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Life As A Single Parent: Writing Love Letters to My Sons

Many, many years ago when I was a fierce single mom with two wild and crazy boys, (yeah, it’s ok if you want to feel sorry for that stage of my life) I often felt I was just surviving each day. Truth be told, I likely was, as I was in charge of raising the boys almost 100 percent on my own, working full-time (and then some), running a household, and managing a yard.

Life was nuts.

Documenting My Sons’ Lives as a Single Mother

On top of all of that, I was genuinely concerned that we were missing out on our lives – that running all over every day meant I wasn’t really being in the moment. And, if that was true, how on earth would the boys and I be able to look back and have memories of their childhoods? Would we primarily remember racing to daycare, soccer, and the grocery store?

Because I am an overachiever, I also worried about the trauma of divorce on my young children’s psyche.

Throw all of this together and it’s one heavy wet blanket.

But this story doesn’t end there. Somewhere in my ruminating brain, I came up with an idea. I had been a consistent journal writer most of my life, even though that abated quite a bit when I became a mother. I loved the idea of scrapbooking but abhorred the thought of all of the supplies (which, let’s be real, I couldn’t afford anyway).

With the determination to document at least part of their lives, I fashioned an idea: I made a promise to myself that every year, on each boy’s birthday, I would write that son a letter. The letter would talk about his life right then. What he loved doing, who his favorite friends were, the songs we sang to in the car, the attributes I admired in him. It would be a mini-time capsule. And instead of giving the letter to my son as soon as I wrote it, I’d tuck it away.

And so it began, this new tradition of mine.

A Family Tradition

At first, I had to write a reminder on my calendar or the birthday time would slip by me, but eventually, it became a fun new habit. I had a blast capturing the year for each son.

To awaken memories, before I started each letter I would sift through photographs and artwork, and as the boys got older, school papers and memorabilia.

Now, I can’t say I did this perfectly. There were a couple years here and there where there was no birthday letter. I have gone over this time and time again, and I cannot remember what the reasons were. Likely there was some chaos that had me trying to get over some life hump rather than practicing this precious tradition.

As I write this, my boys are 21 and 19. And guess what? I still haven’t given them their letters. I’m not sure why; I likely just haven’t settled on a way to present them. Find a large enough wooden box? Tie up all the letters with twine? I can’t come up with a solution that feels right, and so we wait.

I also never settled on an age to end the letters. I’ve just kept going and loving the experience.

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Truth be told, I’m a little jealous of what they have waiting for them. I’d deeply love a collection of letters about the girl I used to be and her favorite things. But instead, this will be one of those joyful situations where I will give the gift, then sit back and revel in my sons’ surprise and delight at revisiting their childhoods. It will be a moment in which I can heartily celebrate a job well done.

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.

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