Letters to Her Future Self

When we started this adventure I knew I wanted my kids to keep a record of their experiences here in France. They each have a journal, plus assorted notebooks and sketchbooks, but I can’t say anyone in the family (including me) is a great pen and pencil journal writer. So we came up with a plan. I registered new email addresses for any of the interested kids. Without sharing the real addresses, I’ll tell you they’re along the lines of maude2012@yahoo.com.

The kids write emails to their new addresses whenever they feel like it. When something cool happens, when they get frustrated, when they end up in the hospital(!) for 4 days. My hope is that this is easier than a blog, something they don’t feel compelled to add pictures or links to, or share with an audience. The plan is to open all the email when we get back and find a fun record of their year in France. At that point, they can turn the emails into a book, or just keep the digital record. Either way, I think it will be great for them to re-discover their year abroad through their own letters.

Do you do journals and diaries at your house? Paper or digital? Any tips for encouraging kids to keep a journal? (And yes, Maude is getting better everyday. She’s still in bed, but look! there’s a little color in her cheeks. Hooray!)

62 thoughts on “Letters to Her Future Self”

  1. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m having struggles of keeping a journal myself and this is such a great idea. Make sure you check out futureme.org, too. Super fun way to send *surprise* messages to yourself in the future.

  2. Awesome idea! What a great, easy way to document such a fabulous time of your lives. Have you heard of futureme.org? Similar concept, but it’s more of a one-time thing, not so good for journaling/easy access. At any rate, glad Maude is getting better!

  3. Your idea certainly takes the pressure off of looking/sounding perfect…and that’s what a journal is supposed to do!

    This past school year I had my sophomore English students write letters to their future selves. They thought about memories to pass on, advice to give, messages to old friends, etc. I’m holding on to them and returning them when the kiddos finish senior English. Some of them won’t care, but I know that some will.

    1. My son’s English teacher did the same thing, but mailed it to him five years later. What a fun surprise!

  4. The first thing i do when i go into a bookstore is look at the journals. I love paper/pen journals rather than electronic because i think handwriting shows a lot about how you are feeling that type loses.

    However, once you lose/ruin your real journal it is gone forever…

    1. The paper/digital question is such a stuggle for me! I’m drawn to the tactile quality of paper, but end up with a collection of beautiful, but empty, books.

  5. I do this too. I write emails to myself and make them all about my kids & family–sort of like journal entries. No pressure..just whenever I want to write something for them remember. I keep them in a file called “Letters to My Family”.

  6. I have kept a journal of sorts all my life and tried to inspire my children to do the same. I began (age 10) with little diaries, then hand-written journals, then typed journals, and now of course, electronic journals. However, I still print out the electronic pages and keep them in a binder. There is just something about holding a binder (book) in your hands that cannot be felt holding a laptop (electronic notebook). But I do love all the wonderful “new” ways of journaling. Great idea you’ve blogged about here, Gabrielle! And I’m sure you’ll get lots of ideas from your followers, too.

  7. Digital media rocks! :)

    This is the way I do most of my journaling. But I do this to my regular email and label them so that I can find them all doing a quick search on my gmail.

  8. Sandra Gonzales

    That’s a wonderful way to remember all the little details at a later date.

    I’m so glad to see your cherished one doing well. And by the way, I’m not surprised your kids are cute even when they’re sick.

  9. I have never been ankle to keep a journal, but I think you are right about the digital format being different. I started a blog when my daughter was born to keep relatives informed of her developments. It has now become how I record all the things I do with her and for our family. I really love documenting my own adventures and looking back at then after some time has past. I am also amazed that others, outside of our family sigm to be enjoying it too. The blog gets somewhere over 100 his a month from people I don’t know who want to see what we are making.

  10. They’ll really treasure these!

    On my birthday, I write letters to myself 10 years from now. I talk about what I’m doing in the present and ask myself if I’m keeping up with the ideals and hopes I’ve laid out for myself. I open my letters as the corresponding birthday comes up. I’ve been doing this since I was about 14 and it’s really fun to read them and see how I’ve grown and changed.

  11. Brilliant idea! I love a journal, but I find I don’t pick it up very often. I tried to keep a journal for my son when he was born and it quickly became the last thing I ever got to, so000….my blog was created. It’s my scrapbook/photo album/journal to and for my son. I love that I can do so much in one place, but yes…emails keep it simple. Love it!

    Glad Maude is feeling more herself! Take care!

