Below is the Prologue from “Our Secret Journal Revealed,” the book my daughter and I published a couple years ago when she was in college. It’s a compilation of six years’ worth of back-and-forth journaling she and I shared from the time she was 8 until she was 14. It completely transformed our relationship.
My daughter and I used to butt heads. By the time she was in third grade I viewed her impending tween and teen years as an unavoidable avalanche of emotional, strong-willed defiance (on my part as well as hers).
One evening, after hearing me regurgitate the struggles of the day, my husband suggested I try journaling with our daughter to see if writing would help pry open the communication lines. I bought our first journal that night. I prayed, “Lord, I have no idea what to say or how to do this so I’m giving this whole experience to You. Please use this.” The Lord impressed upon me that the significance of the journal did not lie in my ability to “wax eloquent” to my eight-year-old on paper, nor to have everything all figured out. Instead, I was to use the journal as a vehicle to love her unconditionally through my pen, to meet her authentically right where she was, and to acknowledge her for who she was becoming.
Had it not been for the journal, I would not have understood Abi’s inner turmoil of being a child wanting to play with her toys while she simultaneously (desperately) wanted to grow up. The two of us would have missed out on creating the world of “Claude and Vanessa Catnington” (cats she invented on a piece of paper) who faithfully bookmarked our journals for a few years. I would have bypassed all the seemingly trivial things she shared with me through her pen that eventually led to more serious streams of consciousness as she ventured (and vented) into her teen years. The level of trust we built through the pages of our secret journal enabled Abi to communicate with me about the hard things, the embarrassing things, and the deeply spiritual things.
By the time she was 14, our journal entries became sparse and then abruptly ended. We simply no longer needed the pen and paper to communicate. During her high school years, we continued our coffee shop dates. By this time Abi had graduated from hot cocoa to coffee and found it completely natural to verbally expound upon all that was in her heart and mind until we found ourselves back in our garage - still deep in conversation - while the house silently awaited our entrance for another hour or more.
I still have much to learn about parenting. I’m not anticipating I’ll win any “Supermom” awards by making all this public. In fact, as I read through our entries I see so many things I would do and say differently now and I recognize that I’m vulnerable to harsh judgment from all angles. However, I also see a requited love from my daughter on these pages. I’ve spent a lot of my motherhood feeling insecure and worried about teenage rebellion and also being concerned that I might “mess up my kids,” especially because we homeschooled. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and I chose to step into love by journaling with my daughter.
I had no idea at the time how impactful this experience would be for both of us. Abi’s first entry reveals a girl ready to burst at the seams to share a secret journal, one that would gradually reinvent our relationship and set a foundation that would help her navigate through her high school years like a well-equipped ship gliding securely across the sea. Now she is a college student who lives 1,000 miles from home. She has her own beautiful walk with Jesus and an abundant, fruitful life. I am amazed by her.
So, dear reader, welcome to the inner workings of a daughter and a mother as we share a candid, raw, poignant, playful, emotionally-charged, intimate (read: embarrassing!), and beautiful “coming-of-age.”
I shared that prologue with you to encourage you in your relationship with your tween or teen. If you’re looking for a way to open the communication lines, try sharing a secret journal. My daughter is now building a future with her husband, and I can assure you, the short bits of time I invested into writing with her through the tween and teen years were priceless. The book concludes with an epilogue she wrote from her college dorm room. It’s a letter she writes to her younger self and in it she gives herself nine pieces of advice. I’ll close this blog with her last bit of advice to herself:
And finally, my ninth word of advice… keep journaling. You don’t know this yet, but even when you’ve grown out of journaling to Mom, you will start journaling to Jesus, and that will become a habit for years. You’ll even write your prayers to God in college. And guess what? He will answer all of them! --- Your Future Self