Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Journey with "Family Journaling"

My little Firefly

"Mommy, I love you. You are the best Mommy ever..." said little Firefly with a sweet smile and a huge hug for me. I felt a warm glow spread from my heart throughout my entire being. Don't you just love those special moments? They make all the more difficult moments, like cleaning up spills, sleepless hours with a sick child, and tense times refereeing small conflicts during long drives worth it...or at least, easier to deal with.

But let's face it. We are getting older. That memory is getting spottier. Not to mention all the busy-ness and negative moments that threaten to override that sense of peace and love that is brought on by those sweet, tender words. What to do? You can't video tape every moment to watch it later (I cringe at the thought of my family's every moment being on screen like the Duggars!). If you are like me, you count yourself as having had a successfully archived day if you manage to drag the digital camera off its shelf and snap a few still pictures, let alone grab the video machine to tape those precious firsts.

Entering the story of my mom's birthday dinner in my journal tonight...
Happy birthday, Mom!

There IS another way to remember those special moments that is a tried and true, old-fashioned method that I think will never grow outdated...journaling. I remember my mom telling me stories of how my great-grandfather kept a journal every day of his life from about age 18 (when he left to fight in WWI) until he went to be with the Lord at age 89. Wow. Each one of his children and grandchildren was able to share in ALL of his memories, not just the ones they were a part of. Now, that's special.

I have no aspirations to achieving the level of success with journaling that my great-grandfather did. He was amazingly dedicated. He kept prayer requests, special events, religious thoughts, political happenings, as well as family moments in his journals, and many of his entries were a page long, sometimes more. But I would like something to help me remember the fleeting years of my children's childhood...all of the silly, sweet things they say in innocence and fun.

I still write basic events on a calendar I can refer to later if I get behind in my journaling.

So about about a dozen years ago, I started writing down our daily events on a calendar...not just what we did, but how the kids reaacted when we did it. At first, I simply used the calendar on my wall. The small squares on a daily calendar, and its easy accessibility, made it a good starting point for me. I have about five years of those calendars stored in my box of special papers. One day, I hope I will have an opportunity to photocopy the pages for each of the children and put them into a book they can keep.

About five years ago, I decided to "step it up a notch" and go for a bound journal. Now, those journals with all of the blank pages staring at you intimidate the heck out of me, so I pass on those. I go for one more like a "Mommy Planner." One with nice-sized squares, but in the end, a limit to the space available for writing.

Two different styles of calendars...even better if you can find both in the same calendar!

One year I made the mistake of actually buying THE Mommy Planner and using it as such, which meant I carried it everywhere with me to keep track of grocery lists, to-do's, and phone numbers. Then one day, it disappeared. By then it was April, so that meant FOUR months of memories gone. I was crushed. I went out and bought a new planner (after tearing apart the house and calling everywhere I had visited when it went missing to no avail) and vowed to never let my family journal leave the house again. Thankfully, God is good, and two years later, I found the missing planner in a box that had been taken out of the back of our van before we donated it around that time frame. Whew!

This year's journal has interesting poems and quotes in the sidebars...I love it.

This is my journal for this year.

Here is what goes into it: anything adorable or insightful the kids say or do, how the kids are feeling (so I can see if there is a pattern I need to report to the pediatrician), places we go and things we do, whether I phone or write elderly relatives and friends, special events, migraines (so I can report frequency and medication effectiveness to my doctor) and weather (which is related to the headaches...I know this thanks to the journaling!), daddy's work schedule, our dinner menu, visits from and to others, meaningful Bible verses for the week/day, prayer requests, books read aloud or movies seen together, and homeschooling news/activities/accomplishments.

I write appointments, menus, and activities on the left, memories and sweet things on the right...

It sounds like a lot to write in a small space, but in many dated journals you will have not only a monthly calendar, but a day-by-day section. For the first few years, I actually used a customizable Day-Timer, so I was able to choose what fillers I wanted. This was a nice feature, but I found this to be too bulky for me (this was when I still carried my planner with me), so I switched to a bound version. I find that I can write things like the menu, health-related information, and activity notes/work schedules on the monthly calendar, and save the day by day section for the funny anecdotes and homeschooling news.

