One Simple Parenting Tip to Put Your Family First

Here's a simple parenting tip that will help you put your family first in a very practical way.

Every year, write your children a personal birthday letter.
Not just a birthday card, a birthday letter. 

Writing a birthday letter might not sound like a big deal, but it will be, both for you and your children. Here's why…

Making Your Children's Most Important Day Even More Important

Children's birthdays are their most important day because it's their day. They own it!

But as a parent, your children's birthdays can be some of your most important days as well. Children are more open to hearing advice and wisdom on their birthday than on any other day of the year. So why not capitalize on this by writing a birthday letter? A birthday letter allows you to share more meaningfully and deeply with your children on the one day when they are the most likely to hear what you have to say.

Additionally, writing these letters will have a lasting impact on you! I started writing birthday letters to my kids several years ago as a way of putting my family first and adding value to their lives. However, I quickly discovered that writing these letters impacted me personally because they've caused me to learn even more about how to be a better parent. Isn't it amazing how doing something positive for someone else ends up creating positive results in our lives as well?

How to Write Birthday Letters to Your Children

When I share about writing birthday letters to my children, other parents always asked how I structure my letters. That's a hard question to answer because I do something different every year and don't always use the same format for each of my children. (Kathy and I have three children, pictured above. A son named Chris and twin girls named McKenzie and Kelsey). For instance, when Chris started his freshman year of high school, I used a movie theme for his letter. Here's basically what I wrote:

  • A Year In Review: This part of the letter focused on the word firsts. I talked about all the firsts he had experienced during the past year (i.e. starting high school, swimming for a high school team, joining Robotics Club, etc.). I encourage him to continue to see this year as an adventure filled with firsts.
  • Coming Attractions: In the second part of his birthday letter, I focused on the word choices. I explained a few of the choices he would face during the next few years, and how successful people realize that the BIG successes in life are the result of LITTLE choices made every day—character choices, relationship choices, activity choices, thinking choices, spiritual choices, and more. I let him know that I was always available to help him think through his choices, but I also made sure he knew these were his choices and encouraged him to take 100 percent responsibility for every choice he makes.

Other themes I've used for writing birthday letters to all three of my children include:

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Example of a Birthday Letter to Your Children

I asked Chris if I could share the letter I wrote him when he turned 16 years old. He said, “Of course!” So enjoy this gift from my son to you.

Finally, if you're a parent, I cannot recommend the practice of writing a birthday letter to your children highly enough. It's one of the simplest parenting tips you'll ever hear, but it's a very practical and effective way to make sure you're putting your family first.

January 28, 2012

Happy birthday, Christopher.

This is a big one…16 years old. Wow!

This year, I’m going to keep it simple. Here are 16 hopes I have for you as a father, in no particular order.

    1. I hope you will continue to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus throughout your entire life. Okay, while the rest of these 16 hopes are in no particular order, this one is first and foremost in my mind. The reason is simple—nothing is more important in life than following Christ.
    2. I hope you will lead your life from quiet. We make thousands of tiny decisions every day. Some good; some bad. Some move us closer to success; some lead us further away. One way to make sure we stay on track despite all the ups and downs is to take time every day to lead our lives from quiet. I do this by taking time most mornings to read the Bible, pray, read personal development books, and think about how to best navigate life. My hope is you will develop similar habits that will help you lead your life from quiet.
    3. I hope you get the “BIG is Little and Little is BIG” principle working for you instead of against you. As we've discussed many times, this principle is always at work, and it can either work for you or against you. So remember, if you want the positive “big” things in life, you have to do the right “little” things day in and day out. If you do this, it’s almost guaranteed that you will experience the positive “big” things life has to offer.
    4. I hope you will always take 100 percent responsibility for your life. Remember, successful people embrace an E+R=O lifestyle, not an E=O lifestyle.
    5. I hope you will always honor and respect women. What’s more, I hope I have modeled how to do this by the way I love, honor, and respect your mom.
    6. I hope you marry well. Besides your decision concerning Christ, there is no greater decision you will ever make in life than who you marry. I hope you are wise when you make that choice and that you will marry someone who embraces the same life values as you. Then, I hope that you will work hard to make your relationship with your spouse second only to your relationship with Christ.
    7. I hope you will live a well-rounded life. I hope you will work hard to create a healthy environment for your family, that you will find work you love, that you will serve your community, that you will stay physically fit, and that you will always strive to grow and develop as an individual. This type of well-rounded life takes work, but the effort is definitely worth it!
    8. I hope you will put passion before money when it comes to work. Yes, you have to pay your bills, but I hope you will pursue work you enjoy and are passionate about over trying to make big bucks. If you do this, you will find work so much more enjoyable and meaningful. Plus, you’ll likely make more money as well. Again, I hope I’ve modeled this reality for you.
    9. I hope you will consistently learn to balance confidence and humility. In my book, the combination of these two positive character traits is so rare in a person. Both will serve you well in life.
    10. I hope you’ll do the opposite of what most people do in life. As Earl Nightingale said, “If you want to be successful in life, simply watch what most people would do in a given situation, and then do the total opposite—nine times out of ten, you’ll receive greater rewards.”
    11. I hope you never go into debt for silly things. Using debt to buy liabilities like cars or clothes is absolutely silly. I hope you’ll live a life free of silly debt. Also, if you ever do use debt for certain assets like buying a house, I hope you are wise and treat it carefully. A good rule of thumb is this: Treat debt like fire. Be careful and cautious because debt can get out of control quickly and end up destroying your life.
    12. I hope you smile and laugh a lot. This is one of your most distinguishing and attractive characteristics. You truly are a joyful person!
    13. I hope you always stay curious. Again, this is one of your most distinguishing characteristics. You love to learn new things. Don’t ever lose this.
    14. I hope you always pursue integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.
    15. I hope you will treat others the way you want to be treated. Enough said.
    16. I hope you will always be you. As I always say, if I could pick any boy in the world to be my son, I’d pick you. My hope is that you will always pick “you” too!

I love you son and am very proud of who you are and the man you are becoming. Keep living it forward in the most important roles of your life. Happy birthday!