  12. Two great resources we use for this are FutureMe.org and OhLife. Future Me lets you write an email to yourself that will be delivered on a date specified by you. My husband writes to his future self every year on his birthday and it’s always a fun birthday surprise to see what he told himself from a year ago. OhLife is a personal, non-public journal. I get an email every night at 8pm that asks, “How did your day go?”. I reply to the email, and it is saved in my Oh Life journal. I like that it’s not public, like a blog, and that it prompts me each day so I don’t forget – like I tend to do with the beautiful paper journals sitting on my nightstand! :)

  13. As a teacher, I think it’d be awesome if you gave your kids (who are interested) a question to answer or some sort of topic to focus on if they were feeling up to the challenge.

    For example, you could ask them before a weekend trip: What do you think you will see, hear, do, smell, taste this weekend? What dreams do you have for just these next two days?

    This way, your kids will feel inspired before their adventures even begin!

  14. I’m so glad to see Maude back home (or the hospitals in France are way more homey than those here in MO)! I’m glad she’s on the mend.

    Also, this is a fantastic idea for any trip. It is strangely easier to compose an email, than to write in a journal and more private as well. I will be copying this idea to keep a journal of my daughter’s life until she’s old enough to do it herself. Thanks!

  15. What a fantastic idea – this is definitely something I’m going to be copying and enlisting for my kids [when they learn to type ;)].
    PS – So glad Maude is feeling better!

  16. That’s an awesome idea! I have a couple blogs, but since I started blogging about 5 years ago, I’ve become the world’s worst journal-er. I spend so much time on the computer, it seems easy to just email myself. It might also be a good way for me to journal for my 3 year-old daughter. (i’ve never been good at that!) I’m going to start this today!

    My 7th grade teacher had us write letters to ourselves that he mailed us when we graduated high school. It was hilarious (and embarrassing) to read what I had written as a 13 year-old, but it made me realize how much I had grown and learned.

  17. One thing I really love about this idea is that by writing one email there’s no option to spend all that time going over past pages – crossing out what you think is bad writing, ripping out pages as easily embarrassed teens are wont to do, etc.

    And yes, I think Maude looks like a mini-you!

  18. i LOVVVVVVE this idea! been following you for a long time but this is my first comment :) you’re so inspiring, thanks for sharing!

  19. Hehe yes I’ve been writing a letter (on the computer!) to myself as well… I’ve written on my 18th and 21st birthdays, and every single new year’s week and birthday month I add something to it… :)

    I plan to read it all on my 50th birthday… let’s see… haha :D

  20. I love this idea. We do something similar in our family. My grandfather started it when my dad was a kid. He would write him a letter and send it to him at his school so that it would be delivered to his classroom on the last day of school. The letter would talk about all the things he did that year. My dad carried on the tradition with my sister and me, and now I’m doing the same for my kids. I also use Kidlee.com (a site my husband and I built) to write notes to my kids and keep track of all the precious and hilarious things I want to remember and to show them when they’re older. (Glad she’s feeling better!)

  21. What a great idea! Has summer vacation started in France. I know school just got out last Friday. Hope your family has many fun adventures.

  22. I am so glad to hear that your daughter is getting better and color is returning to her cheeks!! yay! I think that the idea of your kids writing emails for a journal is absolutley wonderful!! I love it! I think since it’s on the computer..which is fun…and typing…which is fun…it’s a lot more easier for them to do than writing it out by hand. I haven’t had my children write a journal, but I would really like to try to get them to…it would be great for them to be able to look back on when they are much older. I still have my diary that I started when I was about maybe 10 years old. Man, I was really boy crazy and it is so funny to read the things that I wrote! I also have been keeping a journal on and off since I was about 19 years old..I am now about to turn 41. I definitely think it is important to carry on doing it and plan on giving the journals to my kids when i am very old and grey. I don’t get real personal or divulge any secrets about family members or myself..but I do write about my daily life…what I did that day, my garden, sometimes my feelings about when I am upset with my husband, {their Dad}, nothing bad, just my feelings, trying to keep it real, organic and authentic without being weird or embarrassing. I have talked about pregnancies, fears, aspirations, wedding, surgeries, family deaths…all kinds of things. I really think that one day these will be a treasure for my boys to read.

  23. It would be so fun to create a word cloud with all the emails. Then you could frame it and have a memory of this experience in your house.

  24. this is a great idea, but when family members are no longer with us we will always want to see ‘their handwriting’ I think. I know people who handwrite then scan onto the computer so their posteriety will have their writing and just not computer font.

