In today’s world of technology, texts, and social distancing, sending mail is an easy and genuine way to stay connected. There’s something special about spending time considering a friend and sending them a card or letter. It’s even more exciting to be on the receiving end of someone else’s time and thoughtfulness.
Imparting this connection into our children as an important social tool can help them build life skills like thoughtfulness and patience. And luckily for us busy parents, it can be as simple as sending their extra artwork to family and friends! Whether it’s sending letters to a faraway friend, sending birthday cards instead of writing on a friend’s Facebook wall, or sending your in-laws all that artwork your kids create, you’ll enjoy sending snail mail!
There are memes about passing notes in the 90s — the original text messages. In a way, it’s true; it was a means to communicate with our friends between classes. More than that, it was a sign of friendship — that person cared enough about you to risk writing to you in class to tell you something (good or gossip). It was fun and exciting to receive, write, and pass notes.
Once e-mail, cell phones, and eventually text messaging arrived, our communication became both instant and also distant at the same time. Being able to convey information faster sometimes means less thought, effort, and consideration. Writing has remained the same — slow and steady. There’s something special about knowing someone took the time to read your handwritten note, to consider your perspective, to (hopefully) write you back.
Over the years I, too, have fallen victim to the instant communication that is at our fingertips. I’ve sent a few postcards and I try to send Christmas cards, but I’ve missed connecting with letters. I didn’t know how to get back into it in an age where even e-mails are practically a formality, but while visiting a friend last winter who we no longer live near, I found a pen pal. Or rather, a pen pal for my son.
We met years ago in San Francisco, where we were both living. We now have both moved away from the city and have two children each. While our children were playing and getting along SO great, it dawned on me: What if they became pen pals? I asked my friend what she thought about it, and she loved the idea.
We’ve been sending mail back and forth for almost a year now. It has been incredible on many levels. I enjoy seeing my son’s face light up when he receives mail, and he’s learned to recognize his name on the envelopes (as well as their return address stamp). It has been great to see him consider a friend’s interests and point of view, in a slow fashion, safely at home where we can chat about it. He also has learned patience by waiting for his letter to travel by mail, then for his friend to read it, write back, and mail the reply. His learning about delayed gratification is priceless in this fast-paced world.
Having a pen pal promotes many key skills, including reciprocation (a letter filled with all “me” and no questions does not make for a good pen pal relationship!), empathy, and mutual concern. It also fosters the ability to search for and find common bonds, a key element of true friendship.
As a parent, it has also proven to be gratifying. I have learned to set aside time with my son, where we write notes and send mail, and, more importantly, we have time together uninterrupted. I am able to notice what he is interested in, what he thinks is important to include in a letter to a friend, what questions he wants to ask. I sense his curiosity and wonder, and I love watching that grow.
It can be educational, as well. My son has learned to sign his name at the bottom of notes, where to place a stamp, how to raise the flag up on our mailbox. We’ve gone together to the post office where he was able to pick out stamps. He has become aware of our postal route and is friendly with our mailman now. When he’s older, I imagine he’ll also write his own letters entirely.
We’ve since added to our pen pal list, including a friend from preschool he no longer sees due to COVID, plus aunts, grandparents, and friends, who are the perfect recipients for all that extra artwork we have around the house — we brighten someone’s day instead of throwing the creations away. It’s encouraged me to start sending birthday cards again, a simple sign of my care and consideration. Sending mail has been a positive light in such a strange and distanced time for us, and I’m thankful to be able to stay connected to family and friends in this way.