After her mother died, a colleague found a letter tucked away in her mother’s jewelry box. Here’s her discovery:
- I found a letter two weeks after my mom died that she had written to my two brothers and me. Although I had seen this sealed letter in my mother’s jewelry box earlier, I never opened it since I could see it was something she only wanted us to read in her passing. In that letter, she shared her feelings and values she wanted us to remember. It still brings tears to my eyes, but I am so thankful she wrote it!
Have you expressed your heart’s important thoughts, desires, and feelings to your adult children? I have retained a few letters from my mother in which she shares her regrets about how she raised me, recognized my gifts and talents, and indicated how much she loved me. Unfortunately, I don’t have any letters from my father. It’s not uncommon among fathers because many men struggle to express their emotions.
How many of us have an emptiness due to the failure of one or the other parents to tell us how much they love us and what we mean to them? We can often recollect the critical parental messages we have received but sometimes can’t find the words of affirmation we never heard. Although we can’t go back and get our parents to say what we wanted them to – especially if they have died – let’s not make the same mistake with our own children. A heartfelt letter to them is a precious gift we can all give.
Sharing Your Thoughts & Feelings
As I say in my book, Love to Let Go, when we are attempting to launch our adult children in a healthy and successful way, sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings for them is an important step in the process. The expressions we can offer them may include things we wish we had said or wanted to say but held back due to fear about how they might be received. It is important that we give voice to how much we care about, appreciate, and love them. Yet, it is common for many of us to hold back when it comes to communicating our emotions to our adult children. It can be difficult for me because of my stoic Amish heritage. Heaven forbid I praise or compliment someone and contribute to their sin of pride! It doesn’t come easily to me, but I know I must consciously remind myself to communicate my love to the most important people in my life, especially my children.
If you are still willing to articulate your feelings for them, other ways exist to accomplish this mission. One way is to use a unique way or venue so the message sticks. For example, you could go on a road trip. Or you could go for a hike to a special place where you can take a few moments to tell them how much they mean to you. Another way is to give them something of personal value to remember the loving conversation you initiated. I remember reading a letter to my son while having breakfast at a Perkins Restaurant and seeing a tear run down his face. It’s an intimate moment I will always cherish. Their graduation, leaving home for work, or some adventure like a skip year, are all wonderful opportunities to share your love for them. You could slip a letter into their backpack.
What to Share
You may say, okay, I get the value in this exercise, but what do I say? Here are some suggestions for what you can share.
- What you most enjoyed about them when they were children.
- One or two memories that stand out about your time with them growing up.
- Regrets you might have as a parent for which you need to apologize.
- Actions or words you have said that you, or they, believe were hurtful and for which you would like to ask their forgiveness.
- Harmful actions or words for which they have apologized that you must forgive.
- What you wish you could do over as a parent.
- What you most appreciated about them as a person.
- Ways in which they have been a blessing to you, helped you, or taught you lessons.
- What you hope for them in the future.
- What you hope they will remember about you.
- What you want them to know if you never see them again.
- Most of all, how much you love them.
Whether you share these letters or talk to them, make sure you speak from the heart. Take time to connect to your deepest self. If you have difficulty going inward to uncover your feelings, you can go back and look at albums and relive the experiences with your son or daughter. What emotions do these pictures evoke? Carry these feelings forward into your current communication to them. Be authentic, honest, transparent, and vulnerable. As Brene Brown and other experts in interpersonal relationships say, vulnerability is the language of intimacy. Let your young adult know who you are inside, including your shortcomings, mistakes, regrets, and inadequacies. Such sharing invites your young adult to respond in kind. It will help you to build a deeper connection with them. Find a way to inspire your young adult to be who you believe they can be. Paint a picture of who they are now and who they could be in the future. But avoid being prescriptive by saying things like, “I see you becoming a lawyer.”
Put Pen to Paper
One final suggestion. If you send written communication, put pen to paper. In her book Write for Your Life, author Anna Quindlen says, “Something written by hand brings a singular human presence that the typewriter or the computer cannot confer.” My mother passed before I found her letters. Yet in a way, she was right there with me as I read them because I could still envision her ninety-plus aged hand shaking as she wrote heartfelt words of her love for me. I cherish the letters from my mother, just as your son or daughter will if you take the time to speak from the heart. Find a time to share your affection for them while you are alive, but keep a copy you can leave as a legacy. It is important that you leave no doubt about your abiding feelings for them.