Family Mailbox

The day I knew the vet was coming to put my old horse to sleep, I found this note taped to the steering wheel of my Jeep:

I know today will be rough for you and you’ll probably cry a whole bunch. I’ll try and stay out of your way. Just remember all the fun you had with Chica and what a neat horse she was and how she liked to nibble on your hat. But most of all, remember how much I love you.
Love always, your only son, Ryan
P.S. I’ll do the dishes tonight without being asked.

My son, at the age of ten, had already learned the tremendous power of the written word. Those heartfelt words of love stayed in my mind long after I had said goodbye to Chica and dried my tears.

Our family mailbox began as a game to keep the kids occupied while I worked at home. They would deliver letters to me under my office door, and somehow, I didn’t feel as interrupted as when I heard their voices. I’d answer them and slide them back out into the hallway where they waited. As the kids got older, the letter writing continued from child to child. They taped envelopes on their bedroom doors for mailboxes and checked them each day for any “messages.”

But when my son left me a personal letter that showed he knew what I was going through, I decided that “mailbox” could be more than just a game. The constant interruptions by my children while I was working at home always made me angry when they needed my understanding and made me unwilling to listen when they had something important to say. The Family Mailbox helped alleviate many of our frustrations. In addition, it has helped teach my children the power of the written word and improved all of our communication skills.

I put four glass canisters in the kitchen with each person’s name on them. Close by I placed paper, pens, envelopes, and even a dictionary. I told my children there were no rules to the letter writing except to try and make themselves understood clearly. It was okay to be mad but they had to be able to explain why they felt that way.

Now when we have something to say to one another, the kind of things we find difficult to say outloud, we write a letter. Things like:

I don’t think it’s fair that I have to do more chores than Jennifer, even if she is younger. Ryan

I’m sorry you think your chores are unfair, but you still have to do them. When Jennifer gets bigger, maybe you two can turns on the hard stuff. Mom.

Why did you yell at me for eating all the candy? Mom ate the last four pieces and you can even ask her. Jennifer

You were right and I was wrong. I’m sorry. Love Dad.

If you want to know what happened to your sunglasses, I ran over them with my bike. But it was an accident. Please don’t be mad at me. Sorry. Jennifer

I’m not mad anymore. I should have put my sunglasses in my room, anyway. Ryan.

Thanks for cleaning out the silverware drawer. It was such a nice surprise. Love Mom

I heard you got a B on your science project. Good job. I know how hard you worked. Love, Dad

Validation, ego strokes and even gentle slaps on the hand are easier to take or dish out via the family mailbox. Letters are a great way to sound off about what’s unfair without worry of repercussions or compliment a sibling without an audience. Important negotiations for chore trading and special privileges often take place via the mailbox with the added benefit of having written proof of what was and wasn’t promised.

My children like having something tangible to hold on to as opposed to trying to remember exactly what was said. Compliments seem to last longer when they can pin them to their bulletin board to see whenever they want.

So now when one of my children come running in to complain about some injustice they feel they have suffered at the hands of the others, I tell them to go write me a letter instead.

Best of all, my kids have learned that letter writing makes everyone feel good.

Like this one I got just the other day.

I’m so glad you got your new horse, Sheikh. He’s lots of fun. I love him almost as much as I love you.
Love always, your only daughter, Jennifer.

This article and other various versions of it have been previously published in: Northwest Baby & Child and Parenting Insights.

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