    I encourage my girls every sunday to write what happened in the week. Of course they moan. I often have to sit with them and remind them of a couple of things we did that week (eg moving bedrooms around, going to certain parks, birthday parties, time with Dad etc) but they usually do it.

    so choose a time and have 15 mins quiet time while every one writes. Handwritten will be a treasure.

    and I need to listen to this advice too, as my blog is my journal ;)

  25. Wonderful way to help your children remember such a special time in their lives.
    I LOVE to journal and cannot image not putting my thoughts into words. It helps me have perspective and forces me to be more thoughtful and aware during my day.
    Your project is bringing out the retired teacher in me and I have some suggestions:

    Give your kids some “story starters” at the beginning of the day– something that will encourage them to really use their eyes. For example, you could just write on a notecard and set it on the breakfast table with the words, “Something Blue”. Then all day, they will be more aware of the color and might be able to be quite expressive that evening over something blue that caught their eye.
    Other examples:
    — Pick a French word and try to use it often during the day.
    — “It smelled like…” (sentences like this will encourage them to notice the new scents around them and then compare them to something familiar)
    — And he never guessed it was me! … Something like this might encourage you children to do something kind for someone else
    — Poems are fun too. Start the poem for them, and have them add to it throughout the week. Give them the rhythm and the cadence and it will flow quite naturally….. Haikus are good.

    Have fun!

  26. So glad Maude is home and feeling better. My daughter had pneumonia off and on for about 6 months (long story) when she was two and it was just the worst.

    I love the idea of journaling, but I suck at doing it so this year I started a five-year diary. The entries are very short so it’s easy to keep up with. I write them in the morning the next day. I think it will be neat to look back as the entries stack up.

    I love the idea of having the kids email themselves, though. I think that’s probably easier than writing in a j0urnal, which could feel a little like schoolwork, and can be compiled and even published in hardcopy at the end of the year. You could add photos then. It sounds like a great way of having them capture their feelings and memories in a very dynamic way.

  27. This is a very nice idea, but make sure they check those accounts every few weeks. I know if you don’t sign in to an account for x-amount of time they will delete everything that gets sent there. Or is Yahoo different?

  28. I adore this idea. I have kept journals since the 9th grade and I love going back to read them. To see how I’ve grown, what I was doing and sometimes for a good laugh (my, how you think changes over the years).
    Also, my sister and I write letters to each other and send them in the mail (although we live about 2 hours apart). We are far more creative in our writing than we are in our talking and it will someday be a story to pass down to our children. I hope to pass this tradition down to my daughter as well.
    But I love the idea of e-mails to yourself (have you seen the commercial where the dad writes e-mails to his daughter since the day she is born – brilliant + quite a tear jerker), have to roll with the times but whatever gets them writing and keeping record of their “history” is a fabulous thing!
    xo Trina

  29. Dagnabbit! I’m gone to the wilds of Yellowstone for a week and I miss everything! Off to catch up on Maude’s adventure…

    Oh – and I do Project Life. I love it. And so do the kids. It forces me to journal something everyday. But it’s family-centric. I want to make a 10 year page-a-day type journal. You know where one page contains a short tidbit from the same day, each year, for 10 years.

  30. i love this idea! and so glad maude is better. my daughter had pneumonia back in april, though not as severe it was still scary to hear the word!

  31. jamie @ egg2cake

    Hooray for Maude!

    I have always been obsessive about documenting life. Not so much a daily diary but more of a monthly listing of events. My wedding gift to my husband was a daily journal covering years of our life together before we were married. And I write semi-annual letters to my daughter that I save in electronic format and as letters in sealed envelopes. They speak to what’s going on in our lives at the moment, her passions and milestones, key news events and my hopes for her for the future. I think it will be really eye-opening for her to not only read about how she was at various ages but to also have insight into my triumphs and challenges of being a mother, business owner, adventurer, etc. I’ve also kept a journal for her since her birth that records everything; the blank book allows me to write as little or as much as I want when I want, unlike traditional baby books. And I try to “interview” her at key milestones like birthdays and beginning or end of the school year. A great time to capture some content? Snow days, when the everyday routine is halted and you have the unexpected time together!

  32. I love journals too! You might want to consider having the kids open LiveJournal accounts. It gives the option to create ‘private’ posts for just them or ‘friends’ posts so they can share with friends back home.. upload pics/video as well, tag entries etc. I think there’s a way to save posts to more easily create a book later. Check it out! I love my LJ community of friends.. it’s like a little secret society. But it’s also nice to post privately as well and have a virtual place where it’s all stored.

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