Christi had loved the “dates” we went on together, just the two of us. Andrew had enjoyed riding bikes with me around our lake, while Katie had just wanted me to sit and watch her dance around our living room as Beauty and the Beast music played in the background, over and over again. Unfortunately, that was last year, not this year, and like the songs says, “The times, they are a changin’.”
One day it dawned on me that my kid’s interests were changing much faster than I had imagined. Did Christi still want to go to on our secret dates, or had she outgrown them? Was Andrew now bored of riding around the lake? What new interest had Katie found that she wanted me to be involved with her in? More importantly, how was I to know? Often, I had just tried to guess, just as often I had been wrong.
Why not just ask, I thought? But instead of simply sitting each of them down and interrogating them, I decided to make this special and wrote each of them a letter. I even created a special stationary that had DAN SCHAEFFER/DADDY at the very top (to make it seem more official and special). I knew they would be excited to be getting a letter that was written just to them, especially from Daddy. The letter read:
Dear (child’s name),
Hi! I wanted to write you a letter and ask you to do something that will really help me. You see, I want to be a good Daddy, but sometimes I don’t always know what to do, so I wrote out some questions that I put in this letter. Would you do me a favor and spend some time thinking about the questions, and then answering them for me? I would really appreciate it. I want to spend more time with you and I want you to enjoy it as much as me. But I want to do things that you would really like.
You are a great (son/daughter), and I am proud to be your Dad. As soon as you get done with your answers, give them to me and I will read them. Then we can begin to plan this next year! I’m looking forward to it!
On a separate piece of paper were written a number of questions that I wanted them to answer, including:
- What one thing (or several things) have you wanted to do with Dad, but have never done?
- What one thing would you really like Dad to teach you, or tell you, that he never has?
- What have you done with Dad in the past that you really enjoyed, but don’t get to do enough?
- What one thing is really on your mind that you want me to know about?
When the unexpected letters arrived in the mail, my kids dashed excitedly to their rooms to read them and set to work on their answers. When I got them back I realized how important this letter had been.
I had been ready to quit the dates with Christi, but the first thing she wrote that she had done with me in the past but didn’t get to do enough were “dates, getting out of school early!” Those special times when I had come to her school at noon and surprised her by taking her to a Taco-Bell lunch with Dad were still important.
Some answers were predictable, however I would never have guessed that the thing she really wanted me to tell her about was what it was like to live on a farm when I was a small boy. She also wanted me to tell her “what guys like! Ha Ha!”
That was worth the price of the postage alone!
And would I have ever guessed that what she most wanted to do with me was to visit a small tourist town our family had stopped at once before?
Predictably, what Andrew wanted most was to go to a theme park with me, just us two, (“P.S. When I’m tall!” he added for clarification). Andrew was still too short to be allowed on the faster rides. He also wanted to “go to the beach with Christi, Katie, Mom, and you!” The underline under my name was important. He often went to the beach with mom and his sisters, but rarely with me. He didn’t just want to go to the beach; he wanted me along—a very important distinction. I also learned that there was a shop that sold motorcycles and wave runners that he wanted to visit with me, along with a store that sold small radio controlled cars. Going to the stores wasn’t the goal, going with me was.
Probably most important was learning that Andrew wanted me to know that he worried about “getting F’s in class.” He is a good student, but worries about grades far more than I realized. Andrew was quieter than the girls, more inclined to keep his thoughts to himself. What he might have never said to me in person, he wrote in a letter.
Katie, my youngest, wrote that what she really wanted to do with me that we’d never done before was to play soccer. Not in a league, or in a game, just her and me, alone. In fact, the one thing she wanted me to teach her how to do was to play soccer. Never in a million years would I have guessed that my dancer would have wanted to play soccer with me. She also really wanted to go ice skating together. The topic of ice skating had never come up. I was learning.
As a result of these letters, I was able to find out what my kids were thinking, how I was doing with them, and where I could improve.
The letter and questions can easily be adapted to your own situation, exchanging Dad for Mom, etc. Furthermore, your questions might be different than mine as you may be curious about different things than I am. You may use an email instead of a letter, or even a text message. Or, if you aren’t a writer (or your children are too young to read), you may just ask the questions of your kids in person. But, if you want to know how you’re doing with your kids, the best thing to do is ask!
The answers might surprise you.