I Write Letters to My 8-Year-Old So I Can Reach Her When She’s Grown

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This mom writes letters to her young daughter, to be read in the future. (Photo: Eden Strong)
This mom writes letters to her young daughter, to be read in the future. (Photo: Eden Strong)

To kick off the week leading up to Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life — the highly anticipated revival of the quirky, poignant mother-daughter series that everyone, it seems, will be cozying up to on Thanksgiving night (12:01 a.m. on Nov. 25, to be precise) — we’ll be celebrating some cool moms we know, and the parenting styles that are uniquely their own, through a weeklong essay series, #MyMomStyle. 

My daughter is 8 years old, and I’ve written her a letter every month since before she was born — that’s 204 so far. I’d like to say that my letters exist simply to tell her how amazing she is and what a wonderful job I’m doing to raise her, but if I told you that, well, then I’d be lying.

“It’s scary to think that it’s my job to raise you, and I hope that one day you can understand that I did the best I could. I’m only twenty-five and I don’t have all the answers.”

Although it’s true that she is amazing (I may be biased, but I’m OK with that), my attempts at productive parenting don’t always turn out exactly how I’d like, and because of that, I often fail in ways that I’m not proud of.

I had this vision of what being a parent would be like, but then my daughter was born, and as many parents can attest, I got the reality check of a lifetime. Yet as she’s grown, I’ve been busy growing in my own mothering way, and part of that growth came with the unpleasant acceptance that I will never have all the answers, and that sometimes I will fail.

“I knew, just by looking at you, that you were going to grow up and do great things, because even though I barely knew you, I already knew how wonderful you were. But having a child that’s so amazing and wonderful … well, that’s a lot of pressure for a new mom like me.”

Sometimes I fail to meet the learning curve in where I’d like to be and where I actually am. But as a parent with a child looking to me to make all things right, I don’t have the option to give up, even when things get tough. So here I am, eight-plus years into writing to my daughter, and although most of my letters contain praises being showered over her accomplishments, I’ll sheepishly admit that some of my letters are also sprinkled with the tears that I shed during the times when parenting got especially difficult.

“I have a million fears of ways that I might fail you, and only two ways to promise you that I will try my best not to: that I will always love you and that I will never leave you. Everything else in the middle, we will have to figure out together.”

There are nights I’d find myself writing about how lost I felt in raising her, and how unsure I was in what the next step was to take. I’d tell her my fears, and about how scared I was to make the wrong choice. But then, maybe a day or even a month later, I’d find myself penning another letter, chatting to her in a way that I hope she might one day understand, telling her that when I had felt her little hand squeezing mine, it had given me the courage to take that next step in our journey.

Because as scary as parenting can be at times, I can’t just stay where I am; she is growing, and she needs me to go grow alongside of her. Yet I know that there’s a day coming when she will pull her hand free from mine and go running down that path alone. She won’t want me by her side anymore when she suddenly “realizes” that she knows everything and I know nothing. The day she decides that my clothes are goofy and I sing too loud in the car. When I embarrass her in front of her friends, make her wear a coat when “it’s not even cold,” and try to reason with her about why her “wonderful” boyfriend may not really be that wonderful after all.

That day will come, and I’ve been preparing for it since before she was even born, because I know that when that day arrives, she won’t want to hear anything that I have to say.

“I’m struggling to find the right way to handle this and it’s upsetting as I see the first big challenge for our mother daughter team; the first time we are on opposite sides and are so far apart that I can’t feel our hands touching.”

So on that day, when she’s locked in her room and mad at the world, struggling to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, and I’m standing on the other side of that door desperately trying to find a way to help the baby girl I live to protect, well, I’m hoping that if I can — even for a moment —remind her that I have always been there, and I always will be, that I might be able to find a way to reach her.

She may not see it right then, and she may not want my advice, but it won’t stop me from standing on the other side of her door, and slipping my book of letters underneath it. So she can see for herself the words that bring life to her mother in a way that children are often too busy to see, and learn that you don’t always need all the answers to take the next step — especially when you don’t have to take that next step alone; the advice that I’d love for her to take, even if she never wants me to know that she was listening at all.

What started out as a way for me to show her what she was like as a child has turned into the story of what it was like to grow as her mother, and in turn show her that I will always be there to help her find the answers, because it’s what I’ve always done. It’s not as scary to navigate the unknown when you go through it with someone who will never leave you lost.

I may not always be able to reach her in the ways that I’d like, but I will never leave her lost.

I don’t always have all the answers, and I don’t have a map for the road that I know we will one day take, but I do have my letters — letters to her, which I hope can someday help to bring her back home.

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