Well, I did something new this month: I headed back to full-time employment after 17 years of part-time writing projects and full-time domestic engineering😊 I love using a wider range of skills in the workplace again, but even three weeks in, I’m aware of how fiercely I need to guard my family time and prioritize my people. No matter what your situation is, I bet you, too, are finding that family life can feel anything but peaceful these days. So, I asked veteran mom, grandmother, and fellow-writer Debi Ronca to weigh in. She guest-blogs today to answer the question, “How do we intentionally develop a family culture that honors, values, and encourages each other?” You are going to love the tool her family has used for over 35 years, which is now the topic of her internationally-bestselling book, The Family Letter.
When you read those words, you may feel that this is a daunting project for the family and wonder if this is even possible. Life is busy. How can we create a culture when we don’t seem to have the time or the energy?
Having raised three children of mine own, I so understand that thought. There is a battle for the culture of the family, and so I want to share with you a very simple tool that my family has been using for over 35 years that has cultivated this environment. This tool, which has become our tradition, has connected our hearts, strengthened our relationships, and I am thrilled to share it with you. So, whether you are in the season of raising your children or in the magical season of being a grandparent, this tool is for you!
From the time our children were young, my husband and I knew how important it was to teach them about the power of their words and the power of encouragement. We wanted them to know and hear that they were loved, valued, and celebrated. This is God’s design for the family: to fill our children’s emotional tank with words of affirmation, praise, and value, and remind them who they are in Christ.
I believe everyone has a longing within their heart to be known, valued, loved, and celebrated.
God created that desire to be fulfilled in relationship. We were designed to build each other up with the power of our words. The power of encouragement brings life to dry and thirsty souls that need to know their value and worth.
My husband and I decided that the culture of our home would be for us to use life-giving words to each other and to our children. We noticed that it was more difficult for the children to do the same, especially with their siblings. They felt unsure, and really didn’t know what to say or how to express what they felt in their heart, and they struggled to communicated it.
Pondering how to solve this became the genesis of what we lovingly call in my home, The Family Letter.
We decided as a family that on every birthday, letters would be written to celebrate that person. To make it easier for the children, we created guidelines or a template of what needed to be shared in the letter.
When they were young, it was a simple as:
- Tell the person why you love them.
- Tell them what good things you see in them.
- Encourage or praise them in their God-given talents and gifts.
As our children grew, the guidelines grew as well by adding:
If the person has gone through a difficult trial, encourage them on how you have seen them walk through it. Share with them God’s perspective on their trial and give them hope.
Celebrate and recognize any accomplishments they may have experienced, and share your excitement in how the Lord has blessed them and how He is using them in their place in life. This could be school, business, at home, etc.
Share how the Lord can use them in future endeavors as they grow into different seasons of life. Use scripture to encourage and inspire.
This was and continues to be one of the most special moments we share as a family. Each birthday, whomever is being celebrated receives a letter from every member of the family. We sit down together and one by one, each letter is read out loud. The power in reading them out loud is the key. Everyone shares in the moment, everyone hears what the others have written and as a result, all of our hearts are touched. The one who writes, the one who receives the letter, and the ones who get to listen are all touched in different ways. We laugh, we cry, and when its over, you know without a doubt that you are loved, valued, and celebrated.
This is a treasured tradition in my home, and I can tell you that it has borne fruit that lasts. Our relationships have been bonded and strengthened, and my children have shared that the letters have made them closer as siblings. Writing letters is a safe and simple tool to convey your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when we verbally try to share, we can forget what we want to say. Writing it down is a gift that remains.
In one of the chapters in my book, The Family Letter, I asked my grown children to give their perspective of what it has been like to grow up with this tradition.
One of my sons said, “There are times you just have a bad day, and I can go back and read one of my letters, and remember who I am through the lens of my family through the words they have written.”
My 7-year-old grandson has grown up watching this tradition at our home. One day he said, “Nana, do you know what I want for my birthday this year?” I said, “No Kellan, what would you like this year?” He said, “LETTERS! I WANT LETTERS!”
And now our tradition has moved to the next generation. My heart is full!
Let me share one more idea: I have readers whose families live out of town and have created Zoom letter-reading time. Or you can use FaceTime. You don’t have to wait for a birthday. Choose someone in your family to write a letter to and set up the call. Email the letters to the person right before the call so they can’t read them ahead of time. Gather together and let the reading begin! You will be blessed.
In the season we are all experiencing, the family needs to be nurtured, strengthened, and protected. The Family Letter is a tool that you can start to bring healing to your family. The Lord loves your family, and His heart is for you. It’s never too late. God Bless you and your family!