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Building the legacy your children will remember

In a recent phone call with a long-time friend, we talked about her unexpected and unintended vacation from all things digital while traveling for the holidays.  She spoke about how not being able to keep up with her blogging schedule and missing out on her Twitter stream was stressful at first, but then she made a remark that the time away from life online allowed her the perspective to realize that her online presence was insignificant in comparison to what she wanted to leave behind as a lasting legacy.

That statement profoundly shaped my thinking about my plans and goals for the new year.

I spend far too much time worrying over subscriber numbers, social media influence, and writing gigs, and far too little time stepping back and examining what I am doing that will last long after I am gone.

And so with the ringing in of the new year, I am making time to sketch out an action plan that will keep me on track for thoughtful legacy-building; a philosophy to guide and direct me both in 2011 and in the years to come.

Would you like to join me?

Start at the end

It’s hard for many of us to think about our own mortality, but the truth is that if we are wondering what our lasting legacy will be, we must begin at the end of our lives.

  • When I am gone from this planet and my children are reflecting and remembering me, what do I hope will be their most powerful memories of the time we had together?
  • What do I want written about me in my obituary?
  • What are the stories, memories, and influences I hope to leave behind for my children’s children, and others for whom I hope to have influenced?

If you keep a journal or some written record of your life, it might not be a bad idea to actually write down your answers to these questions.  I find there is something in the act of writing that makes an idea more concrete.

Evaluate and connect

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography

As we consider our hopeful legacy, we must take the next pivotal step of evaluating who we are and what are doing now that either contributes to or takes away from building that legacy.

• If I want my children to remember me as a constant safe place in their lives, I must make the conscious choice to be a safe place for them on a day-to-day basis.  If I’m too busy to calm their Big Feelings or to listen to their hopes and dreams, then I am too busy.  My schedule must be loosened up so that I can be the person I want them to remember.

• If I want to leave a legacy of practicing hospitality, I need to be intentional in creating an oasis at home where anyone is welcome, anytime.  I need to be willing to open my heart and our front door, welcoming others in no matter how untidy the house may be.

• If I hope to pass on my love for literature, literacy, and learning, then I need to thoughtfully create a home that cultivates a love of reading.  Trips to the library, ample time for bedtime reading, and frequent family reading times are all things I can intentionally plan to contribute to a legacy honoring the love of learning.

Of course, these are just a few ideas that are important to me.  Perhaps your legacy might include world travel, meaningful social justice work, rescuing abused animals, preparing exquisite meals, or involvement with local government . . . The possibilities are endless and are entirely unique to you!

Little things are long-lasting

One of my favorite lines from the movie Up is when Russell tells Mr. Frederickson, “That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”

I think that’s an incredible reminder that as parents we can dream, plan, and act on all of the things that we want our children to remember about us — or not.  We are building a legacy every day, whether or not we are intentional about it.

Grace comes in to remind us that even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant, or even boring things are the things our children will remember long after we are gone. Bike rides, bubble baths, making cookies, singing silly songs loudly, hide-and-seek on rainy days, and hopscotch on the sidewalk — these are a pivotal part of what we will leave behind.

My mom often laments that when we were kids, she yelled too much or didn’t get down on the floor and play with us enough; somehow the passage of time has already softened that for me, and I tend to remember fondly that she almost always had a great snack waiting for us after school and that she never, ever missed a choir concert.

Photo by Beth Rankin

As I’ve given much thought to my own legacy in the past few weeks, I’ve realized I don’t want my children to remember me only in silhouette – a face turned toward a screen.  The time we have to share with children sharing the same roof with us is short and fleeting, and if I want the memories my children will someday cherish to be of me completely connected and entirely engaged in our 3-D life, then I don’t have the luxury of spending my days chasing the elusive and the temporary.

As we move forward into 2011, let’s purpose to keep our hearts and minds fastened on that which will last.

Have you given much thought to your own legacy? How do you hope your children, family, friends, and community will remember you?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Catherine

    Amen to that! Love this post on so many levels.

  2. shannon

    My mom was a single mother to three young children so she worked really hard to put food on the table. That did mean she sacrificed time with us as well.

    I told my husband that I wanted to do family weekend activities because my mom could do that for us growing up. I hope my son remembers the crafts, family swim mornings and camping trips.

