|This month’s newsletter features an interview of special interest for parents and grandparents. LifeJournal interviewed Kelly DuMar, educator, therapist, and author, encouraging you to write in your journal about your children and grandchildren. Her basic tenet is that writing about your kids or grandkids will not only keep a record of family stories as they occur, but that keeping a journal for you children can be a great tool for parenting as well as a wonderful gift to give your children in the future. (Although Kelly doesn’t mention this, I would say that her idea would also apply to nieces, nephews, cousins, and any younger family members whom you would like to honor with a meaningful gift in the future.)
This month’s issue also includes an article about how you might use LifeJournal to keep track of your diet. A third article offers some thoughts that researcher Dr. James Pennebaker has about noticing when in your writing you may be holding back.
Finally, as our holiday gift to our newsletter subscribers, we are offering you a 25% discount for purchases made until Friday, November 28th (the day after Thanksgiving). If you enter the code “THANKS” in the shopping cart where it says “Enter Associate Referral Code” you can purchase LifeJournal for only $29.95!LifeJournal is a great holiday gift for family and friends. Take advantage of this sale now!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
An Interview with Kelly DuMar, author of Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children
Keeping a Food Journal
Tip: The word “really”
How to Purchase LifeJournal
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. These prompts can be downloaded from https://www.lifejournal.com/prompts.html and then imported into your LifeJournal program. (Read the instrucgtions to learn how to download and import). Remember to write directly to your child, i.e., “You are. . .
For expectant parents
- Start with a Name – Have you and your partner brainstormed names for this new child? Perhaps you can write a humorous entry about all those you have discarded, or those suggested by others that have made the reject pile. Start with a list!
- Hearing the News – when and how did you find out you were pregnant? Tell your child the story of how you found out he or she would be coming into the world.
For new parents
- Family Pet – Have you written about your family pet? Write an entry to your child about a special family pet and describe your child’s relationship with this pet. Did you have a family pet when you were a child? Did you long for one? Include these memories in the entry.
- Overcoming Obstacles – Often we encounter obstacles when we’re working to achieve something we want very much. Tell your future child the story about an obstacle you encountered in working toward bringing this baby into your life. Was there an expectation, a feeling or a belief that you needed to change or overcome in the process? How did you overcome this block? Who or what helped?
- Keep It Simple – This is not the time to have huge expectations about writing long diary entries to your new baby (or babies!). Give yourself permission to write a brief entry that may be a simple line or two about the most special moment of the day. Date the page. Use these brief entries to keep you connected to the diary writing process so that when you do have time for a longer entry you will have the diary handy and you won’t feel that you have to overcome a huge gap. Remember, “silences” during really busy times are a normal party of the rhythm of diaries.
For parents of pre-schoolers and beyond
- Observing Your Child’s Bliss – Find an opportunity to observe your child unselfconsciously at play. Describe what your child is doing that seems to bring her or him the most happiness, bliss or satisfaction. When choosing what to write about, be careful to attend to signs that your child is truly happy during this activity. If it seems to be when she or he is teasing or bullying a brother or sister, that’s not a sign of inner peace, it’s a sign of inner conflict.
- Growing & Changing – Sometimes we become aware of a gradual change in our child’s behavior suddenly. We wake up one day and realize, “I can’t remember the last time my child played with her dolls,” or “I can’t remember the last time my child sucked his thumb.” One of the signs that your child is moving into a new stage of development is that she/he replaces old behaviors with new ones. Write to your child about 3 things she/he used to do that she/he is no longer doing, and 3 new things you notice she/he is doing lately.
- Career Plans – What career plans is your child making for her or himself? What does she say she wants to be when she grows up? Capture these longings, musings, and imaginings in their own words as much as you can
- Peace & Harmony Describe a moment you had with your child when you felt in harmony with him/her and the universe, when you felt uplifted and at peace with yourself and the world.
For parents of adolescents
- Positive Change – Write to your child about the biggest positive change you notice she or he as made in the past 6 months. Then, write about the biggest positive change you’ve made as a parent in this same time.