I look forward to adding our anual family Easter photo here, as well as some memories of the day.

Here is what a section of this year's journal looks like. It has some extra spaces to write about special holidays and events. In the Valentine's section, I wrote a love note to each of the kids and hubby this year. Not to be morbid, but if anything ever happened to me, I feel better that they'd have something special from me, and this is a nice place to keep it. They know to look in my journals just in case.

A section from last year's journal that might help with planning...

Things I have learned over twelve years of journal keeping:

1. Do NOT record bad things. I mean, if someone falls off the barn and breaks both feet (hubby did that a few years ago), yes, write that down (as you praise God that they are all right otherwise!). But if someone is mean to you and you have a huge falling out, don't record that. You don't need to remember it word-for-word. Five years from now, you might have (hopefully!) gotten over it, forgiven them, and even forgotten it, but if you read about it later, you will revisit those feelings and poor them when you suddenly start acting all weird for no apparent reason! Likewise, if one of your kids messes up and breaks your favorite vase tossing their baseball in the house, don't write that down. They feel bad enough already and don't need to be reminded of that when they are twenty and look through your journals for old-time's sake. Now if your kids all jump in the duck pond and get covered head to toe with slimy goo, plan to write that one down for posterity, and RUN for the camera before you let them wash it off...that picture will be one to share at their wedding rehearsal dinner.

2. Don't write anything too personal in the journals. This is a FAMILY journal. You are hoping your kids and grandkids will get a laugh out of the sweet and goofy things they/their parents did someday. You are not trying to embarass yourself or them. If you need a place to vent, get another journal and vent there. This is NOT the place. Record the WONDERFUL stuff. THAT is what you want your family's memories to be built upon.

3. Leave your journal at home. I learned from experience that it needs to stay safe. Take it with you on a trip, but let it live in your suitcase. If that bothers you, too, then take a substitute journal (you can buy cheapies at the dollar store) and transcribe the happenings to your real one when you get home. Also, if something noteworthy happens while you are away from home, do not hesitate to write it in a small notebook you keep in your purse (another dollar store find) and date it. Sometimes, I get behind, when the kids are ill or we are particularly busy, but if I find myself waiting in a line or at a doctor's office, I jot down the week's happenings, I ask the kids to remind me what special events or conversations they remember, and then I date them and add them to the journal at home later.

4. Don't obsess. I can be a bit uptight about stuff like this. That is one reason I choose to limit the space available for writing in my family journal. If I had a whole page I HAD to fill out every day...oh my goodness, I can't even imagine how stressed that would make me. If you think this might be a problem for you, start small. Only commit to writing certain things down, or start by only writing things down a few times a week. And if you miss a day here and there, or even an entire week (life happens), give yourself a break. In five years, who will care that those days are not recorded? What people WILL care about is all of the special moments and words you DID record. Relax.

5. I shop the after-Christmas sales for my journals each year. They tend to be cheaper then, though you may not have as good a selection. I actually paid FULL price for this year's journal because I saw it when they first started putting out the 2011 calendars and I fell in love with it. I knew that by December they would all be gone, so I splurged and I am glad for it. This journal is something you will have to look at all year, every day, or at least several times a week, so it should be something that makes you smile, brings you a sense of well-being, and works for you logistically. There are so many different styles of journals/calendars/planners, it will not be an issue of finding one you is more likely to be an issue of choosing just one!

Here are some journals from previous years.
The Mary Engelbreit one was a favorite...the pictures are so charming.

