Want to give your children a gift that will wow them in the years to come, something they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives? Consider writing letters, to be opened on their 18th or 21st birthdays (and beyond), that chronicle what you felt, saw, and thought during special moments in their development or lives.
When I graduated from high school, my father gave me a copy of the book he was reading when I was born, with a long note to me inside. It was wonderful – heartfelt and reflective of an important day in my life that I could not remember. The memory of his thoughtful gift remains with me 20 years later. Though my father wrote the note to me nearly two decades after I was born, he did his best to capture how he felt that day. But I can only imagine the depth and landscape of the note if he had written it years earlier. He would have undoubtedly included details that he could not remember after so many years. So, I now make it a habit to write letters capturing important moments leading up to and during my own children’s lives. I plan to give the first letter I wrote to each of them on their 21st birthdays – and then another one each year after. I can’t think of a better, more meaningful birthday present – an ongoing record of my life with them.
Can you imagine how it would feel if, on your birthday this year, you received a letter your parent(s) wrote you when you were born, or when you graduated from elementary school, or on the day you learned how to ride a bike? I would be a weeping baby all over again.
If your children are already a little older, it’s not too late. You can write what you remember from the early days and then just start with new life milestones as they reach them.
Here are a few guidelines and examples to help you get started.
Capture details about the present moment and any relevant history:
I am sitting in the waiting room, waiting for the doctor to give your mother her first sonogram. Your brother is at school. He is in the first grade. Grandma is worrying the heck out of me because she wants to know if you’ll be a girl or a boy, and your mother is sitting next to me reading a Cosmo article on “How to Get Your Husband to do More Housework.” Go figure. I don’t care what she reads. I am going to stay lazy.
Discuss your insecurities:
As I sit here, full of happiness about you, I worry about my health. I don’t have any known ailments (other than just getting old), but it means so much to me that I get to be there when you finally read this letter. I hope God sees fit to give us that occasion.
Share your hopes for them and your plans to help them get there:
I certainly cannot see the future but I support you in doing whatever you wish to do with your life. To make that possible, I will try to be as supportive, understanding, flexible and loving as possible. Since I grew up coaching football (next to your grandfather), I suspect that the football environment will be one you are all too familiar with. If you are a boy (or a girl who wants to play), I will do what I can to get you on the field and turn you into a star-player. I wonder if that will stick. Of course, if you’d rather play soccer or the piano, I will still be your biggest fan.
Talk about you and your life as it pertains to them:
Part of me hopes you are a girl. I fear that if you are a boy, you might be a knucklehead like me, and I worry I will be too hard on you. It’s funny; when I was a child, I could not wait to grow up and have my own family. I have been dreaming about you for most of my life. I don’t want that for you, though. If there is anything I want you to treasure, it is the present. Enjoy each stage of life, and don’t wish for it to go faster. It will move fast enough, I promise. Enjoy every day of your life.
Finally, include a picture that will never be seen until they open the magic envelope. Destroy the digital file, and don’t make any copies. You want these to be brand new treasures, not family photos they’ve seen in old albums or on Facebook.
While I often try to weave personal experiences into my blogs, the above examples are not from my own letters to my children. I feel I would be defeating the spirit of my gifts if I shared them with my readers before my children are old enough to receive them. After all, I want my kids to be completely surprised, wowed and touched by what’s coming their way in a decade or so.
Once your letter(s) are written, make it a habit to write a new one every year on their birthdays and/or on the days of important milestones. I suggest sealing them in envelopes and writing the date to be opened on the back. Then mail the letters (in your children’s names) to your address. Store them in a special place where they will be safe and won’t be stumbled upon by your children (i.e., a file, safe-deposit box, or lock-box,). And make sure to tell someone close to you where you put them – in case something should happen to you.
Start gifting your children with some of the most valuable assets you possess – your memories of them. I can guarantee they will treasure them far more and far longer than anything Santa brings this December.
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