Would it be weird to write letters to my friends' kids?
May 6, 2016 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I am a man in his mid-30s, and I am probably not going to have children. I am okay with this, but the thought of having no connection whatsoever to the next generation is fairly upsetting to me for all sorts of reasons. To avoid that, I'd like to maintain an occasional correspondence (even if it's just one-way) with my friends' children. Most of my friends' children are currently infants.

The idea I had would be to write the children of some of my friends on or around their birthdays. These would be letters written more for them to read when they're older—tweens and teenagers, that kind of thing. I'd probably just talk about what's going on in my life and their parents' lives, what I was up to at their age, that kind of thing. Sort of holiday-letter type stuff, but more personalized.

My end goal would be to become a positive (if far-background) presence in their life—and ultimately someone who could be a useful non-parental adult to have in their corner, if that makes any sense.

Obviously I'd ask my friends' permission and send everything to and through them. My question is: Have I neglected some kind of obvious creeper angle on this? Is this a fundamentally ill-conceived thing to want to do? Are my avuncular aspirations misbegotten?
posted by Sokka shot first to Human Relations (46 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose it depends on how close you are to the families and the children. Are you an acquaintance to the children, or are you more like a not-actually-related uncle? If your goal is to become a positive background presence in their lives, and you're not in that place already, this idea strikes me as a bit of an awkward way to go about it.

I didn't know any of my parents' friends very well when I was a kid. I would have considered it very strange if any of them wrote me a letter like that.
posted by erst at 8:46 AM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

As a parent of two small kids, I'd say yeah, that's a little odd. If you're a godparent or similarly close then maybe. But a 'useful, non-parental adult to have in their corner' sounds like you would be siding with the kids and not the parent in a conflict, which is not something the parents want to hear!

To be honest, I'd rather have someone in your situation just spend quality time with the kids. I'm sure you have the best intentions, so maybe start with joining them on outings or offering to babysit? I have close, single friends who don't plan on having kids, but they still love coming over to hang out or take the kids off our hands when we need a break.
posted by krunk at 8:50 AM on May 6, 2016 [21 favorites]

I don't think it's an obvious creeper thing, though of course I would get their parents' permission. Since the children are now infants, you might feel more like you are connecting and having an impact if you looked into something like Big Brothers as well, or another volunteer thing where you can work around children who need someone.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:50 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah this bothered me, too, that's why I started volunteering with the Girl Scouts.
Borrowing the emotional involvement of other people's kids to fill my own personal needs didn't really sit well with me as a solution.
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2016 [38 favorites]

I think it's generally okay, but you're counting on your friends keeping these correspondences for their kids to read at a later date and that might be where you plan runs askew. For infants especially, I would just send gifts around their birthdays or other occasions. Things like picture books that you loved as a kid or something would more than likely always be appropriate, welcomed, and kept for long periods of time. You can add a personalized inscription (eg"I loved this book when I was little. My favorite part was when the moon wears the hat! Hope you enjoy it, too. Fondly, SSF") Little framed works of art would be nice. You want things that the kids enjoy and keep around, and the parents have occasion to say, "Hey, you know who gave that to you? SSF!"

I would save letters for when the kids are a bit older. A 1st or 2nd grader would probably really enjoy doing a penpal thing, especially centered around interesting ways to make or package letters.
posted by LKWorking at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't know about your idea - it sounds lovely if very relationship-dependent - but have you considered fostering that connection with kids that may need an adult in their corner now? You could get involved in any number of leadership programs like Big Brother Big Sisters or Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts or school-based volunteer programs (there are so many local ones if you search around). As an even bigger commitment, maybe consider becoming a foster parent. So many kids need this and if you have the capacity to be a friend or a mentor, it would be a massive thing.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I grew up with a single mom after my dad died when I was 7, I would have loved to have another adult's perspective in my life/someone to talk to/ask for advice/ remember me when i was little.
Some people might think what you're describing is weird but that's probably because they had more than enough parental support growing up. If you know a kid who has less support to rely on, I think your presence in their life could be very nourishing. It could be nice to have an alternate perspective from one's parent (s)
posted by winterportage at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

a positive (if far-background) presence in their life—and ultimately someone who could be a useful non-parental adult to have in their corner

These two things do not go together. My kids had a bunch of adults who appeared in their life sporadically over the years. While they may have enjoyed the event and the person's company, in no way did it translate to "someone who could be a useful non-parental adult to have in their corner." The only people they think warmly of/seek counsel from/look forward to seeing are the people who are/have been in their lives consistently.