6. Add a picture of each family member to the journal, maybe two. You might try adding one from the beginning of the year, and one from the end. Put your family's Christmas photo in there, and a copy of your Christmas letter. Include a picture of the house you are living in, and find space to record your children's heights and weights at the beginning and end of the year, too. Put a school photo of each child where you record that vital statistic info. You can even ask each one the answers to a short list of favorites and record it on a blank page in the journal (favorite food, book, movie, color, animal, song...whatever it is that is special to your family and might change from year to year). 
Some journals have space for addresses, birthdays, and other useful information.
Some years I have kept the addresses and phone numbers of people we keep in touch with in the back of my journal, frequently visited websites, homeschool curricula for the year, places we visited, and lists of the gifts we bought for the kids at Christmas and on birthdays. These are little things that will be easily forgotten, but mean a lot when you come across the information at a later date. A family journal is a good archive for these small tidbits that does not require the time or monetary investment of scrapbooking, while achieving a similar purpose.

This is my journal from the year we bought this house.
I kept all the house measurements in it.

I hope I have shown you how simple family journaling is, and that you will be encouraged to give daily family journaling a try, if you don't already do it.

Even though it is already into March, just think how much fun it will be in December to take out the journal and read about your family's antics over the course of the past year around the New Year's Eve dinner table.

What a joy it is to remember the sweetness and innocence of your children's growing-up years, and the unexpected moments of wisdom and love that come from them as they grow.

Journaling is a worthwhile habit to develop...start your journaling journey today!

Check out what works for others at The Christian Home Blog Carnival at The Legacy of Home.




Unknown said...

Thanks for the inspiration Heather, it reminds me how much I used to journal!

Dustine said...

oh these are beautiful ideas. what a treasure for your kids. I'm encouraged to give it a go. :)

Lorus! said...

I have the calendar notes, and an occasional journal entry, but I'd love to go a little deeper - you have wonderful ideas!

i cant decide said...

What a lovely idea! This would be such a wonderful complement to the typical photo album!

Vickie said...

I've been journaling for years as well. Good times and bad times. The personal ones, most are venting, no one sees. In fact, my oldest knows and I wrote it on the cover too, to not open and burn them when I go home to the Lord. The others are fine to read and share. I have calendars I've saved as well. Most of my journaling notebooks are just fun notebooks. No dates in them. Hardbound typically. Each of the kids have babybooks that I've tried very hard to keep updated. Of course those typically only go to age 7...but they have those. Well, will have :)

Heather said...

Briana, Dustine, Lorus, Vickie, and Lorraine, thanks for stopping by! Everybody has a different way of journaling. This is just one way...and my way changes over time, to meet my family's needs and my time constraints. I am just glad I have some of those cute things the kids said written down, because if I didn't, I'd have forgotten them by now. I am glad if my ideas inspired any of you. Your comments are inspiring me, too!

Vickie...if you have baby books for all your kids, you are a Superwoman! Of course, I OWN baby books for my kids, but they have nothing written in them (after my first one, anyway). LOL. You have actually written in yours...where do you find the time? ;-) Your kids are very blessed to have you.

I guess my journals are my way of feeling less guilty about not keeping up with the baby books and scrapbooking right now during these busy years. If the kids really want the info someday, they can find most of it. I hope I will live many long years and catch up on all that scrapbooking, etc., but if I don't, at least I am leaving something behind for them.

Thanks all for sharing your thoughts.



Tegan said...

I just found your blog and I love it! I really love the family journaling idea. I started my blog as kind of a historical thing, but my blogging tends to be all over the place and now I"m so busy with three little ones three and under it's hard to find time to blog. I really like the idea of doing a small space in a daily calendar - that is far less intimidating. :)

Heather said...

Thank you, Tegan. I love journaling and I much prefer the small spaces, too. Even so, I feel I've missed out on many days the last six months and I need to get back on the ball and catch up! Sometimes life just happens and I have to tell myself that we have the pictures and the memories and they will be there...especially if we remember to talk about them regularly. I just told my mom that we need to make a point of talking about old things we've done, as well as their lives and the lives of our grandmothers and grandfathers so much more often that we do so those memories aren't lost, too.

Thanks for reading my blog. I am glad you like it. I have been so busy it's been mostly reviews lately, but that will change soon and I am looking forward to doing more family stuff. Many blessings to you and your family!


Tegan said...

I agree about making a point to talk about memories. :) Especially those of grandparents. It is so important to learn from our past. :)

Thank you for visiting my blog! May you and your family have a blessed weekend. :)

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