“Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I come sit in the rocker in your room and watch you in your crib. Your mouth is a puckered rosebud and your breath slips in and out, unseen. I hear it, though, even just standing at the door I can hear you breathe. It is my comfort.”
These are words I penned to my first born, just a few months old. I took up this practice right from the start and recorded my thoughts, dreams, and prayers in letters to my children. I didn’t know at the time what I would do with these, but later, when my kids left home for college, I decided to send the letters one by one. And looking back, it’s probably one of the best gifts I’ve ever given.
Sometimes the sentiments were just pure mush: “You’re one year old today! Already I get teary thinking about the day you’ll grow up and away from me. You fill my life with a completeness--a circle of love.” Sometimes I needed to explain myself: “Our special moments are few and far between and I believe I’m disappointing you a lot this year. I’m interrupted constantly by a demanding toddler. I know you think I give more to him than I did you, but my sweetest love, I gave my all to you way back then too. Ask Dad.”
It was quite often emotional. To my quiet #4 I wrote, “And there we were in the car and I glanced over at you, quietly sitting next to me. Your hands were folded serenely in your lap. You looked straight ahead. As usual, you didn’t grab for my attention, you didn’t feel a need to fill the silence. Completely composed. Completely silent in a gentle, contented way.”
Rereading those letters helps me identify with the stages my adult children are in now. For instance, when my grandson went through a “wreck-everything-in-sight” stage, I could laugh
sympathetically and refer his mother to her letter from when she was the same age. “At 19 months you are the mischievous trial of my life. Dialing the phone while standing on a chair (it was connected to the wall in those days!), coloring my walls, stuffing gobs of toilet paper into the john. And such a tease!” What goes around comes around, eh?
Other life stages were notated, “At 13 and already halfway to womanhood. I see the tussle going on inside of you. Part of you presses on towards maturity, part of you holds onto childhood.” And heights: “My tall son, you could not be the same little boy who made up silly songs and sounds and loved ‘Mi-Mouse’ and pirates and who was afraid of Dic-Donald. Just remember Jesus loves you.”
I recorded major feats of theirs—first steps, first prom, but also disappointments-- not making the softball team, being left out of a party invitation. Letter after letter, I poured my heart out to each of my four children.
I wrote my concerns: “As you are naturally separating from me, emotionally weaning from me, I’m concerned that you might reject my ideals.” Sometimes the tone was one of rebuke, “I feel like I’m constantly hounding you about finishing chores, being thorough, taking ownership for your responsibilities. At nine, you’re doing everything you can to take the easy way out. I don’t like it a bit.” (Yikes!)
I also penned prayers, “If you have to grow, grow into a man of God, my dear. I pray so fervently that you will know Him as I have come to know Him, that your relationship will far exceed my own. Double portion, like Elijah and Elisha.”
I tried to point them constantly back to God. One’s antics inspired me to write, “Speaking of Daddy, you keep him young! You jump and expect him to catch you. You ‘pester’ him and he adores it. You come to him freely to ask for stuff and just expect him to care for you. Oh, to be like that with our Heavenly Father—Sweetheart, you hold the key. Be with Him like you are with Daddy.”
The last letters always sounded the same--“You’re almost ready to go. A tough year. A few more lessons to learn and then off you go. I have confidence in your ability to learn and grow and mature. My darling, as you go, go with God.”
If you are just starting out in your journey of parenting, half-way through, or even if your child is almost out the door, writing your thoughts to them can be a unique way to bond. They will need to reread your love to them when they are feeling insecure or uncertain because while being away from home can be exhilarating, it carries poignant longings. A letter from home will bring comfort, a laugh, and an unbreakable assurance that they are missed. Let your children go. But let them take your words with them.