When my kindergarten teacher started using "conversation journals" with each of her students, I doubt she realized what a difference it would make in my life. As a 5-year-old just learning to write, I'd scribble down my thoughts and she'd reply. This created a valuable back-and-forth. If I didn't know how to express what I wanted to communicate in spoken words, I had another outlet.
There was an element of trust that went into what we wrote. If it was put in the journal, it was safe.
My mom quickly noticed the value of this communication technique and used it with me at home far beyond my kindergarten days. As I naturally grew more and more into an introverted personality, our several shared journals became a way for me to express my anxieties to her without fear of confrontation. She and I would write back and forth discreetly, up until I went to college.
I wrote to her about my worries and triumphs, my crushes and grades, my frustrations and embarrassments. When I got into a fight with my dad, when I wanted my first cell phone or Facebook account — it all went in the journal. She'd respond with advice, sympathy, and love. We almost never talked about my entries out loud — not until I was ready to, at least. There was an element of trust that went into what we wrote. If it was written in the journal, it was safe from judgments.
Slowly, our entries began to fade as I moved away to attend college in another state. I could no longer slip my journal under her bedroom door at night when I needed to talk. But during particularly hard months, as I struggled with my mental health, I'd return to school after Winter or Summer break with the journal secretly hidden in the bottom of my suitcase, there as a security blanket of sorts.
As an adult, I'm so fortunate to have these entries to reflect on. Aside from seeing how much my relationship with me mom evolved over the last 18 years, I also have physical evidence of how my mom chose to parent. When (or if) I have kids of my own, I don't have to wonder, "What would my mom say in this situation?" I know exactly what she'd say — I have proof, in her own words on sheets of paper I now keep in my closet. And if my kids ever struggle to verbalize what they're feeling, I'll keep an empty notebook nearby, just in case.