    • Missy June

      Thank you for sharing – I’m a single mother of three little ones myself. I’m doing my best to live out my values and instill deep security in my little ones!

  3. Nadene

    What a wonderful post – I also want to “be completely connected and entirely engaged in our 3-D life”.
    I am challenged to be more spontaneous, to be open to the most of the moment and make memories right there and then that will remain.

  4. Alison Moore Smith

    With my oldest daughter getting married in April, my next in college, my next about to graduate from high school (and yes, there are three more, younger “nexts”) I finally have become aware of just how truly (and quickly!) time flies.

    They are gone before you know it. Don’t waste those precious moments.

    Great, thoughtful post.

  5. Alison @ Femita

    It’s not easy to think of what you’ll leave behind after death, but it certainly helps you to focus on the important things in life. It’s so easy to lose yourself in details and get caught up in work. From time to time you should take a step back, put things in perspective and make adjustments.

  6. prasti

    fantastic post. building a legacy for our children is something my husband and i have been convicted about for quite some time, and it has really changed our approach to the way we view stuff, the time we spend with our kids and the time we spend with others.

  7. Miguel de Luis

    Hi Megan,

    I lack children, but nevertheless I believe there are far more important things than checking blog stats. I’ve got trapped by it, so I chose to disable them. My blog is amateur, but I believe Leo Babauta and others who earn their bread and butter blogging have taken the same bold step.

    Now, I’m not suggesting everybody to shut down their stats, nor that it’s the key to happinnes, but that we need to evaluate what we are doing, set boundaries to ourselves and see if we are pulling ourselves out of the life we’d love to be living.

  8. CatherineLove

    Great post!
    I am purposing to live each day intentionally this year, being present each moment, not rushing ahead to the “next thing” or thinking about what I need to do next week, next month … being mindful of “this moment” and spending it doing something worthwhile, something that will last.
    Catherine 🙂

  9. Melodie

    As of yesterday I announced that I am quitting blogging. These things have been going on for me for about a year and while I did try to pull back and not worry as much about subscriber numbers and being a “good blogger” and responding to comments and leaving comments, it just didn’t work. The pull to the screen was too great. I’m giving myself this one last week and then I’m done. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because I have a pretty popular blog in a niche that brought me passion, but just like you said I want to leave a legacy and I am not comfortable with being the type of role model that makes it look okay to be in front of a screen numerous hours per day – perhaps if it was my living, but it’s not. And my kids have to come before a hobby that can some days take up more time than a full time job. Blessings to you in however you decide to manage your own time here. It’s hard.

  10. Rachel

    Fantastic post, as always, Megan!

  11. Sarah

    Great post! Exactly what I’ve been mulling over.

    I’ve found myself swamped with my work as I’ve tried to get my business solid – And while the increasing security of a good client lineup is nice – at what cost. Right now I’m working hard on another front – to gain more balance so that I’m not consumed by the virtual world while the real world grows up right under my nose!

  12. Anna

    We moms can always use the reminder to engage with our children, not with the screen. Thanks for an inspiring post!

  13. Dominique

    A really thought provoking post. It got me thinking about setting my own legacy and re-validating the reason why I am staying home to spend time with the kids this year.

  14. Mom2xamj

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post! It’s exactly what I needed to hear! I don’t want to be remembered as the mom who couldn’t get her act together. I got some pondering and praying to do!

  15. Stacey

    I keep a journal on Google Docs. In some form or other, I have kept the same journal since my eldest was a baby. It started as a simple to-do list, but then I annotating what happened during the day with just a few words added to my completed to-do items. It was a short step to cutting and pasting those passages to the bottom of my to-do list, and voila! It became a journal! My to-do list has the following captions: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, Next Week, This Month, Next Month, This Year, Next Year, and Someday. If I want to do something this Christmas, I can add it to This Year, and be sure not forget it. If I have a longterm goal, I can put it in Someday. But really, it is the day to day that I am recording, and it is that day to day my children can read about later on and use it to prompt their memories of their childhood and our “familyhood”. When I think back to my childhood, it is the memories of the day to day that I treasure, not the yearly camping trip or what my mom served for Christmas dinner. This day to day recording of our family life is what I want to give to my children, just as the raising of wonderful children is my hopeful legacy to them.