Have I neglected some kind of obvious creeper angle on this?

I don't know about creeper but outside of real-world interaction with them, or at least an exceedingly close relationship with the parents, it seems as though the kids would look at it with mild curiosity at best. If you don't have a true relationship with them, then a blog in the form of "open letters to generation z" or something might be a better idea.

the thought of having no connection whatsoever to the next generation is fairly upsetting to me

Consider offering tutoring/coaching to kids in your community, or volunteering for a children's advocacy organization. There is a need for whatever your strengths are.
posted by headnsouth at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I don't think it's creepy, but I think you'll be more successful in your ultimate goal by being an actual presence in their lives as they grow up. Go to their birthday parties, go out to dinner with the parents and kids, keep inviting the your friends to hang out with you with their kids in tow. When the kids are a littler older, offer to babysit once in a while. I'm a parent with a lot of child-free friends, and pretty much all of our friends are cool with us hanging out and bringing our little sidekick along. Some accommodation has to happen on both sides- we can't take the kid out to an adult movie or stay out much past 8:00, and dinner has to happen around 6:00 to avoid meltdowns, but we love being able to take the kid with us so we can still have a social life, and kid gets to binge on cartoons on his kindle while we talk like grown ups.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you want a connection with the next generation, I think you should start spending time with your friends' kids. There are single adults in our social circle who are known as "Aunt" or "Uncle" to some of their friends' kids and that's because they babysit, do things with the whole family, give birthday presents, etc. If one of those people moved away in a few years, I can totally see them writing letters and it being a positive continuation of the relationship. However, if the letters came without that foundation it wouldn't necessarily be creepy, but it might not have much meaning to the kids.

To echo winterportage, the kid I know who is most receptive to the sort of relationship you seem to want is a relative whose dad died years ago.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 9:00 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

When my sister and I went away to camp or to visit relatives, my Dad used to send hilarious letters to us, from the Cat's point of view, or relating all sorts of silly, fictional situations that occurred while we were away.

I think if you can do this, being absolutely weird, in the best sense of the word, it would be fine.

Regular correspondence with a dude-friend...I dunno, skirts the creep-o-meter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2016

You don't mention whether you live far from these kids, which to me would explain why you're talking about letters rather than being a presence in their lives. If you are nearby, I agree with those who say that if you want a relationship with the kids, you have to be there in person. If you are far away, I'd suggest gifts and cards for their birthdays - but if they don't ever see you, I can't imagine that your letters would mean much to them. While I think your desire to be a presence in the lives of young people is admirable, I think you're romanticizing a bit and not taking into consideration what most kids are really like. Even parents who try to maintain long-distance relationships with their own children because of divorce have to work really hard at it (or discover too late that they don't really have a relationship). I agree that if you want to be a presence in the lives of the next generation and your friends' kids are far away, your best bet would be volunteering with kids you can see in person.
posted by FencingGal at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2016

I'm sort of you. I've decided not to have kids, but I love having kids in my life. I spend time with my friends with their kids, and I sometimes take one or more kids off on an adventure evening, and I do a little bit of free kid care to give my friends date nights or time off, and to give me one on one time with their kids. It's awesome for everyone.

The letter approach strikes me as a little contrived. Build the relationships with kids the same way you build them with any other people: by spending time together and doing stuff. It's pretty great for kids to have non-parental adults in their lives.

And in contrast to what krunk says above, my adult friends with kids have explicitly thanked me for being an adult who's in their kids' corner, even if it means I'm sometimes siding with the kids against the parents. So far this has been small potatoes, but as kids mature, it can be really powerful for them to have trusted adults who will have their backs.
posted by spindrifter at 9:11 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I should have been clearer. This would be limited to people I am very close to, with whom I have been friends for many, many years.

Many/most of my dearest friends live far away, making it difficult for me to be physically present with any kind of regularity. Obviously I would just rather be the practically-uncle that babysits a lot. Since that's not possible, this would have been sort of in lieu of that. But I guess it's a bad idea. Thanks for the perspective!
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:12 AM on May 6, 2016

That "(even if it's just one-way)" bit strikes me as something you should reflect on a bit more. It seems you do not even have a desire to build a relationship as such with these children, only to have this correspondence "(even if it's just one-way)", and you plan to write about "what's going on in my life and their parents' lives, what I was up to at their age, that kind of thing".

