When my children were born, I bought big spiral notebooks, so I could begin writing daily love letters to them. I wrote to them as if I were talking to them; it was fun to explain what they were like, how they were growing, and the funny and weird things they did.
I talked about how they pooed up their backs minutes after our finally leaving the house after three changes and four feedings, and their first topple off the sofa. How their early smiles exploded my heart in my chest. How it felt to hold them as they slept and the universal deals I would make: what if I had to hold them this way with my arm and back on fire if it meant they would be safe forever, would I do that? Yes, yes, I would.
Because being a new parent ranges from very hard to soul-crushing, what I instinctively knew by writing these letters was that I was- for the time of my writing- able to shift my focus away from the hardship to the beauty, the magic, and the thrill of seeing these tiny human beings become people. I could leave behind the exhaustion and fear and simply enjoy indulging in feeling love in its purest form bloom up in a body I hardly recognized.
I was too tired to realize consciously that I was saving myself from drowning in the difficulty of parenting by giving myself this opportunity. Instead, I saw the effort as a future gift to my children, for when I gave the books to them, so I could make them know that despite whatever we had to do or be on a daily basis to get through, that beneath everything what auspices of love drove us all.
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Once my children got older, I wrote fewer letters to them. The books were still on my nightstand, but when I considered why I didn’t have that same urge to write to them anymore, I determined that because we were able to have mostly cogent conversations- as opposed to when they were babies and could not- I was able to tell them I loved them and reserved my love letters for their birthdays or on Mother’s day.
Of course, because they were still very much children and could not know or appreciate the depth of love that consumes a parent’s heart, they didn’t know how to appreciate these letters (Nothing is a greater metaphor for the ceaseless giving of parenthood like finding a heartfelt tear-stained letter under your child’s dresser covered in dust bunnies and marker).
The flaw in seeing my letters as a gift, I discovered, was in the expectation of audience.
I finally realized that I wasn’t writing love letters for my children; I was writing my children love letters for me. Those minutes I spent celebrating what was good about them, our relationship, and the wonder of that unending love restored my humanity in ways nothing else could.
I have since returned to those books, and while I don’t write about every poo or how hard it still is to leave the house (but, seriously, why is it still so hard to leave the house??), I write about other things. My hopes and dreams. My admiration of them as they grow into people.
I still think that some day I will share the books with my children (or when they are being horrible, I fantasize about reading the embarrassing parts aloud at their weddings), but now I do it- like I do all of my writing- because it fills me with unspeakable fullness. What happens to it afterwards is another story.
Writing Your Own Love Letters
If you’d like to start your own love letter project, I can suggest a few starting-off points that work for children of any age:
- Begin at the Beginning: if your child is young enough, you might want to begin with their birth story (tip: if you ever want grandchildren, I’ll suggest omitting some of the more dramatic/gory details) or how you felt as you anticipated holding your child in your arms. Move through their newborn months to infancy to toddler time. What epochs do you remember being moving and exciting? What challenges did your child overcome? How did it feel to see your child’s personality emerge?
- Use the Calendar: (school year or calendar year) this past year, what were some special moments you shared with your child? A family trip, a birthday, or perhaps a perfectly ordinary Saturday morning. Go through the months or by season and recall what happened when and what was special about those days or events.
- Today Is the Day: describe all that you love, admire, and respect about your child. What makes your child a special, unique person? Let those attributes and behaviours unfold into your thoughts on your relationship and your gratitude for it.
- Start with a prompt:
- I remember the time when you X …
- I remember the time when I Z’d and you U’d.
- One of the things I love about you is R.
- This year, you grew so much. You learned how to X, Y, and Z.
- The day you were born, I X’d …
- On X date this year, you said to me …
Pictures & Words Together Make Lasting Memories
My friend and photographer Emily D. has created a photo book project for parents that serves as a love letter in pictures for their children. You provide a one-page letter and 20 images, and she edits the images and puts them into a beautiful hard-cover keepsake book.
I have joined with Emily to help her community write letters from the heart to accompany their images by providing the instructions and some tips for getting the love letter to your child that feels just right.
If you are interested in getting a book for your family or as a gift for a spouse or grandparent, click here (please note, she is updating the photo book project area of her site and will have it finished presently, but you can get on her list and be alerted to when you can purchase this meaningful keepsake).
Time moves too quickly, but as writers, we can pause in a moment and make it meaningful both during the writing and forever. Writing a love letter to your child is one of the most beautiful ways of connecting with your own sense of love and is an opportunity amidst the busy-ness of life to pause and give yourself a moment of gratitude and grace. Something we all definitely need.
*Remember, we’re here to help you out as a second pair of eyes for any letter you’d like to keep for posterity, frame, or make into a book. A quick budget-friendly proofread will ensure you’ve said what you wished in ways that are clear and clean. We’re happy to help!