  16. Tsh

    As I’ve already told Megan, I’m pretty sure she wrote this post for me. 🙂 Seriously, though, her words could not be more timely for my life, what with my theme of saying ‘no’ to all but the essentials this year. That’s not for nothing — it’s so I can say ‘yes’ to the things I truly want and need to. And course, these three little people in my life are some of the main ‘yesses’ in my life.

    Thanks again, as always, Megan! Your words are gold.

  17. Susan

    One thing that I’ve done since our children were young is write encouraging letters to them. Sometimes these letters are about times we have shared together that have meant so much to me. Other times I have written when too emotional at the time to express my thoughts verbally, or want to remind them of something of importance. I have my thoughts and expectations in writing. These letters aren’t admonishments, but written in a loving way to share with them what I have learned through my own experiences, or the experiences of others, over the years. Of course, I’ve also expressed verbally when I’m sorry about mistakes I have made, but also have written them down, to help them learn that everyone makes mistakes and we can learn from them.

    Because we are Christians, I also have three Bibles (one for each child) where, in the margins I have written my thoughts, praises & questions to God, and specific prayers for each child. For example, one of our children is musically gifted so there are lots of praises to God in the Psalms margins praising God for this child who loves to use her musical gift to praise God and to give us joy. Another child is always smiling, funny, etc. and at scriptures talking about joy, his name and something funny he has said or done is written in the margins. Our other child, even while very young is a natural teacher, so in scriptures regarding wisdom and instruction, there are comments and praise for her. There are also comments praising God for giving me a Godly husband to join me in raising our children.

  18. April Driggers

    Oh this just speaks to me… on so many levels. Im trying now how to pare down my blog list that I follow… ungh…. dont worry… yours is still at the top I just have this feeling like I will miss something… ya know???

    If you have any pearls, do let me know!

  19. Jennie

    Wonderful! Even though I don’t have children yet, I need to work on this with my husband. I don’t want him to remember always trying to get my attention from a screen. Yuck! Thanks for the reminder that all of these blogs are to help us live our lives, not distract us from them.

  20. Lauren

    I think about this all the time. The problem I have is that I choose the legacy 75 percent of the time, which leaves only 25 percent of me to get housework, etc. done. And when I see that mountain of laundry or the piles of dog hair gathering in the corners of the room, I feel like I am failing. How do I even begin to let go of the guilt so that I can enjoy the legacy I am creating?

  21. Katie @ Imperfect People

    I love this Megan! I recently struggled through the same thoughts. I finally decided it doens’t matter how many subscribers i have, twitter friends etc. The God of the universe knows my name and that is all the fame I need.

  22. Tammy Rinehart

    I absolutely love this post. My parents were all about spending time with us. I am making sure my husband and I are doing the same. My inlaws are not this way so, I am having to explain to my husband these little moments at the dinner table or talking to them instead of watching tv are important.

  23. Susan@smallcompilations

    Wow, thank you Megan, this post just confirms what has been on my mind the past few days on changes I need to make in the way I spend my time with the ones I love the most. And you’re so right on with that quote from Up, it is the little things or the ‘boring’ things that they remember or appreciate the most, isn’t it? I rang true last night, the boys were in bed but still awake and Colin kept getting up and coming back out in the living room because he ‘needed’ something. My husband went in with him on the last time to tuck him in and he ended up laying down in bed with him and just listening to him and Logan (they share a room) talk about their day and what was on their minds. The boys loved that time with him and when he got up to go Logan told him ‘daddy, I had a lot of fun with you just now’. I still choke up a little just thinking about it, because that’s all they wanted and needed, was that time talking with their daddy (sigh……).

  24. Eila

    What a fabulous reminder. Thank you.

  25. Tracey - JustAnotherMommyBlog

    What a lovely way to start the new year! Life is always trying to make us busy and speed by too quickly. It’s a constant fight to live in the moment and be true to oneself, especially with the digital age’s lightning pace. Great reminders!

  26. Julia

    Oh Megan, these are such wise and timely words! I don’t want my children to remember me “only in silhouette” either. This post, along with your post “Lay It Down: Can You Be Fully Present This Holiday Season?” are having a deep impact on me. Thank you for your honest admonitions.

  27. Tiffini

    I often get bored with things that don’t really matter and struggle with some of what you wrote about above…just a great reminder of what is really important in this life!!!

  28. Diane

    Wow … wonderful post. Thanks. It went right to my heart. Time for a change.