Can you try and see it from their point of view, when they’re a bit older and able to read those letters?
And ask yourself, what’s in it for them really? Why would they be interested in reading about any of those things, and from someone they may have not have any direct relationship with by then?

Sure in general it’s great for kids to have non-parental adults in their lives too, but these are supposed to be other relatives, aunts, uncles, then teachers, educators, coaches, etc. and yes it can be close friends of the family too, but it’d have to be people they would have been building an interaction with along the way, an actual relationship.

If you actually wanted to do that, then great! You’d have to do it at their pace though, along the way like everyone else, when they’re older, as they get older, getting to know them and having more interaction with them, if their parents are ok with it and if you’re all friends, it may well happen. Or it may not - as they grow up and talk and express their personalities and interest more clearly, you may well find you have nothing to talk about to those kids, you may not be interested in them and they may not be interested in you.

Writing letters to them like for posterity, for them to read later, is not building a relationship. It’s not communication. It’s serving your needs only.

If you feel the need to write those letters, why not just write them for yourself, and keep them to yourself, as a sort of diary?

If you do want to express your "avuncular" ie. paternal aspirations in more tangible ways, then do it in a setting where you’d actually be developing an interaction with children, and be useful to children, like others have mentioned - coaching, tutoring etc.. It would take more effort than one-way correspondence but it could be more rewarding and useful for both you and the kids you’d help.
posted by bitteschoen at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I agree with those who say you should start by being a real presence in these kids' lives. It's possible that any given kid might get really into the idea of a long-term, grown-up pen pal who they never otherwise see, but most relationships are based on spending time together. I think this is especially true for children, who do not yet understand the kind of life circumstances and social pressures that keep people distant from each other.

I don't know if I'll ever have kids myself, but my best friends have two, now almost-six and almost-four. We send each other letters - my friends write the almost-four's for her; the almost-six's are all his own and charmingly incomprehensible. But I'm also able to see them at least a half dozen times a year. The letters aren't standing on their own.

My advice is to talk to your dear friends about how to stay involved in their kids' lives, and what they have the time and energy to facilitate. Can you manage yearly visits? Monthly facetimes?

And sure, write them letters, but write them to the kids as they grow, not to some hypothetical teen version of them that may never exist. Ask them about their imaginary friends and school and their Halloween costumes and what they got for their birthday. Don't expect them to ever ask or care about your life. To have a relationship with a child is to love them and give to them without expectation.
posted by galaxy rise at 9:28 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the "time capsule Christmas card" approach might not fly right--I can't imagine being super interested in what my mom's friends were doing when I was little.

However, I have someone that I had this sort of relationship with growing up, and I think the key is a) waiting a few years and b) silliness. Funny postcards, pictures of your travels with a garden gnome, goofy drawings. My penpal (a distantly related cousin my parents' age that I saw a few times per year) and I had alter-egos that did most of the corresponding. At 6 or 7 I thought that pretending to be a little old lady writing a letter was the funniest thing. Her husband sent me "emails" (envelopes filled with cut-out letter Es). Just goofiness. My kid, now 5, would love getting stickers or postcards even from relative strangers. Give the kid something that they want at that age, not something they may be interested in as an adult.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:30 AM on May 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's only a tiny bit borderline maybe-creepy the way you mean it. In general, yeah, the idea is kind of creepy. But in this specific circumstance, I think you'd pass the not-creepy test.

