The Absent Birthday Letter


I like to post about my kids’ birthdays. I usually think about the past year and how much they’ve grown and learned and then I focus on what I want most for them in the upcoming year. Here’s Atticus’s post for his fifth birthday and Persy Jane’s post for her third birthday. Typically I post my letter to the birthday kid on my blog and copy it out into my journal as well.

Hope celebrated her sixteenth birthday on Friday, February 19th. That evening I did something different. I wrote her birthday letter on several sheets of notebook paper and then I copied it into my journal. When she came home from an evening out with a friend I gave her the letter. This is the first time I’ve given the birthday letter to her; I always thought I would give them to my children when they were adults or had kids of their own.

I contemplated uploading and sharing the letter on my blog as I always do, but this time is different.The letter was a usual birthday letter full of good wishes for the upcoming year and a whole bunch of love, but now that Hope is older and more mature we have many conversations that are just between us. Somehow sharing it now just doesn’t seem right.

I was a mother before any of my other friends had kids and I’ve really had to navigate parenting a teen on my own. Sure I read books and articles and solicit advice, but truly I spend most of my time going with my gut. My gut tells me to cherish the fact that my teen communicates with me and honor it by keeping our conversations private. When I want to share a topic I talk to her about it first.

On Saturday I went out with Hope to celebrate her birthday. We had burgers and fries, shopped for make-up at Target and then spent time chatting at Starbucks. We talked about make-up, clothes, and boys, but we also talked about racism, feminism, school, and how to make smart choices. I love the cuddly silliness of my little kids, but sitting across from this amazing young woman, my Hope, fills me with such proud joy. It is so hard to describe the first time you notice your kid as a complete and utter separate human being with her own ideas, goals, and values. There’s the thrill of seeing the fruition of all those years of wondering if you’re making the right parenting choices and noticing that – sure enough – you are sitting across the table from another capable human being. Then there is the bittersweet knowledge that this person is so hopeful, aware, and excited about life and the entire time you’re thinking in your head “please-be-safe-please-be-safe-please-be-safe.” The joy of independence and the terror of independence all rolled up in one. And as a mom I want her to know that the world is both beautiful and terrible. Balance. The balance is tricky to master (and I’m no where near mastering it).

This year Hope has her letter and I’m, instead, sharing almost a letter to myself. What I had to say to Hope is for Hope alone, but I could still use a “birthday wish” to focus my parenting for this year. For Hope’s sixteenth year I wish for balance. To balance my parenting. The rules and the consequences with the freedom and independence. To model kindness and respect by speaking to my daughter with kindness and respect. To guide her, but not to judge her. To talk to her, but also listen.

Happy Birthday, my sweet Hope.





  1. This is exactly the post. When I started reading, I kept picking out parts I wanted to quote and say “yes, me too!!” because you know that both of us have some fairly similar experiences. But then there were too many quotes I picked out, and I said f-this, never mind, just that this is the post, all the post, it’s perfect. Good luck to you both over the next year, and happy birthday to her!

  2. That is fabulous! My oldest dd is turning 12 and we are just now running into these things – renegotiating boundary issues and independence and letting her be her own person and make some (sometimes) tough decisions on her own without stepping in. Nerve-wracking, but oh my gosh – the payout!!! Happy birthday to your Hope! I hope the year ahead is filled with so many wonderful things for you both!

  3. Happy sweet sixteen to Hope!

    I hear you on respecting the open communication. There is nothing I love more than going out with my daughter and having her share her thoughts with me. I see her willingness and ability to discuss the most frank of topics without batting an eye and know that I will do anything to protect this relationship we have. My mother betrayed my confidence one too many times, and now I can go months without having any desire to talk to her. There are some things in this world that are too rare and too special to ruin. A close mother-daughter relationship is definitely one of them.

  4. So glad y’all had a great birthday weekend, and yes, it is wonderful to see the transformation as the kids begin the shift into being young adults. They’re fun when they are little, but it’s all the sweeter to transition into a friendship with them. I hear you on the balancing thing, but you appear to be doing a great job!

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