  29. Bethesda Locavore

    Thank you. This was beautiful. I have been noticing recently that when we spend extended periods of time without any screen – computer, tv, smartphone – our quality of life is just completely different.

  30. Becky - Clean Mama

    As always, Megan, your words ring so true….thank you!

  31. Hannah

    Great post, Megan! I already commented over at your own blog, but just wanted to echo the applause here. I think it’s a balancing act many of us writing/reading mamas struggle with. We need a life, we need contact with the world out there and with kindred spirits we can’t see in our daily life, we need to not suffocate the kids with attention — but when they need us, we need to be able to stop ourselves, to know our limits.

  32. Catherine R

    LOVE this. Such a great reminder for so many of us!

  33. Mela Kamin

    Beautiful reminder. I love what you said about not wanting to be just a silhouette – I think about how hollow, shallow and busy I must seem.

  34. Samantha @ Mama Notes

    This morning, around 5 am my son ( almost 2) woke up crying. I went in and rocked him for about 5 minutes and put him back in his bed. I wanted to get back in my own bed myself! He did not want that, he was crying and saying “Mama” which I just CAN NOT resist. 🙂 I don’t know what was wrong- I really think he just wanted the extra snuggles and to be rocked. So I rocked him for a little while longer and treasured that moment because I KNOW it is going by fast and soon he won’t fit on my lap!

  35. Kathleen

    This is so true—Thanks for the great reminder—I might also add—even if your children are grown, it’s never too late to change your legacy! Grace abounds with most children—even grown ones! ;D

  36. Rachel J.

    Great post! I needed this reminder!

  37. The Lazy Dazy

    Technology, and so many other things, can be a real thief if we are not conscientious and intentional. I like the way your friend put it and you are wise to take it to heart. Thank you for sharing and also for the reminder about grace. We can be so hard on ourselves as moms. I think that if we will note some positive things we are doing or already have in place as we set our goals, we will not feel so discouraged if/when we slip. Great post.

  38. Steph at Modern Parents Messy Kids

    Oh wow, this one’s a thinker of a post! My new blog isn’t even officially 2 weeks old yet and I’m already thinking about how I want to structure my life so that it doesn’t take me away from my kids. Case in point, we’re in the middle of the preschool registration frenzy right now and I’m heavily leaning towards a co-op to make sure I have that extra one-on-one time with my son on the days I would work there. My only resolution for the year was also to spend more of what I call “intentional time” with the kids, down at there level each day.

    I too want to leave behind a love of reading and writing in my kids. To that end, we have a basket full of books in the living room, play room, and each of their bedrooms for them to access at any time. Often my 2 year old just wants to dump the basket but even just this morning he spent 20 minutes in his room reading alone.

    I recently wrote this post about how to foster a love of writing at home:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

  39. Lisa

    Thank you! Like many others, I too am trying to keep this in mind. It’s hard to let go of the elusive and temporary, and be in the moment. I need to remind myself that it won’t be too long before the children are all grown-then I’ll have plenty of time for the internet.

  40. Suzita @

    Sometimes when I feel ungrounded and unfocused in my parenting and family life, I think to myself that I need to do for my kids what I want done for my grandkids. Of course I don’t have grandkids yet, but this idea reminds me that the way we parent is a legacy in it’s own right. Our kids are most likely to parent their kids the way we parented them.

  41. Alicia

    Lovely post! I loved the line about not being remembered in silhouette, turned to the screen. 🙂

  42. Courtney

    Yes! I found myself nodding at everything you wrote. I want all the same things – my kids to remember me as engaged and caring and kind. Not distracted and impatient; which is how I sometimes feel. SO, thanks for the thoughts and encouragement. And now I’m shutting down the computer for a bit! 🙂

  43. Intentionally Katie

    Wow. I really loved not only what you had to say in this post but HOW it was said. I will be thinking about this through the week and hope to put my thoughts down on paper. Or even on my blog! 🙂

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  44. Elizabeth

    Amen and Amen! I’ve been hit with this lately. Sometimes in the moment of anxiety I’ll remember to ask myself, “If I died later today- would this still really be a big deal?” It’s a sobering question that helps keeps my priorities straight.

  45. finley

    As a new mom, I appreciate this post and reminder to “begin with an end in mind”. Things are easy right now, as he is not even a year old, but I’m sure as he gets older and has different needs I will need to remember this. (Of course, by “easy” I mean, how hard is it to hold and cuddle on a happy baby as first time parents? But being a new mom is never really “easy”!)

