The Unexpected Benefit of Writing Letters to My Kids Every Month

I started writing letters to my kids once a month when they were born.

My boys are now 16 and 14, so they have 192 and 168 letters respectively. I’m not done yet, either: I promised to continue writing to them until they turn 18.

I won’t lie and tell you I started these letters for altruistic reasons. I had selfish goals: Because I left a successful career to raise my boys full-time, I planned to provide a kick-ass chronological history of our time together so I could justify my stay-at-home-mom status.

I figured that if I documented everything I did with them and for them from birth to age 18, they would remember me as the greatest mother that ever lived in the history of the universe.

I wrote about how I pumped breast milk for a solid six months. Best mom ever! I wrote about how my son started talking in full sentences at age two because I read books and sang songs to him every night to help develop early language skills. Mother of the year!

But a devastating thing happened on the way to me documenting my star-mom status: Their dad died.

I couldn’t possibly know, when I began my letter-writing campaign, that my selfish goal would turn into a benevolent one. My monthly letters evolved into a memorial for a story we never expected to end so soon.

Now, whenever memories fade and the boys need a reminder of their father’s love and devotion, they read the letters.

It’s all right there in black and white.

You can read the moment we enter the teenage-angst phase because my letters have less of an “I’m so lucky to be your mom!” tone and more of a “please, Jesus, just help me get through the day” tone.

I didn’t sugarcoat our struggles, but I didn’t display them in their entirety either.

During one rebellious and unmanageable year of my older son’s adolescence, I wrote nothing at all. I had nothing positive to say. It was all too much to handle as a solo parent. Plus, I didn’t want my rage bleeding all over the page. It would be too easy for me to criticize my son’s abysmal choices and for him to base his worth on bad decisions made in a blip on the radar screen of his youth.

It’s also hard to write about good times when eye rolls, grunts, and general unpleasantness littered our days. But, that’s part of being a parent. So I rekindled my writing by summarizing the next year instead of documenting every cruel, harsh, and bitter disagreement. I didn’t sugarcoat our struggles, but I didn’t display them in their entirety either.

I promised my husband that I would do my best to keep his memory alive. I’m so thankful the letters serve two purposes: One is to help my sons remember their dad. The second is to remember how we made it through.

But, as I got caught up in all of my husband’s remembering, I’m not sure I conveyed how much of my heart and soul I put into these boys, too.

Moving forward after my husband’s death was no small feat. Grief is a bitch and I experienced the boys’ anger in all its manifestations. Maybe they’ll continue blaming me for maternal wrongdoings without understanding how hard it was to pick up the pieces as a young widow and only parent. Maybe they won’t. Only time will tell.

I tried my best to write about the realities of living with death and grief and sorrow. I didn’t pretend we weren’t hurting but I didn’t dwell in victimization either. I hope I’ve communicated, after heartbreak and healing, how much I love being their mom.

Whenever memories fade and the boys need a reminder of my love and devotion, they can read their letters.

It’s all right there in black and white.

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