16 ‘Open When’ Letters to My Adult Children

Recently a friend of mine dropped her daughter at college for the first time. She shared that she left her daughter with 17 envelopes. She went on to explain that they were “open when” envelopes.

For example, “Open when you don’t want cafeteria food” and inside would be a gift card to Door Dash, or “Open when you don’t want to do laundry” and inside is a new pair of underwear.

I couldn’t help thinking about how handy these types of envelopes would be in life. They offer that “deep breath” and some grace reminding us it doesn’t have to feel so hard all the time.

I offer my children 16 ‘open when’ letters. (Photo credit: Lesli Powell Whisenant)

At 50 I can write my own “open when” letters

As a mom and Licensed Professional Counselor, I began to reflect on the years full of unknowns and the false belief that confidence, peace and calm came from external situations—and if external things fell apart, I could fall apart. Sitting here in 2024 with 50 years of trial and error, I take comfort in realizing that I can be my own envelope.

I can choose how I want to feel and respond to things that come my way. I get to choose to dance in the chaos instead of letting it bury me.

To my children, when things feel overwhelming, I offer these thoughts to “open when.”

1. Open when you feel like you’re failing

Failure is part of learning. What can you learn from this experience?

2. Open when planning a wedding

This is about you and your partner starting your life together. The combo of the two of you has never been done before. There’s no ‘should’ for this. Do what makes you both happy.

3. Open when having a baby

These nine months are an introduction to a world where someone else’s needs come first. It’s a time to practice choosing how to react to what comes your way while making sure your needs are still getting met.

4 Open when baby is born

Breast-feeding does not come naturally to all moms and babies. If it’s not working, take advantage of a lactation consultant, or switch to formula. The goal is to feed the baby. It’s not a contest on the best way to do it.

5. Open when leaving the hospital

You got this. And if you want to drive five miles an hour, go ahead. Maybe take the side streets.

6. Open when your baby projectile vomits in your face

Enclosed is a Spa Day gift card. Use it.

7. Open when you are looking for a pre-school

Find a school that emphasizes kindness and conflict resolution above all else. They will learn their numbers and letters just fine.

8. Open when you are exhausted

Reminder that you are amazing. This won’t be forever.

Add bubbles to your bath, or a favorite soap to your shower. Sit in the shower if you don’t feel like standing. And then go to sleep.

9. Open when kid(s) are bored/restless

Create a dance party. Dance with them.

10. Open when your child expresses views different from yours

This is them expressing themselves. They are their own being—not a mini you. Continue to show love and support for their journey, but don’t do it for them.

11. Open when your child is talking back to you

At any age, this is a cry for connection. They are struggling with something and do not feel heard. Keep this in mind when you are thinking about how you want to respond. If you can, go on a walk with them and listen.

12. Open when your child/teen is crying in their room

Emotions are important information. We are supposed to have them. Let your child know you are there for them if/when they want to talk.

13. Open when you and your partner keep fighting about the same thing

There is no prize for being right. Sometimes it’s about stepping back and hearing their hurt instead of defending yours. This goes for both—so share this note with them and try to be good listeners for each other.

14. Open when you have to put your pet down

This is a hard day for everyone. Spend time together as a family.

15. Open when a loved one dies

Trust that time will heal the pain and that it will hurt for a while. Give yourself the grace of knowing grief is a sign of love lost. Finding ways to express love (letters, talking out loud) to those you have lost will help process the pain. Remember the gifts and lessons received by having as much time with them as you did.

16. Open when life feels too hard

To quote Fred Rogers, ‘Look for the helpers.’ It won’t always be like this, there are people who want to help you. Could be calling a friend, a family member or professional—just reach out so someone can see your hand and grab it.

17. Open when struggling with self-doubt

Welcome, you are not alone. Everyone struggles with self-doubt sometimes. Reflect on all the hard things you have done. You have made it this far. You are capable, bright, and can accomplish what you set your mind to—set your mind on something that makes you feel good.

In the end, we are the writers of our story; the illustrators of our lives. We cannot always choose the landscape, the other characters we will encounter or the materials with which to draw/paint, but we do have a say in the plot and the finished piece and that is determined by how we respond to the challenges and adventures we encounter.

We all respond better when we can breathe.

More Great Reading:

Practical “Open When” Envelopes For Moms and Dads of College Kids

About Robin Faris

Robin Faris is a mom of 3 almost fully grown people and a Licensed Professional Counselor in Fort Collins Colorado. This is in addition to her passion for writing and theatre of which she has been involved since a child. She has a strong belief that “the story matters and every story is different. She’s not on social media much but can be found on LinkedIn and Psychology Today.

Read more posts by Robin

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