What has the worrisome potential to make it creepy, though, is that it's about your needs. You feel lonely, afraid, sad, so you need this child to fill up your jar of self-esteem. That is, if not outright creepy, at least vaguely sad. The hope of "baiting" the kid into a future mentor-mentee reationship by starting early also has kinda creepy vibes, to be totally honest. (Like, it's the idea of "I do this now, you pay me back later by being my pseudo-child when you want to rebel against your parents.) I also don't think this is likely to work. I am probably going to have children at some point, and am female, but I had similar feelings to you earlier about my cousins and nephew. Like, "I'll be the Cool Aunt and they'll love and remember me forever!" I gave up on it when I realized a whole bunch of things that are hard to express but I'll try. First one was that childcare is really hard and kids are really impressionable. You could easily accidentally say something or introduce some idea to their lives that you think is totally standard but that their parents were purposefully avoiding (possibly for a good reason.) It's really hard if not impossible to always 100% be "Cool Positive Guy/Gal" and you will probably mess up and influence them negatively on accident at least once. And then you will feel bad about it. You will also face the "parent wall" and the disapproval or even jealously of the parents. As young kids are totally dependent on their parents and realize this, they will pick the parents over you when they really must choose. Even teenagers will probably still do this. Kids are also, overall, pretty ignorant and callous about peoples' feelings and efforts and will probably take you for granted, forget about you, or not care for many years. (Not always true, but true a lot of the time.)

My step dad's precious wife died of cancer, he never had biological children. He married my mom (a divorced woman with older kids) and really enjoyed being able to be a mentor to her kids. He is also a CASA volunteer and just won an award for his really outstanding service. That's truly hard, though, since those kids are not "good, easy" kids but problem cases who in many instances have already been given up on by multiple family members.
posted by quincunx at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Obviously I would just rather be the practically-uncle that babysits a lot. Since that's not possible, this would have been sort of in lieu of that. But I guess it's a bad idea. Thanks for the perspective!

About once a year, my wife's friend from Seattle comes out to visit. Usually, it is around Christmas time. She'll stay for a while at our house and spends time with the kids. She also sends books and gifts, sometimes at random times (this is how my Minnesota-born daughter decided she was a Seahawks fan). The kids like her, and they call her Aunt. So, this isn't totally impossible, but it also requires some investment of time and energy. However, your best bet probably is kids in your area, particularly those in need of a big brother type relationship.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 9:45 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I agree it's a little odd. However, could you channel this desire to communicate with their children into a book intended for children in general, but one that you write with these specific children in mind? It's valuable to have a target audience when you write.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have I neglected some kind of obvious creeper angle on this?
This would be perceived as creepy by some folks. I can't say whether that's justifiable or not, but just so you're aware.

Do you mean handwritten letters? To be opened when they're teenagers? That seems... intense to me. Kind of an imposition. Like, it's a lot of contact without knowing whether they want it. A t(w)een should be able to decide who they want as friends, and how much contact is appropriate. I think what's intense about this is it's not mutual.

A birthday card and a token--not extravagant-- gift would be cool with most kids and parents I know. I certainly received cards and gifts from "aunties"/friends of my mom I hasn't met when I was very little (though not as a teen), and I liked my mom to tell me how she knew them/where they lived/etc.

I'm not saying your avuncular instincts are wrong, though-- it's a real need, but it needs to be more mutual and natural for it to benefit both parties. Others have good suggestions about how to encourage these types of dynamics in a way that's not an imposition. People get into Scouts, coaching, tutoring, babysitting, Big Brothers program, etc. to connect with kids.
posted by kapers at 10:00 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Is this how you would get to know and form a relationship with a grown up person? Send them letters about your life now and your past to be read at a future date in the hopes that they will see you as in their corner?

Probably not, right?

Kids are not grown-up people of course which is important to remember, but they are people, and you don't form relationships with generations, you form them with people. You don't feel sad you're not in a relationship so send letters to a few women in case they date you one day.

Just go hang out with them and see what happens. Probably your friends will have some kids that aren't into your life and letters, and some that are, and by the time they're 10 you'll know which are which and proceed accordingly.

If you're feeling sad about the next generation then yah, find a way to make connections in your community. Big Brothers is a great organization, or there will be others looking for volunteers.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:07 AM on May 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

People are mentioning Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I'd like to highlight that BBBS has a great need for male volunteers: "More than 70% of our children waiting for a Big are boys, but only 3 out of every 10 inquiries to volunteer come from men." Your avuncular instincts are great and sorely needed!

BBBS pairs you with one kid (whom you decide to pair with--they'll give you options/profiles of the kids) and wants you to spend some time with that kid around once a week for a minimum of one year. They do NOT want you to spend a bunch of money on outings (it can cause problems in all sorts of ways), just focus on quality time. The kids range in age from young to teenagers. All of them, and their guardians, want to be in the program, it's why they signed up.

