We were blessed to have a beautiful son, Dalton, in 1998. Since then, we've spent most of our free time camping and riding 4-wheelers; so much so, that we had Dalton riding at 7 weeks old (yes, 7 weeks). He got his own 4-wheeler on his 10th birthday and by age 15, he was an expert rider.
In December 2013, we took a vacation to Glamis, California, to camp and ride at the Imperial Sand Dunes. It was the first Christmas just the three of us had ever spent together, and it was awesome!
On Sunday, December 29th, five days into our vacation, Dalton was enjoying a ride practicing jumps and wheelies when he was hit head-on by a sandrail. His death was instant, and Dalton went to Heaven enjoying what he loved. For that, we are grateful.
As we look back on Dalton's life and our time with him, thoughts and emotions often take over logic, and we begin thinking of the things he will miss here - getting his drivers' license, graduating with his friends, heading off to the Marines, etc. At those times, in particular, we have to step back and realize how blessed we were to have him as our only child and how blessed he was to have us for his parents. We had a full life in our little family of three, and we made a great team together.
We often hear from family and friends that they never knew a more close-knit family than ours. We love to hear that, because when we look back on all that was and could have been, regrets and sadness could overtake us. Yet we have so much to be thankful for ...
15 years, 8 months, 3 days, 15 hours, and 37 minutes
with the best son anyone could ever dream of having ...
That said, we often speak with people who tell us they have regrets about their life – the way they are living it, how they wish they had chosen a different career path, how they wish they had planned better for retirement, etc. Mostly, though, we hear people say they have regrets about parenting. It could be we hear that more now because of our current situation, but we do feel like it's an important topic to discuss as parents and also as a community.
As first-time parents, we often believe that we have parenthood planned out perfectly, yet it seems that nothing in parenting goes as planned, thus causing us to react in moments of chaos prompting regrets later (sometimes within the second we said or did something, without having taken the time to think it through). I found this during pregnancy, in the delivery room, and every step of the way after Dalton's entrance into this big, crazy, chaotic world. My husband, John, struggles with his regrets on a daily basis. In fact, in a round-about way, this book was his idea, as he wants to do whatever it takes to help other parents spend quality time with their kids so they can avoid living with the same regrets he has. I am thankful John has allowed me to be his voice in this process.
One of the things we hope to do on our grief journey is to help parents and kids be better parents and better kids; to live their lives together without regrets, or at least very few regrets.
In each chapter, I’ll share photos and quotes that were often printed and laminated and hung on our fridge, as well as songs that we used to sing together. More importantly, I’ll share some of the things we think we did well in our job as first-time parents and also some experiences we learned from.
Our wish is to give you some of the tools we had (or wish we'd had) to be an amazing influence in your children's lives. While it would be overwhelming to consider the implementation of every idea shared in this book, please flag the ideas that seem meaningful to you as you read. Once you have finished the book, select two or three of those ideas to implement now. Then, set yourself a reminder to consider implementing a couple more of the identified items six months from now, and every six months after that. There's also a worksheet on my website which is intended to help guide you into implementing the most meaningful ideas a few at a time. You can even download it now and keep it with you as you read the book. Additionally, there is a Discussion Guide at the end of the book and continually updated discussion topics are available on the website, in case you would like to use them in a group setting, like a parenting group or a book club.
With love and best wishes for a long, happy life with your babies,
and their babies, and beyond,
Roni & John Lambrecht
Write Your Way Into My Heart
I am a firm believer that anyone can say anything, but it doesn’t hold much worth until it’s in writing, and so I begin with Dalton’s Journal; one of the most important accomplishments of my life...
When I was pregnant, I began writing a journal to our baby. I started with how proud I was to be its mommy, how much I adored John, and how John was going to make such a great daddy. I told the baby about our lives, how we met and fell in love, what we hoped we could teach him/her, and how scared and excited we were to be parents.
