An Interview with Kelly Dumar

Author of “Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children”

Q. You specialize in writing diaries for children. Please describe what you mean by keeping diaries for children. What is the purpose?

A. Have you ever asked or wanted to ask your parents, “What was I really like as a child?” We all long to stay connected to aspects of our childhood selves, but often lack detailed memories and clear information. If our parents have told us stories about our childhood selves that celebrate us as the heroes and heroines of our early adventures, we feel delighted and intrigued and a greater sense of connection with our personal history. If we don’t have that special store of parent’s descriptive memories and stories about our childhood we may feel disconnected from some of the best aspects of our selves.

And, if we become parents, inevitably, our children will ask us, “What was I really like as a child?” Writing diaries for our children as they grow is a way of preserving memories and saving our child’s unique stories to treasure for years to come. “Diary storytelling” is a writing process that benefits both child and parent — it builds our children’s self-esteem while connecting us with our inner wisdom, allowing us to embrace the soul-enriching aspects of parenting.

Diaries for our children tell the story of our daily life with them from before birth throughout their childhood years. This type of writing blends diary/journal writing, memoir, biography, and storytelling. These journals are passed on to children when they leave home to keep as a treasured record of their childhood years.

Unlike personal diaries or journals in which we are writing to ourselves as audience, in the first person, “I,” diaries for children are written as if writing letters directly to our child, in the third person “You.” The audience is our present child, our growing child, and our grown child all at the same time. The audience is also ourselves. Writing to our children, we reflect on the deeply moving questions all parents encounter about how to be the best parent to their unique child. By opening the diary door we are looking in the mirror, celebrating the best part of who we are as parents, and challenging ourselves to grow in ways we never expected.

Parents are eventually shocked to realize how many of the vivid details of our children’s experiences are quickly forgotten. Every diarist knows the joy of re-reading old entries and discovering passages preserving long forgotten events in exquisite detail. As parenting diarists, we write to our children about their lives, before we forget, so we will delight our children with these surprise gifts later on.

Whether you re-read these diaries to yourself now, or aloud to your children as they are growing up, they will some day of your own choosing pass into your child’s hands for good. You may imagine that some day, your child will read these diaries as an adult. Perhaps, some day your child, a parent now herself, will read them aloud to your grandchildren!

Q. What are the benefits of writing diaries/journals for your children?

A. There are benefits to both parents and children.

  • Diaries Preserve a Life History. Children trust you to remember, but like all parents, you will be amazed by how much you forget! Diaries keep children connected to the child they once wereFor example, one of my favorite themes to pay attention to over the years has been “What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up Stories?” I have preserved these for each of my three children. Their ideas — their hopes and dreams about the future- – are an intriguing, and often hilarious and touching part of their personal history.
  • Diaries Are Gifts that Keep on Giving. These diaries may be read and reread throughout the years just as classic childhood storybooks are mined again and again for meaning and pleasure.I have read aloud to the children from the diaries over the years. These are moments of shared laughter and hilarity. For now, they most appreciate hearing quotes from their early childhood years, and anything mischievous or slapstick. I save the more reflective entries to interest them at a much later date.
  • Diaries Build Self-Esteem. Diary writing allows parents to put the focus on each child’s unique gifts, creating a unique and lasting bond.I keep a separate diary for each child. Each child is the star of the show in their own diary, and the stories I write celebrate them as the heroes and heroines of their own adventures, learning their own lessons, validating their point of view. It’s a place where they get all my attention to themselves.
  • Children are Teachers. Our children teach us everything we need to know to parent them well, if we are willing to watch, listen, and learn. They speak in metaphor, poetry, and story, always inviting us to see both the world we live in and our role as parent through their eyes.
  • Diary Writing Opens the Door to Inner Wisdom. Reflecting on our actions and our child’s unique feelings and needs, develops intuition, and inspires wise choices.
  • Lets You Slow Down and Savor the Moments. It’s easy to take the days for granted, letting childhood fly by without fully appreciating the beauty, pleasure, and deeper themes of daily life. Diary writing offers us the gift of conscious awareness and appreciation of the moment.

Q. What if my children are already almost grown? Does it pay to start writing now?

It’s never too late to begin writing diaries for your children. We all have a voice that rises up from our hearts through our throats and says, “Let me tell you a story. . .” Diary writing offers us a unique opportunity for developing that voice in the safe space of the blank diary page. Writing diaries for our children is a process we can begin any time during our child’s life. It does not have to be a linear process with a precise beginning, nor does it need to end at a fixed point in time. Sometimes, we discover the idea of writing diaries when we have an older child or children and we’re bringing a second or third new baby home. Often, grandparents attend my workshops or hear about Before You Forget, and they are inspired to keep diaries for their grandchildren.

My suggestion is, don’t think you have to make up for lost time and fill in all the stories from the past. Just enter the stream by writing to your child about your child today. Writing about the present will often launch your memory into the past and your imagination into the future.

Because parents seem to instinctively respond to the idea of keeping diaries for their children, I encounter a lot of experienced parents who express a sense of regret that they didn’t keep these diaries when their children were young. But, I also often receive letters from parents who were inspired by the idea later on and enthusiastically began diaries for their children after they are born, sometimes a long time after.

Q. How can I use LifeJournal to write for my children? 

You might organize around the idea of “Types of Diary Stories,” as I did in Writing Before You Forget. The chapters are not organized to tell a linear life history, but rather to spark your imagination to the possibilities of types of stories you might tell, and revisit later on. For instance, here’s a list Types of Diary Stories:

  • Birth Stories
  • Milestone, Achievement, and Rite of Passage Stories
  • The Poetry of Everyday Life
  • Mischief and Adventure Stories
  • What Do I Want to Be As I Grow Up? Stories
  • Conflict as Quest Stories
  • Family History Stories
  • Stories of Reconciliation and Amends
  • Car Quotes

In the Topics List of LifeJournal, you could create a topic folder for each child and then have these topics, or other ones, assigned to the appropriate entries.

If the story or event took place months or years ago, use a Life History entry. If the writing is more curent, use a Daily Journal entry.

Additionally, as there are some entries that you’ll want to share with your child and some that are best kept for yourself, you might want to have topics called, “To Share” and “Not to Share.” When you are getting the journal entries ready to give to your child as a gift, you have alerady done much of the sorting of which entries to include in the gift book..

Q. Do you have any prompts to get me started with writing for my children?Because we are often writing to our children across the lifespan, I am providing prompts to inspire parents at different phases of the parenting cycle. Go to https://www.lifejournal.com/parent_prompts to see parent prompts. Remember to write directly to your child, i.e., “You are. . . “”