When I did BBBS I thought I'd pair up with a younger kid but I ended up pairing with an older teenager (16 when I started!) and I LOVED being paired with a teenager more than I realized. She was old enough that we had a lot to talk about that was on my level, and it was great to be able to relax while we were together knowing that she was practically an adult (no hovering over a kid in the bathroom or watching her every instant lest she wander away and get lost). And I was another non-parent adult in her life that was in her corner, and I got to support her through some rough times. I got to connect to what her and her friends liked through her. Our time with BBBS came to an end after a couple of years, but we are still in contact and still occasionally hang out.
posted by foxfirefey at 10:23 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Hello, yes! This question has been answered. I was looking for perspective on whether a specific thought I had regarding ways to build an ongoing relationship with the new families in my social circle I had was appropriate. It is not. Question answered. Thank you.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:32 AM on May 6, 2016

If it's any consolation, my BFF is childfree and we have lived far from each other for most of my kids' lives. Yet we did have chances to meet up every so often, and when my son got to his early teens and discovered their shared interest in computer programming and other things, they struck up ongoing unmediated correspondence and they really did develop a nice "cool aunt" sort of relationship. I would say your goals are great and even achievable, but I would put the emphasis on the smaller, day-to-day ways you can interact with your far-flung friends' kids and not long, rambly holiday letters. Send gifts and cards, postcards and trinkets from your travels, that kind of stuff. If their parents post about them on social media be sure to like and comment and cheer them on...little stuff.
posted by drlith at 10:59 AM on May 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Assuming zero issues with the parents or unintentional creepiness or anything, my take based on the kids I know is that they'd find being written to by an adult friend kind of baffling, unless they're being raised in exceptionally epistolarily inclined families. Coaching, Boy Scouts, mentoring, YMCA, etc would all probably be more fruitful ways to stay connected with the young folks.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:03 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a dramatically different response to this, I think it sounds nice but I'd make it a bit more normalized and then it's fine. If you're looking to communicate, send them a little something on their birthday. It can be something regular (a book) or something a little less so (some little food thing) but something small. Along with that, write them a little letter that is age-appropriate that goes with the thing. Don't imbue it with any real heavy meaning just stay in contact in a nice pleasant way. Maybe send a holiday gift if it's appropriate. There's nothing at all wrong with being "The uncle who always sends a fourth of july gift and a note" and I agree with your assessment that it's a nice way to maintain a low key not super close relationship with children as you maintain the primary relationship with their folks. I grew up somewhat neglected and it was HUGELY important to me that there were other adults who were not my crazy parents who I could talk to, not even about heavy things but just about my life and who had appropriate responses (i.e. not like my parents). I would suggest finding ways to interact in person as well but I think your idea sounds nice in a general way I'd just make it a little more standard-seeming.
posted by jessamyn at 11:22 AM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yes, thank you! Do please feel free to stop recommending various volunteering organizations. That is not an answer to my very specifically-worded question, which, again, and I cannot stress this enoughhas been answered.

I feel foolish in my sentimentality; I have been thoroughly chastened by the perspectives here and I have heard enough. Please stop.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:22 AM on May 6, 2016

I sometimes send my friends' kids post cards for them to color/that they might like. Mostly because I like them and my friends, and I figure it might be nice for the kid to get mail once in awhile.
posted by kendrak at 11:36 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Some of my parents' friends wrote me little letters and cards semi-regularly when I was young, so perhaps I don't think it's as strange as a lot of people who have responded already. But there are quite a few distinctions between what they did and what you're thinking of. First of all, these notes were not about the friends themselves, they were mostly about me. Because honestly, most kids DGAF about random (to them) adults' lives until they're maybe in their 20s, if then. The notes were somewhat generic, in retrospect, like wishing me happy birthday or just writing to say hello. They were kind or silly in tone and age appropriate, not meant to be read when I was older. I don't even recall the content exactly, but a postcard from an interesting country, maybe, or a little poem or drawing. Very short. The intention was just that they liked kids, and they were happy their friends (my parents) had had a kid, and, I suppose, because they lived far away, writing was a way to communicate to a child that probably if they'd lived closer they would have seen often.