While I didn’t write in it as often as I should have, I wrote about a lot of things, like how tired I was, and what a struggle it was to raise a headstrong kid. I wrote about his laugh and his friends and school and teachers. More often than not, I would write funny stories about things Dalton said or things that had happened; things I would never want to forget (the stories that make you laugh out loud years later when you read them). As a parent, there are so many breathtaking memories that often get pushed aside because the daily minutia takes up so much of our brains. There are stories in that journal I wanted to remember forever when I wrote them down, and there are many that I had completely forgotten until I read them again after Dalton passed away.
When Dalton was about 8 or 9, he asked me what I was writing, and I told him I had been writing him a long love letter since before he was born. He wanted to read it right then and there. We even wrestled for it, but I won. I told him that he had to wait until his 18th birthday, and that, even then, it always had to “live” at my house so I could keep reading it too.
Since the accident, so much is a blur, yet there is no question in our minds that Dalton’s Journal saved our marriage, and it has saved us so many times between then and now. It has reminded us over and over what a full life we had with our angel and the strength of our love for one another. This is how it happened…
My parents flew out to be with us after Dalton passed away and I hadn’t been outside the camper, nor had I showered or eaten. My mom forced me into the shower and then dressed me. She made John do the same thing. Then she told us we had to go for a walk and get some fresh air. For some reason, I grabbed Dalton’s Journal on the way out the door. After a while, we came to a beautiful sitting area where I sat down and opened it. I began reading and crying. John asked me if I would read it to him and I said, “No. This was for Dalton.” John begged me, and so I began reading to him. The first several pages were written before Dalton was ever born. I had written all about John and I, how we fell in love, and how much we were looking forward to meeting our baby. I had also written how lucky the baby would be to have John as its daddy, how much I adored John, and how lucky I was to call him my husband and my best friend.
After I had read several pages, John said, “I never knew you felt that way.” I couldn’t believe my ears! After all the years of cards and poems I had written him and the countless times I had told him directly how much I loved him, how did he not know this?!?! What?!?! He said, “I never heard you tell anyone else that before.” It was then and there, after nearly 20 years of marriage, that I felt like we completely understood each other. I believe Dalton had a hand in making me pick up his journal and read to John. The statistics of parents divorcing after they’ve lost their only child are staggering, and we’re very blessed to still be together.
Straightforward Tips for Parenting at Your Best
I’ve always been a proponent of journaling and writing love letters to our kids (and requiring them to learn how to write back). Because of this, I have always given journals as baby gifts. In fact, my second book, A Parent’s Journal to Their Child and A Parent's Guide for Journaling to Their Child (both available on Amazon), are actually a parenting journal and a guide with advice and prompts to help parents everywhere write ongoing love letters to their kids. So, please, if you don’t do anything else, please do this...
Journal of Love Letters for Each Child
Get a journal for each of your kids and start writing in it. Take it from parents who know the value of great memories… Write your child love letters and share stories about funny things they say or do, how they look, and what they like to wear. Include funny reactions they have, daily routines, traditions, the music they love to listen to, songs you like to sing together, hobbies, habits, family, friends, teachers, neighbors, daily schedules, etc. Share stories about your love for your spouse/partner, how you met and fell in love. Share times you laugh and cry and struggle to keep your sanity because your child is driving you crazy. Share your personal goals and dreams, as well as those you wish for them. Be honest and forthcoming. Write about it all. This doesn’t have to be a daily task, but it’s important to write several times a year at the very least. So much happens that could easily be forgotten if it wasn’t written down. I also made it a priority to write to Dalton anytime something really funny or “big” happened.
Other great writing endeavors;
all of which will take some guidance from you to your kids...
Start a Thankful Journal that you each write in every night before bed. All three of us had matching notebooks, and the process was as follows. Every night before bed, we sat on Dalton’s bed and wrote in our Thankful Journals:
♥Today, I am thankful for...
♥ Five good things about today were...
♥ Something I like about myself is...
For us, this only lasted a few months, but it was a good training tool to get us to talk about things more often and with more clarity. I wish I could say this was my idea, but if I remember correctly, this idea came from an Oprah show.
