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The love letter - a parental project

Being out of school for more years than I can remember, my homework days would seem to be long over. So doing homework was not on my mind when I went with my kids to their school open house at the end of August.

Unexpectedly, my son's fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Lynda Caughron at Liberty Ridge Elementary, gave every parent a sealed envelope containing a homework assignment for the parents.

"Your homework assignment is to write your child a 'love letter,' describing all the wonderful things about your fifth-grader. Brag about your kid to your heart's content, but please keep it a secret from your child. I will read it with your child at a private conference. Your child will know in early weeks of school that I have knowledge of their 'special' characteristics and virtues that might not otherwise be discovered until later or never revealed in the school setting."

You would think you know your child better than anyone on earth. It should be easy to write about him/her, right? But it was not an easy homework assignment for me, I have to admit.

When you live with someone day in and day out and know that person intimately, you tend to think more about problems and weaknesses. You focus more on what the child should do, but is not doing, and what he is doing, but should do better or differently.

We don't really take the time to think about and appreciate the good qualities of that person.

When I asked my daughter about her strengths to give me some inspiration for writing to my son, her response was: "I don't have any strength, I have muscles." So that wasn't much help.

I kept putting it off during the first week. I wasn't sure what to write.

In the second week, I couldn't procrastinate any longer.

I didn't want to set a bad example for my son by turning in homework late. And I didn't want him to be the only kid in class whose parent didn't do the required assignment promptly.

So I made myself to do the homework. But once I started writing the letter, it wasn't that hard at all. Ideas kept coming and I ended up with a letter three pages long.

First, I told him that I am very thankful to have him as my son. I listed some of his good characteristics.

He is a nice kid, well behaved and mature. He is a gentle person, a good big brother and a hard worker.

I told him that I am glad he knows more than I do in some subjects. I shared an anecdote about our visit to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. in June 2007.

At that time he had just completed third grade and was very interested in all U.S. presidents and the 50 states. He could name all the presidents and knew their exact order.

While we were sitting on a bench resting, there was a TV nearby with the presidents flashing on the screen. He named all the presidents as fast as the pictures appeared.

When we were ready to leave, a woman sitting next to us said to me, "I was amazed by how much your son knows about the presidents. I am a teacher and my sixth grade students don't know as much as he does."

I continued in my letter: "This shows you can be really good at anything you are interested in and spend time working on. I hope you will take that same enthusiasm and hard working attitude to other subjects and areas in school and in life."

Then I suggested that he set some goals for himself in the new school year and provided him with some ideas.

I could have stopped here, but I felt I needed something else to make this letter more authentic, something that comes from my heart and soul that could touch his heart more deeply. So I continued:

"As your Mom, I have high hopes and expectations for you. I ask you to do things I think are good for you, which are not necessarily what you like to do now."

"I try to be the best Mom I can be for you, but parenting is a learning process for me. It's a hard job. We are in this together.

"I know I make lots of mistakes, some I am aware of and some I might not even be aware of. I know I don't have patience and often yell too much at you for not listening to me or for making repeated mistakes, even though I understand that nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.

"I am really sorry if I have hurt you and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness. No matter what wrongs I have done to you, please remember, I don't intend to hurt you and I love you very much.

"And no matter what you do, I will always love you, because you are my son and I am your mom, forever."

I spent several hours writing the letter. And before I sent it in, I spent another hour adding some stickers and a picture to decorate the letter and make it more interesting. I was very happy with the end result and felt great that I did it.

I am also thankful to Mrs. Caughron for giving parents this homework assignment.

Through the letter, the teacher gets to know each child and each family better. This creates a special bond between the teacher and the child.

The thoughts and feelings parents share in the letter can make their child feel special and loved. This strengthens the parent-child relationship.

In the end, everyone -- the teacher, the child and the parent -- benefits from this letter.

(I will write about students' reactions to the love letters in next week's column.)