clockwork, shirts, cards, and accessories come out of the woodwork to sexualize kids and insinuate that they should have one special someone, or be kissing someone, or letting someone kiss them. From shirts to candy hearts to printed Valentines, it boils down to romance and sex. And that’s kinda creepy. They're kids.
So let's flip the script on this holiday.
Love Is My Superpower by Free To Be Kids (Shop >)
Valentine’s Day can be about so many more kinds of love than the romantic, when-a-girl-loves-a-boy kind. It can be about friendship. Our kids need encouragement to value platonic friendships: society pushes against them, from TV shows portraying kids playing girls versus boys teams to the omnipresent social messages that girls and boys should have different interests, wear different things on their clothes, love different TV shows, play separate games, and even enjoy separate toys. Valentine’s Day can be a time that we help our kids think about being friends with people of the opposite sex: what they gain from those relationships and how they can better cultivate them.
Love Yourself by Free To Be Kids (Shop >)
We can also celebrate self-love. Buy something for yourself for Valentine’s Day. Model self-care, a little bit of self-indulgence. Talk about how we love ourselves, what it means and what actions we take that show our self-love. How we engage in hobbies we like. How we stand up for causes we care about. How we don’t let ourselves get pushed around, how we make up our own minds and stay true to ourselves.
I Love Everyone by Free To Be Kids (Shop >)
Then there’s global love, love for humankind. What do we do for humanity? What Valentine can we give the world? Maybe we can recycle. Maybe we can smile at a stranger, or leave a Valentine for someone who might not get one, like a nursing home resident.
I Have Decided To Stick With Love by Free To Be Kids (Shop >)
This is perhaps the most important kind of love. The world’s focused on heartbreakers, and we need to focus instead on world-healers.
Love Love Love by Free To Be Kids (Shop >)
We’ve just launched our Valentine’s Day Shop, and we have shirts that help reflect all those kinds of love -- no “Mommy’s Little Flirt” here! Love is kind of our thing, so we have all the kinds. Self love, superpower love, patriotic love, love that stands up against hate, even monster love.
If you're into celebrating Valentine's Day with a shirt for your little that will show an allegiance and commitment to higher love, not just schoolkid romance, we've got you covered.
We also know most kids will want to bring valentines to school, and it can be super hard to find ones that reflect your values -- loving the world rather than "being mine" -- so we’ve also created our own free printable valentines and treat bag toppers. There are four different designs, and each comes in a full-color print-and-go version, or an outlined color-it-yourself version. See all eight sets here (link).
We hope we've hooked you up with everything you need to jettison the creepy heartbreaker t-shirts and romance-laced valentines this year! Let's focus instead on self-love, love for friends, and love for the world. That’s what we need to teach our kids, not some weird syrupy version of romance when they’re too young to understand what it’s about.
We don't need any more heartbreakers. We need more world-healers.
We design and create baby, kids, and even a few grownup clothes with positive messages and nary a gender cliche in sight. We believe clothes send a message, and our mission is to spread positive messages one fashion statement at a time.