Teacher Talk: Your homework: Write a letter to your kid

Missives can be a 'some-day gift' to your child when they go off to college or marry

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

As the parent of an adopted child, I write a letter to the birth mother a couple of times a year, waxing eloquently about our mutual child. The letter is all about school, sports, music, the cute things and the current struggles with math or zits or new glasses.

It seems a normal thing for me to do, as it is a commitment I made to the birth mother years ago on that very first birthday when we left the hospital with an hours-old infant. I promised her that she would always know how things were going. I include photos with this letter, and I wonder what she thinks of us when she sees them.

Another adoptive parent once told me that one of the nice things about adoption is that if your kid does something great you can say it must be the 'nurturing,' and if your kid does something not-so great you can say it must be their 'nature.' And while that thought helps me keep my balance sometimes, it may also be a useful thought for all parents and teachers to remember, as we are alternately proud and struggling with our children and students.

Adoptive parents may not quite give themselves complete permission to own the parenting process. I think that may be a good thing, because it keeps you humble and it keeps you questioning. Perhaps maybe all parents do this, I don't know. I have also heard that a wise parent keeps a bit in reserve as you never know when you may get that phone call saying that your darling child just rode their motorcycle through the halls of the school.

I am also a teacher of the students that rarely succeed in the traditional way. I remind myself daily, sometimes hourly, that they are someone's child. I am always delighted with the end of the school year because I get to look back at how much they have grown - academically, socially and physically. I remember that there is 'nurture' and 'nature' in every child and in every day and that it takes a great deal of time to raise a great child into a mature person.

I wish more of my parents, especially the parents of my at-risk students, would take the time to see their kids/my students as if they were not quite their own. It could be an effective stress reliever when you are ready to pull out your hair over forgotten homework (again) or that messy room (again). What would you say? How has your child grown in the past six months? What has he or she worked on or mastered, and what are they working on now?

I keep a copy of these letters that I send to the birth mother for my child. I don't know if my child will value these letters later in life, but I hope so. In the meantime the writing process is valuable for me as a parent. I look back at the last letter I wrote, and I realize that there has been growth; there has been change. We are at a new level and dealing with new challenges, and most of those new challenges are fun and all are age appropriate. As a teacher, it reminds me that when I am in a room full of students of a similar age range that the craziness is all age appropriate - and fun when you think about it.

So parents, this is your homework tonight from this teacher: Write your child a letter. Tell them what they are good at. Then make a date with yourself every six months or so to write a letter and save it for your child to read. It will be a some-day 'gift' as they go off to college, get married, have kids of their own or even if they decide to run away. Keep it on your computer and remind yourself to do it again and again. Tuck those letters away to be found years and years from now. It will be a treasure for your child, and it will help you stay sane and happy right now.

• Jo Dahl teaches all subjects in seventh through 12th grades at the Johnson Youth Center.

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