Letters to My Kids 101

Let’s say you’re ready to make the big leap. You’re going to record your family history for – in effect, write letters to – your kids.

Good for you. Nothing like committing yourself to an high-priority personal project to shore up the soul.

Still, right around now you might be asking yourself some questions about how to go about documenting this history.

Where should I start?

Should I go randomly or chronologically?

How do I say to my kids what I want to say?

How can I make it memorable?

And so on, into infinity and beyond .

Well, all I can tell you is how I went about it. I devoted two years to keeping journals for both our kids, compiling more than 100 vignettes, amounting to nearly 70,000 words, all of which last year started to appear in this blog. From my experience I probably gleaned some lessons that I can now turn into a useful tip or two for you.

Even so, I claim no special expertise here. I’ve never studied the art and science of family history, much less published my findings in a scholarly journal. If you’re looking for a proven formula, or a prescription of some kind, or gospel graven in marble, you probably came to the wrong guy.My only expertise is my experience.

But right now I will offer you some advice I consider key. And that’s this: Go at it more or less however you wish. After all, I’m me and you’re you.

For example, you might write letters to your kids using a quill pen to capture your memories in a leather-bound volume, all by scented candlelight. Then again, you might be inclined to videotape your recollections, or chronicle your life by means of a podcast, or start a blog, or a vlog, or text a message a day, or issue tweets.

Hey, it’s your call.

You might want to start your letters to your kids in the present and work backwards in time. Or to begin at the beginning and bring the story forward. Or jump around from year to year with flashbacks and flash-forwards.

Again, that’s your prerogative.

You might write letters to your kids with the merriest of hearts, brimming with love and understanding and compassion and even wisdom. Or, on the other hand, you might prefer to look back on your life in anger, unleashing all the bile and bitterness at your command. Or both. Or neither.

To thine own self be true, and all that.

Here’s my point: you’re going to have to do this on your own. That’s just a fact. And what that means is that you’ll have to find the approach that best suits you.

If you’re feeling French today, please feel free to call this strategy laissez faire (“a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action,” says definition).

Still, I’m going to take a crack at being of service to you here. It’s kind of my job, really. So over the next few days, I’ll be posting some advice about writing letters to your kids – a six-part series that shares my top 10 tips. Call it a starter kit if you like, a do-it-yourself kind of deal. How to decide what to write. How to find the time. How to do justice to your memories.

Please regard these tips as nothing more than guidelines, meant only to make this easier going for you. My aim is simple: to help you – at least any of you who night need a little help – to get going in the right direction.

Again, this is your life we’re talking about. You know your life better than anyone else — it’s your turf; you can rightly claim absolute sovereignty – and you get to tell your story as you please. You’re the true authority, the last word here, so you get final cut.

So go with your gut. That’s my only real edict. Do what comes naturally. Soon enough you’ll get into a groove.

And if you’re lucky, you might even find your true voice. A voice your children will hear loud and clear and cherish for the ages.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

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