Of course this was all taking place before the internet, before texting, skype, etc. I was born in '76 and my parents were in their 40s at the time. A lot of their friends were considerably older. So I guess I think of this practice as sweet but very old-fashioned; it's never occurred to me to do it for any of my friends' kids. Not that old-fashioned is bad, just that perceptions might have changed past the point of no return on something like this, I don't know.

On preview, what kendrak said is similar to what I was going to suggest. There's nothing wrong with sending the occasional postcard or other age-appropriate, kid-focused mail to the children of friends. I think it's sort of nice, if ultimately pointless, for kids to know there are grown-ups out there somewhere who care that they just started school, just turned 10, and so on.

However, I wouldn't have any expectations that the parents will care/respond at all, or that they'll make the kids write or call back. That kind of training is long gone, from everything I've observed of kids and parents today.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:52 AM on May 6, 2016

OK you say you're close friends with the family which makes it way easier, honestly I'd look at going the postcards route at first. Kids love getting stuff in the mail & a postcard is easy to write & puts no pressure on anyone for a reply & fun to stick on the fridge. If you go an interesting place then maybe post them a little fun knick knack or 2. I have an Aunt I feel terribly close to despite having only meeting her 3 times in RL(once at my wedding she flew out from the UK to the USA for) because she would drop little sweet postcards in the mail to me a few times a year. Remember to send birthday cards & the occasional fun unusual little gift from her travel. I feel like she's been part of my life as long as I can remember & I have nothing but fond memories of her.
posted by wwax at 12:11 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think this is a fine thing to do, but I don't think it's likely to result in what you want. You should be a presence in these kids' lives by actually being present in their lives, not by writing them an annual letter. (I mean I think you could also do the letter thing, but it will carry a hell of a lot more meaning if they also know you from more than just that.)

I think it's sad when people assume that:

A. It's weird and creepy for men to take an interest in the children in their lives,


B. It's only appropriate for people who are close blood relatives to be part of children's lives.

We live in a highly mobile world where a lot of people build their own communities rather than depending on relatives who may not live nearby. I think that's something to be proud of, not to cast aspersions on or to deem "creepy". Also, the only way we are going to fix a lot of the problems with gender roles in our society is by getting rid of the notion that women are the ones responsible for children and men are innately creepy perverts.

I do think a lot of this is going to depend on geography, though, and if you don't live near these families or have direct connections to them, you probably won't ever be a strong presence in their lives, letter or no letter. Just because people tend to be closer to people that they see regularly.
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 PM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

My toddler loves getting mail so cards with pictures of animals and stickers inside would be a huge hit. I think the intent is great but you'll have more success forming a connection with a kid if you send something they're interested in.
posted by betsybetsy at 12:59 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

If a friend of mine sent my small child a letter I'd probably read it to them and then recycle it. If you expected me to hold on to it for them for 10 to 20 years, I would be annoyed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:44 PM on May 6, 2016

My dad's best friend never married or had kids. We saw him once or twice a year and he spent some holidays with us. He was a funny, brilliant, lovely guy who ended up dying very young. I miss him so much, and I so wish I had letters from him to remember him by. I especially would have loved letters about his and my dad's twenties and thirties, because they have some great stories and my dad is not much of a talker (his friend was the great storyteller in their circle).

I think you should not place so much stock in what people here - who don't know you or your friends or their children - think. I can see how it might seem odd but it's something I would really have treasured, and it would have meant a lot to me.
posted by sallybrown at 1:45 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Several relatives sent me cards several times a year while I was growing up, and we would visit them occasionally. After I moved out, my grandmom kept in touch, even when I moved all over the place. She's still in touch, and that monthly 20-minute phone call has added up over the years. She's been a part of my life as long as I can remember., and I finally understand that it's awesome.

If she had been some random family friend, I would have appreciated it just the same.
posted by aniola at 2:01 PM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having it be a letter puts too much responsibility on the family to save it. Send them an awesome birthday present every year and actually, just show up a lot. I'd love it if my single friends just came over to my house a lot and played with my kids. Being in a kids life is a decades long task. Be around and you'll be a part of their lives.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:48 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was born, one of my dad's friends wrote me a letter that just commemorated what was going on in the world that day and what happened to him on the day I was born. It wasn't someone I ever developed a close relationship with and I don't think he ever wrote another letter but as a kid I totally LOVED reading that letter and wish he had written more. It made me feel really important and like I was worthy of adult conversation. I say do it (with parental approval).
posted by Mrs Roy G Biv at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

