Keeping a journal while growing up was so important for Meredith Jacobs that she wanted her daughter, Sofie, to have the same outlet early on.
Tucking her in at night in their Rockville home, Meredith would ask: “What made Sofie happy today?” Meredith would write the responses, along with her own daily highlights, in a book with a bumblebee and the words “Bee Happy” on the cover.
Sometimes Sofie would recall playing with Barbies. Meredith, a writer, would note having lunch with friends. Her husband, Jonathan, a lawyer, once wrote about the relief of having completed taxes.
“It was just so nice for both parties to have a chance to reflect on something that made them smile that day before they went to sleep,” recalls Sofie, now 26 and studying for her MBA at Duke University.
The “happy book” remains a treasured time capsule, Sofie says. She eventually kept her own journal. At age 9, she started writing back and forth with her mom in a notebook, broaching topics that were too embarrassing to talk about, such as how to handle her first crush.
Those experiences deepened the family’s relationships and morphed into a publishing enterprise. The Jacobses have written several books with prompts to encourage parents, daughters, sons, sisters and grandparents to connect through journaling on topics from the silly to the serious.
There is space in the books to analyze each other’s craziest dream, choose a superpower and draw a favorite place on earth. There are questions about fears, regrets and hopes, along with blank pages to write about sensitive issues that are, perhaps, best posed on paper and answered thoughtfully, with the benefit of time.
The flagship in the series, Just Between Us: Mother & Daughter: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal,was published in 2010. It was co-authored by Sofie, who was then in eighth grade, and Meredith, whose literary agent urged them to write it after hearing of their journaling ritual. The title sold more than a half-million copies in six languages, according to its publisher, Chronicle Books. A revised edition of the original book was slated for release in April.
“We got emails and letters from mothers and daughters saying, ‘Thank you. Because of this, we are closer.’ That was just the most rewarding and unexpected thing,” says Meredith, now an executive at a nonprofit.
The pair later created a journal for grandmothers and granddaughters, and another for sisters. In 2020, Meredith and her son, Jules, now 24, collaborated on a journal for mothers and sons that was prompted in part by the #MeToo movement. “It was created with the idea that increased communication about emotions and vulnerability will broaden the perceptions of ‘normalized’ masculinity in our culture,” says Jules, who lives in San Diego and serves in the U.S. Navy.
Not to be left out, Jonathan and Sofie’s Just Between Us: Father & Daughter was due out in April. Although the two never formally journaled with each other, they say their letters, cards and talks over the years led them to design their journal with activities and hundreds of questions they hope young girls and dads would enjoy.
“This is an opportunity, in a fun way, for a father—without being too preachy—to get across points to the daughter,” Jonathan says. “And for the daughter to let the father know, in an easier way than saying it face-to-face, things she wants to communicate.”
At a time when kids are inundated with messages from social media, parents need to find creative ways to be influential, says Meredith. “Even if [your kids are] pushing you away,” she says, “your voice is still the most important.”
This story appears in the May/June issue of Bethesda Magazine.