- Self-Expression – Write an entry to your teen about what you observe to be his or her primary means of self-expression, whether it’s music, clothes, work, sports, the computer. . . how does your teen express his or her unique voice?
- Signs of Physical Change – Write a diary entry that makes note of a physical change your teen has been going through and see what surfaces in your thoughts and feelings about this change. Is there a story you can tell your child about how this change is manifesting in his or her life? Do you remember going through a similar change? If so, reflect on this.
- Favorite Photo – Take out a photo of a family member who is not alive anymore. Open your grandchild’s diary, date the page, and tell your grandchild who is in the photo, when it was taken. What is the subject(s) doing in the photo? Who is this person in relation to your grandchild? Who is this person in relation to you? Write to your grandchild about everything that comes to mind when you look at this photo.
- Career Choices – As a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up? Did you follow that dream into reality? Or did you end up doing something, or many things that you never expected to do? How did you choose your career? Did others influence you in your choice? Was there someone who inspired you? Were you happy with the choice? Do you have a fantasy career you never tried? Tell your child or grandchildren about the work you have done in your life, why you did it, and what you learned about yourself in the career(s) you had.
- Personal Highlights – Your grandchildren want to know about your personal history. You may have been honored, by friends, family, colleagues, or your community, for contributions you made or goals you achieved at some point in your adult life. Write to your grandchild or grandchildren about this celebration – who honored you and why? How did it feel? What did you learn from this experience? If you have survived your spouse, you may also want to write about a time when she/he was honored – leave these important memories for your grandchildren.
Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., author of Before You Forget – The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, is a workshop facilitator, creative arts therapist, and playwright who has been keeping diaries for her own three children for sixteen years. A passionate member of the National Association for Poetry Therapy, Kelly believes that writing is a powerful force for creativity, healing, and personal growth. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children, and you may subscribe to her free monthly Diary Door newsletter at www.diarydoor.com.
Keeping a Food Journal
For the past five months, since returning from my summer vacation, I have been trying to lose about five pounds. I thought that by eating less food and eating more healthfully and eating fewer calories, I’d lose the weight; this practice has worked for me in the past. Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight.
I decided to take a more aggressive approach and to record my daily food intake and see if keeping a record would help. I wanted to strike a balance between “good intentions” and obsessing over my diet.
Just knowing that I was going to record my food intake in my journal, helped me be more aware of what I was eating, breaking the cycle of automatic eating and creating the pattern of conscious behavior.
Since November 1, I’ve included a food record in my daily journal entries. I approximate the amount of food–in cups or ounces—that I eat. I don’t go into exquisite detail about the ingredients because I know I choose relatively low caloric preparations and healthful combinations.
To highlight the food journal passage within a LifeJournal entry, I select (click and drag the mouse over) the food journal portion and assign it the topic “Diet.” I recently performed a search for the topic “Diet” and checked the box “Retrieve only highlighted passages.” The document that appeared was a list of all the food I ate in the previous 2-3 weeks.
And guess what? I’ve lost about 2 pounds in the last 3 weeks. I’m going to keep the food journal during the holiday season as well, knowing that this is a time traditionally when I’ll eat more. But I figure, if I just keep track of my diet, I’ll maintain better control and be more mindful of what I’m eating.
Tip: The word “really”
University of Texas psychology professor James Pennebaker, PhD, in his bookOpening Up, makes an interesting observation about the many writing samples he has read for different psychological research:
|“As an aside, a particular revealing word is ‘really.’ As in, “I respect my roommate, really.” Translated, this means “I don’t respect my roommate.” Usually the word appears toward the beginning of an essay when the writer is still holding back. In fact, words like “really ” (or “honestly” and “truly”) often indicate inhibition. Once writers move into the let-go mode, these words rarely appear.”
You might want to do a search of any of these words, “really,” “honestly,” or “truly” in your journal. Do you agree with Pennebaker’s note?
Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.
—Marcelene Cox .
Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories. —
There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.
—Hodding Carter Jr.
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