OP, I think your heart is in the right place and, as sallybrown said above, it's possible these kids could form relationships with you. I think you should tell your friends how you're feeling and ask if they have suggestions for how you can stay in touch with them and their kids. Regular skype or FaceTime calls are so great in long-distance relationships. When the kids are older, maybe there's a skill you can teach them over video - magic tricks, a foreign language, art techniques, anything like that? My best friend's dad tragically passed away when she was young. His friend stepped up and stayed in touch with her. He taught her to cook when she was a teenager. She's an amazing home chef now and the friend is her kid's godparent.
posted by areaperson at 5:03 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember with great fondness a family friend who I saw rarely because she had the knack of picking books that were exactly what child-aged me wanted to read and would always mail them with a thoughtfully written card for birthdays and christmases. An internet friend has done something similar, sending silly trinkets and postcards to my kids, who think of her with delight, although they've never met her in person.

Birthdays, present-associated holidays and travels create good opportunities to send a small child-appropriate gift and a card, and then to have letters going back and forth as a friendly relationship develops. I was a big reader/writer though, so letters worked for me. For some of my kids that works, others is has to be Skype because writing letters is torture to them. Those Skype calls matter a lot to them though.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:57 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not creepy at all. I want my friends to have relationships with my kids in whatever way makes sense.

Ideally you will be able to see them when you visit your friends or they visit you, and sending something in the mail is a great way to keep in touch in between. Your friends kids are likely to end up being similar to your friends, so you know best the kind of things they might end up being interested in (though I think the postcard and sticker ideas are great for very little kids).

Kids love attention from grown ups and it is not creepy to show an interest in them.
posted by rainydayfilms at 7:04 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've sent a bunch of letters to my niece, who lives too far away to visit regularly. Kids love getting mail. I don't write much in the letters - a sentence or two for her parent's sake - and I don't expect a response. In the 3-5 year old bracket, stickers are a winner. You can purchase cheap and bulk on Ebay and portion them off to multiple children if you want. Postcards, colouring books, stationery, fancy hair stuff, ribbons, puzzles are all cheap nice and flat to mail.
posted by quercus23 at 2:27 AM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it would be weird and not appreciated at all by the kids to get those letters, unless you are actually involved in their lives on an ongoing basis. I know my kids would have ignored and never read birthday letters from some old friend of mine they did not actually know. If you can be involved in the lives of some friend's kids who live near enough to see them regularly that could work out well, and kids always like appropriate gifts, but letters they can read as teens from some unknown guy sounds like something out of the 19th century. I fear it would be viewed as creepy by the kids, or at least irrelevant to their lives.
posted by mermayd at 8:16 AM on May 7, 2016

Hey, um...you're having a very strong emotional reaction (humiliation?) to hearing that your idea might not be appreciated by kids or their parents
It's okay to want what you want. People here are giving you different recommendations to help you scratch that itch in other ways. Not to make you feel bad for having it.

Maybe unpack the emotions going on here a little, and see what other options you have?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I got letters from my step-grandmother every week for years. She sent me a little church newsletter for kids, a quick note about her week.

She stopped when her first biological granddaughter was born.

I loved those letters, but it was never about me as a person. It was about me as a young girl she could count on to collect her efforts. When my own great-grandmother died, she only acknowledged it by sending along the obituary that she had clipped out of the newspaper. She wasn't trying to forge a personal connection with me, just the idea of me. When I realized that, it was wrenching. I felt used, and then I felt disposable.

If you want to be a non-parental adult presence in the lives of your friends' kids, you need to start putting in the work bow while they're little. Skype, small age-appropriate gifts (books, offbeat toys...)
posted by RainyJay at 9:55 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a man in his mid-30s, and I am probably not going to have children. I am okay with this, but the thought of having no connection whatsoever to the next generation is fairly upsetting to me for all sorts of reasons.

I know this isn't your question, but have you thought about donating sperm? You could be what is called a known donor, which means that on the child's 18th birthday, they get to know your name and contact info. You could write letters to these kids every year and gift them to them when they get in touch with you. You'd be creating a connection to the next generation, helping out a family who wants children, and showing those children that you cared about them all along. Just a thought!
posted by EarnestDeer at 7:31 PM on May 8, 2016

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