A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my youngest child, my son Douglas, off at college. He chose a school across the country. For him to get back home will involve a 5-hour plane ride plus three hours on a bus to get to the airport.
I am lucky. I had the opportunity to take him to move into his dorm and help him set up his room. We flew together, rented a car and then made the rounds of Target for bedding, The Container Store for storage and the grocery store for snacks.
We drove north listening to his music as he chatted about why he liked the piece or who the artist was. I loved being in that car with him sharing that precious time. I resisted my natural urge to give advice, recite a to-do list for when we arrived, think ahead. I wanted to just be in that moment.
After moving in, setting up and hugging and saying goodbye, I (reluctantly) got back into the car and drove south to the airport and my cross-country flight. But before I left I slipped a letter into his top drawer for him to find the next day.
I have written many letters to Douglas, especially as he has gotten older and the opportunities for direct conversation, just him and me, have diminished with school work, his activities, friends and summer jobs taking up his time.
I have written to him often – for example to celebrate birthdays, or when he headed off for a semester away or for a solo experience in the desert, when he graduated from high school and for each leg of the gap year he took between high school and college. I wanted him to feel supported as he ventured into adulthood, and by writing, I was able to say things to him he may have felt awkward listening to in person. Writing has also allowed me to share stories, family history and traditions, values, words of wisdom and love with him without lecturing.
What is a Legacy Letter?
These letters have given me the opportunity to recognize and name the values and wisdom I see and admire in my son, and to encourage him to stay true to himself as he ventures out into the world. I call these letters Legacy Letters and they are tangible objects, things that he can and will return to again and again.
What if you could give your child something tangible that would make them see and feel all the love you have for them, the ways you admire and encourage them and let them hear your voice when they need it the most? You can do just that by writing them a Legacy Letter. Whether the letter is sent their first year of college or in high school or when they move to another city to start their first job, these letters are powerful. Imagine your son, daughter, niece, godchild needing a boost before a test or big presentation at work and reading a letter reminding them of their grit. Or, imagine that in a moment of homesickness or after a bad day, they could feel you close by, reading your expressions of love.
How to Start Writing a Legacy Letter
Think about the person you are writing to. Take time to picture them, flip through memories and stories about them. What do you admire about them? What do you love about them? Keep this in mind and ask yourself these questions:
How do I want the reader to feel?
I wanted Douglas to feel loved but also that I had confidence in him to find his own way.
How do I want to feel when my recipient reads the letter?
I wanted to feel that I had supported my son and that he felt my love and admiration.
What do I want to say or share? What values, wisdom, traditions and love do I want to share? What values do you already see in the recipient? What values do you want them to bring to the world?
Reminding him of times he was successful by being brave and choosing his own path might help him to try something new and scary. Telling him the story of how he has been such a good and true friend and that his bonds with his friends are stronger and sweeter as a result might help him reach out and form new friendships.
What have you learned that may help them make their way? What traditions have you shared—how will you maintain them?
We have many silly nicknames and corny jokes we share, reminding him of these may help him remember to use humor to connect and add lightness when he is down.
What stories of struggles and resilience can you share?
I can share how I was much less prepared for college than he is, but by effort and finding adult mentors I learned how to be a student and thrived.
What stories can you think of that illustrate the values, wisdom, traditions and love you want to share? Tell the stories. Then tell why you chose those stories, why they are important. One of the keys to a powerful Legacy Letter is to resist giving advice and being prescriptive. Show with your stories what you want to say. Do you want them to work hard, tell them a story of a time they were super successful because of their effort. Do you want them to try something new, remind them of the time they tried soccer and ended up being a starter and making great friends.
And finally, and so important, share your love.
When I put the letter in his drawer, I left knowing that I had shared my love, admiration and encouragement in a way Douglas could feel whenever he wanted or needed it. Even though I would be a continent away, he would be able to hear my voice. And, his text the next day “thanks Mom for the note,” may have been short, but I knew I had added one more touch point of connection and deepened the bonds between us with that letter.
Want to learn how to deepen connections through a Legacy Letter? It’s simple and fun with my Deepening Connections eBook. I’ll show you step-by-step how to write Legacy Letters so that you can create a deeper, more meaningful, and lasting bond with any of your loved ones at any time.