Happy Mother’s Day! Today we celebrate all us mamas do … the long hours, the sleepless nights, the agonizing worry over every little thing our kids do or don’t do, the never-ending dance to balance hundreds of competing priorities, and the indescribable joy we feel doing it all … because we know that, although it’s difficult, it’s to support and nurture the most important thing any of us will have in our lifetime: a child.
Given the gravity of this responsibility, and today being the day to celebrate the joy that comes with it, I thought it was the perfect time to share what I think may be one of the most important gifts you can give to your child … a handwritten letter, written as early in his or her life as possible.
This letter should tell your child everything they’ll need to know about who you are, what you value, and what you hope for his or her future. If you were to leave this earth tomorrow, what would you want him or her to know? This is big girl stuff, so dig deep, and be honest.
So, why write this letter? Well, my mother wrote one for me … she gave it to me at my high school graduation, and I’ve cherished it ever since. I was only three months old when she wrote it, but I can tell from her words that in just a few short months I had become the single most important thing in her life. The simple truths she communicated in that letter have stayed with me, and I can see now that all the lessons she taught me throughout my childhood, all the fights we may have had over seemingly insignificant things, were all deeply rooted in love. She wanted nothing more than for me to grow into a strong, kind, and faithful woman. She told me so in that letter, and everything she’s done in my life since has been in furtherance of that goal.
Overwhelming, I know. When I wrote Olivia’s letter only a month after she was born, I was overcome with emotion, and it was incredibly difficult to say the most important things and nothing more. But that’s the goal. This letter should have everything you need to say, and nothing more. Don’t clutter or dilute it’s central message, whatever that may be for you. As I said above, if you were going to leave this earth tomorrow, what are the most important things you would want your child to know about you, life, love, and faith? And don’t be afraid to go through a few drafts … as you think about these things, your ideas may evolve, or change shape … that’s good … that’s your mind working out all the details, and choosing the absolute essential truths you want to share. Respect the process, and don’t rush things.
What you include in this letter is really up to you … there’s no magic formula. I chose to begin my letter by describing my new life with Olivia, and then Emme. I shared memories of those first few days and weeks, how they made me feel, and the joy that each had brought to my life. The middle of my letters is devoted to what I’ll call the essential truths … my beliefs about family, faith, God, and life, including the value of hard work, discipline, perseverance, kindness, and charity. Finally, the end is devoted to how I hope these principles and truths will help guide my girls throughout their lives. Again, this is just my version … and being a lawyer, I tend to take a very organized, logical approach. But, how you write this letter, the form and structure, is just as important as its content … it gives your child a sense of who you are. So don’t feel constrained. Tell a story, write a poem … choose a format that speaks to who you are.
And, here comes another uncomfortable truth about this process … should something happen to you before your child is old enough to learn all these things directly from you, he or she will have your letter. And that means you’ll have to have a tough discussion with your significant other, or someone you trust, who can give your child the letter if the unfortunate happens, and you can’t. Jacob knows where my letters are, and should something happen to me before Olivia and Emme reach the age at which I think they’ll be able to appreciate the significance of these letters, he’ll be able to hold them and share them at the appropriate time.
These letters give me a tremendous sense of peace, knowing my little girls will always have a window into my soul, and be able to read, in my own words, what I felt for them, what I believed, and what I hoped for their futures. Every mama should be able to feel that … and every child know, without a doubt, where his or her mama stands on life’s most important questions. So I urge you to take the time, and write it down.
Happy Mother’s Day mamas … you’re amazing … you do God’s work every single day.