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The intergenerational art of letter-writing: why I’m still a fan

The smooth cream envelope. The carefully formed letters of my own address. The mystery of the sender. The promise of a little token of love or appreciation waiting inside. This is what I see when I see a handwritten letter waiting for me on my doormat. Or is the excitement just because I know it isn’t an overdue gas bill?!

Call me old fashioned, but I love to receive hand-written letters or cards. Hand-written letters are precious not only because they are now so rare in the age of emails, social media and texts but also because they say to me that someone has taken the time to think of me, to sit down, find paper and a pen that works, craft a message and to actually search for an envelope and stamp and walk to a letterbox to post it to me. To hand write a letter is no small task in today’s age of easy instant communication.

I’ve always been a fan of letter-writing. I used to love writing letters as a child. I wrote letters to friends who had left my school to live abroad. I wrote letters to family members to thank them for presents. When I was ten, I wrote letters to a school-age girl in Greece who I had never met, through a Pen Pal scheme. Remember Pen Pal schemes?! I loved everything about writing letters: choosing the thickness or design of notepaper, selecting the colour and type of pen to use and seeing my own handwriting forming on the page.

This is why it has been such a joy to see one of my daughter’s Life Villagers, Victoria, writing letters to her. The Life Village is a community of people we have invited to be part of our children’s life, to contribute their interests, passions and talents to enable them to flourish. Victoria, one of my daughter's Life Villagers, is a gifted letter-writer. She has encouraged me over the years with a thoughtful card or hand-written note at just the right time and is now doing the same for my daughter.

When Victoria started writing to my daughter, she was only a baby so couldn’t read or write. Now, nearly seven, my daughter is writing her own letters and, I like to think some of this has been inspired by Life Villager Victoria.

Victoria wanted to write letters to my daughter as she had been inspired by her own Granny’s letter-writing. I love the idea of my daughter being part of this intergenerational chain of letter-writers:

“When my friend Anna asked me if I would consider being a part of her daughter's Life Village seven years ago I wondered what I could offer. I thought about things I enjoyed and treasured myself, remembering things in my childhood that had made a difference and somehow had shaped who I was. I recalled my Granny writing beautiful letters to me when I was little before she passed away. Each had hand drawn pictures she had taken the time to think of and put together.”

Victoria and I got to know each other better through writing letters in our twenties when I had moved out of the area. We were interested in hearing about each other's worlds, sharing the highs, lows, challenges and joys. I was touched to hear that Victoria wanted to write to baby Bean and plant a seed in her about the art of letter writing that might inspire her as she grew older.

She continues:

“I wanted my letters to speak of good things and memory-making. I knew there would be happy stories shared as well as ones describing battles fought. I hoped to be able to include some drawings and pictures like the ones my Granny had drawn. I was aware that these would be in my own style and shape.”

Good things. Memory-making. Such beautiful ingredients! What I love about Victoria’s letters to my daughter is seeing how these ingredients play out in a variety of styles. Some letters are long and typed with photos. Some are simply postcards with a few words jotted on the back. She has received hand-made cards, drawings and even a little painting with some encouraging words alongside it. I realized that Victoria seemed to gain something from writing these letters too:

“Writing has given me a focus in my contact with Anna and her daughter. It has reminded me to mark life events, to reflect on different experiences, celebrate achievements and send snapshots of love. I haven't always been quick at putting pen to paper. Some have been typed on my laptop or hurriedly gathered together in the post office, whilst others have taken me time to work out what to say. Each letter I have sent with a smile on my face, thinking of Anna’s daughter receiving these envelopes filled with news and love.”

Writing letters isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it has been to my seven-year old a simple and tangible sign of love from one of her Life Villagers who she knows cares about her. And I can see how she is already growing in confidence in her own writing and seeing how writing to others can communicate kindness.

Victoria’s letter-writing inspires me too. How am I showing and telling my friends in simple, tangible ways that I care about them? One thing I will be doing is sitting down with my children and together writing some hand-written letters of appreciation to three of our friends. ‘Thank you for bringing me food when I felt ill’ or ‘Thank you for noticing when I was sad last week’. With Christmas around the corner it is a good time to reflect on our friendships, how we can demonstrate our care for others and be role models to our children in this.

I would love my three children to have good friends around them as they grow up. And good friends need an investment of time and love. Maybe letter-writing can form part of this investment. Letter-writing might have an old-fashioned image but I think there’s still a place for it in our society. At least, alongside the texting, emails and Whatsapp messages…


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It takes a village to raise a child - African Proverb

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