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Snail Mail Works

Grandma Lee Writes to Her Grandchildren

“While reading Jackie's book Hooray for Parenting! I got the idea of writing my grandchildren letters. They live far away and I miss seeing them in person, particularly during the pandemic. The idea for writing letters didn't come as much from specific guidelines or suggestions in the book (though I benefited from reading them) but from an overall sense of here is a good way to interact with my four grandchildren, ages 9, 13, 12, and 15. Writing is slower than Zooming. The children could spend some time thinking and talking to me rather than looking at fast-changing images on a screen. And they could look at what they had written and think about them a second (or maybe a third) time.

At first I was a little dissatisfied with some of the responses because they seemed superficial. ("I play with my friends outside" or "I got a fill-in-the-blank for my birthday.") One set of parents noticed the same thing and may have talked to their children about it. The next letters were more thoughtful. Also my questions were probably better. One grandson told me he preferred in-person classes to online and gave me good reasons. Since I'm a writer, written expression is important to me. I was very pleased to see him use a more descriptive vocabulary, and told him how much I like his writing. (He prefers in-person classes. Some thoughts, he said, were recycled.)

With another grandchild I write bits of poetry and leave blanks for the rhyming words. I think this encourages her to look at words and use them carefully, a slow and thoughtful process. Another grandchild, in an installment of an ongoing story we've been writing, referred to seven baby raccoons, tiny and crying, and next to them, a very bony, furry bandit and a rusty can of tuna fish. (The story developed from real-life raccoons who were living under our front porch. I sent cellphone photos. This interested the grandkids.)

Maybe because I'm a writer, I focus on slow and careful thinking more than psychological issues. Screen time goes by so fast. Letter-writing helps me do what I hope my grandchildren can do in their lives: reflect on actions and meaning. Become more and more self-aware. Noticing what we're grateful for is part of this awareness. Jackie's approach to listening and encouraging a parent-child relationship based on appreciation for the child's identity interests me because it slows down interactions and encourages well-paced self-reflection in a speeded-up world. For me, letter-writing is the difference between watching stuff go by fast on screens as contrasted with thinking individually and developing confidence in the ability to observe, experience appropriate gratitude, and come to conclusions of one's own. Gratitude helps me slow down and care about people and ideas. Saying and thinking thank you helps me do something that does not always come easily: look for the best in others, including, of course, my grandchildren and their parents. From the distance, this is how I show love and appreciation for my family."

- Marlene Lee,

So often grandparents underestimate the importance of their relationship with their grandkids. One doesn’t need to be physically close to make a significant difference. Marlene’s idea of writing letters was extraordinary, and I can guarantee that her grandkids will never forget it. Just her invitation to exchange letters is a gift that helps the kids connect to what Marlene values and who she is. The letter writing has obviously sparked thoughtfulness, self-expression and the creativity of putting words to paper. The positive lifelong impact of encouraging your kids to write letters and/or thank you notes to grandparents, as well as to teachers, aunts and uncles etc. should not be underestimated. - Jackie


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