Last Christmas, our five "kids," now grown with children of their own, gave me a gift that quickly reduced me to tears. It was one of those priceless treasures that come into one's life rarely, but at the same time bring a flood of reward for past efforts.
Their gift to me was a large album filled with a long letter from each of them, giving me the gift of their hearts.
In their homes far-flung across the country, they had tried to put in words what they remembered and treasured about my parenting.
On Mother's Day for several years in a row, I received another such "book of books" from one child. It was filled with written clips recollecting qualities she seemed to value in me along with pen and ink "snapshots" of moments we had shared during her childhood. I was glad to recognize that, many years ago, I may have started this transmitting of feelings through the written word.
I hadn't realized my children understood some of the turmoil I had gone through when balancing my desire to stay at home to meet their needs against society's demand in the late 1960s and early '70s for me to prove myself as a woman who had gifts to share with the world.
In some ways, I am not surprised they chose to express their appreciation this way. It was just such a method that I frequently used over the years when I needed to let a child know he or she was loved in spite of momentary outbursts of temper and angry words between us.
After appropriate corrective or punitive steps had been taken, I would often go to my room and let my pen communicate the heartfelt words I would have wanted to say. When the tongue sometimes runs out of control, there is a need to set things straight, to regain a balance, to right a wrong. At such times, I found writing a letter brought mutual understanding and respect back into our relationship.
It was an accepted rule that we never spoke to each other about "the letter." I simply slipped it under a darkened door. It was consumed, digested in quiet moments, and sometimes saved. Often, after a short time, a letter would mysteriously appear under my door, too. Thus, we both knew that despite a transgression, misunderstanding, or angry moment, love for one another was preserved.
One day I went into a son's room to look for some clue as to his sudden strange behavior and found instead my many letters encouraging him to "come home" mentally and leave drugs and alcohol behind. It was another of those rare moments. Besides finding every one of my many carefully crafted letters, I found every birthday and special card given to him by each family member. Obviously, family was a positive force, secretly tucked away in a drawer and unacknowledged, but quietly at work. And those letters, along with a family who prayed for one another, won the day and he was freed to be himself once again.
Now it was my turn to be the recipient of these carefully chosen words of appreciation. Letter writing has saved many a day, many a relationship, and whether sent by e-mail, fax, or US mail, is a habit worth cultivating. Our close-knit family is proof.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society