We have a good friend that told us about this one that she does with her grandkids.
♥ Writer 1: Writes the beginning of a story (1-2 pages), then gives the journal to Writer 2.
♥ Writer 2: Reads Writer 1’s story and writes the ending (1-2 pages), then turns the page and starts a completely new story (1-2 pages), then gives the journal to Writer 1.
♥ Writer 1: Reads the entire story that they wrote together and gives it a title, then reads Writer 2’s new story and writes the ending (1-2 pages), then turns the page and starts a completely new story (1-2 pages), then gives the journal to Writer 2.
♥ Writer 2: Reads the entire story that they wrote together and gives it a title, then reads Writer 1’s new story and writes the ending (1-2 pages), then turns the page and starts a completely new story (1-2 pages), then gives the journal to Writer 1.
You can come up with your own idea of how to do it, but the idea is that the stories go back and forth and, as the kids grow, you will clearly see how their writing and imagination improves.
I’ve seen this done with parents and kids, grandparents and grandchildren, between bosses and co-workers, and between teachers and students. The idea is to write something nice about someone and give it to them. It could be as simple as telling your child you think they did a great job in an activity or thanking them for helping out without being asked. Then you give it to them, and later they’ll return it to you thanking you just for being you or doing something nice for them. These are great for kids who have a hard time expressing their feelings face to face, and they help everyone appreciate the good in life, versus dwelling on the bad.
Before each family vacation or camping trip, get a small notebook and have your children write in it each day or night of the trip to explain what they did, who they were with, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t, food they ate, etc. They can also draw pictures of the daily events. Not only will you be able to see how their writing/drawing progresses over the years, but you will also be helping them learn how to express themselves and improve their writing. It can also be very helpful years later if you ever have questions about where or when a photo was taken, what you did while you were there, or who was on the trip with you.
This is a great idea I found on social media…
Every year, on their birthday, write a letter to your child (grandchild, niece, nephew, neighbor, etc.) and add a small amount of cash to the envelope with the letter. Do this each year and give all the envelopes to your child for graduation. They’ll get 17 or 18 years of letters, a good amount of cash, and they’ll have a graduation present that lasts a lifetime.
Birthday, Greeting, and Thank You Cards
I have always been a stickler about writing nice cards. Dalton learned from an early age that before special days for others, he was expected to write a nice card to them. He also knew that after every birthday and Christmas, he’d be spending at least an hour writing personalized thank-you cards for the gifts he received and places he got to go. He loathed it at first, but then found it to be fun and started writing poetry and goofy stories in his cards to tell people what he used his gift for. My parents actually have all of the cards Dalton gave them hanging on their wall, including the one where he wrote, “It’s a pleasure being your grandson.” (That was one we all thought was pretty cute!) Additionally, I always explained to Dalton the importance of appreciating and validating someone and making sure to write something special in each card he wrote so that his words mattered and they were worth reading. Not to mention, I thought it was important that I raise a young man who knows how to write a love letter to his own wife and children in the future.
When Dalton was 14, he wrote me this amazing birthday card...
Mom, you've always cared about me even in great times of stress, and pain.
You almost never complain about anything, you always go with it.
Although you need to fix yourself before you fix others,
you are the eigth wonder of the world to me
and there is no person who rises over your abilities
to love and cherish their son as much as you do me.
Love you two infinity and beyond,
Since receiving this card, it has been my most prized possession. I am so blessed to have had a child who used his talents and teachings to write down his love for me so plainly. Someday soon, it will be tattooed on my right arm.
To teach your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends this valuable lesson, try this...
1. Make sure you lead by example by writing them nice cards.
2. Along with their gifts for each birthday and holiday, give each child a box of thank you cards and stamps so they have them handy after the holiday. They might just surprise you!
(Update 4-25-2018: The tattoo is complete!)
©2016-2021 Roni Lambrecht, Parenting At Your Best