  46. Melissa

    What a great post! In the day-to-day, you’re right — we forget the lasting impact we can have. This was a great reminder; thank you!

  47. jenni

    wonderful, i like the part that some of flaws can be softened, and our intention and goodness can shine. my daughter is 8 ~ i think i might take some time to investigate what she remembers about me already.. a little systems check.

    wow! again ~ thanks!!

  48. Tara Burghart

    What a beautiful essay! I teared up when you mentioned how your mom regrets yelling at times or not playing with you on the floor enough. It’s wonderful, though, that your memories of your childhood are positive ones … of the structure and confidence she provided, by always having a good snack or you, or being present at an important event. I’m sure your mom will be so proud to read what you wrote here. And that’s why I like your idea of focusing on what *kind* of legacy you want to leave behind. We can’t all be everything to our kids — some of us are better at playing on the floor (I’m good at that); some of us at exposing our children to new experiences and cultures (working on that); some of us at coming up with darling and fun craft projects (I’m terrible at that.) To make sure I’m present with my 2-year-old, I often stay up way too late working on my own business, but then sometimes I’m a bit too quick to get frustrated with her the next day because I’m tired. So I need to figure out a way to shift that work — either to weekends, when my husband can be ‘present’ with her, or clone myself.
    Anyway, thanks for a great discussion topic for my husband and I to ponder over the coming weeks — and years.

  49. Amy ~ Eat. Live. Laugh. Shop.

    I couldn’t agree more. Somedays I feel like I may need a 12-Step Program to keep help me live this on a day-to-day basis. It’s always easy the day I have the epiphany, but as the days wear on I fall into old habits.

  50. Living the Balanced Life

    Absolutely awesome words. As a mom of 4 grown kids ages 18-29, and grandma to 7, I can attest to this. Make the memories you want them to remember, but be sure to give yourself some grace! They need YOU and not all the stuff you could buy them or the extracurricular activities they could do. Find the meaningful stuff and make it count!

  51. Kel

    Thank you. I needed to read that right now.

  52. Rachelle

    Thank you for this, Megan! Not only are these questions we should all answer, but you actually convinced me that I should start writing a journal again (it’s probably been about 10 years!). So, I entered the questions in my journal, and after sitting with them tonight, I plan to start writing tomorrow. This seems like the perfect way to begin.

  53. renee @ FIMBY

    Thank you Megan for this great post. A reminder of what’s important.

  54. Sofia's Ideas

    Well said! This is a fantastic post – loved it through and through!

    Years ago, I read Stephen Covey’s book and really applied it to my life. The idea of “Begin with the end in mind” was crucial in shaping the way I’ve been living my life ever since. I apply it, or try to, in every aspect of my life – from the way I parent to the way I handle “balance”, and everything in between. I have a copy of my essay from that exercise in my control journal and I reread it every so often. As part of our daily routine, we also recite our Family Mission Statement and it helps us to move throughout the day in alignment with our values.

  55. Jacqueline

    Ouch! stepped on my toes. I needed to read that and remember to stop, breathe, relax and listen to little ones and enjoy them even if potty training is not going great and the laundry is growing and…and…and… but what matters most is relationships.

  56. mants

    This is a very inspiring post. Glad i was able to read this one! It motivates me to appreciate my parents and to become a better parent also to my kids. I agree that our parents leave a remarkable legacy on us… A legacy that will last forever. I hope that that legacy will help us to become good parents to our kids. I love this post… Hope i could read more of your articles.

  57. NOOR

    I LOVE IT thank you that really helpful and it’s the truth
    and acually iam arabic …..thank you

  58. Liz Scott

    Tears! What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  59. Juliette

    Thank you so much for this post. I have taken the idea of legacy creation one step further for me and created My Memory Box Project. When my own mother died, I realised that any financial legacy was a paltry offering compared to the love and wisdom that we have to share with our children. I am now in the process of creating a series of videos about my life and my lessons in the hope that they will be of some comfort to my children when I am no longer around to give them the help that they need. I think that creating a legacy is our life’s purpose and doing it with intention is how we can all make a difference in the world.
    Thank you for this post – it has reassured me that there are like minded hearts and souls out there who realise that our true legacy is the love and wisdom that we are able to share during our lives.

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