Lunchbox Love Notes: Mothering or Smothering?

My daughter and I are both having a bit of anxiety over her leaving for full-day kindergarten in a month. So, I’ve been scheming up ways to let her know I love her while she is away for seven whole hours each day.

I hopped online to get some ideas for leaving love notes in her lunchbox, convinced this was the way I could connect with my daughter remotely and remind her how much I love her. At first, my ideas was golden. I was saving templates to my desktop and gathering lots of ideas on lunchbox love notes – everything from knock-knock jokes to cheesy fruit puns like “You’re the Apple of my eye.” Mother of the Year, here I come.

But then, things took a dark turn. I stumbled upon the lunchbox love note industry, and I was shocked. Moms can buy pre-packaged love notes saying things like “I can’t believe how creative you are” and “You’ve become so mature.” Parents can even buy recordable key chains and necklaces to record messages to their child. Hello, helicopter parent.

Kids have come to expect a lunchbox love note, and are upset when they don’t get one or if their friend gets a cooler one, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Some moms have even gone so far as to etch drawings into banana peels. And if your tween or teen has outgrown the love note stage, don’t worry! You can still connect with them with cards that say “I’m sorry I embarrassed you” or “I’m sorry we fought.”

Really? If you are making up for a fight a day later on a lunchbox note, then there are some serious issues in your relationship that won’t be fixed by a pre-made card.

And then, I saw this:

Really? The only thing this mom can think to write from her heart to her daughter on this pre-made card is “Love, Mom.”

This sad love note started me thinking. Am I just taking on one more obligation—one more thing that I’ve somehow convinced myself makes me a “good mom?” Am I going to end up dreading these daily love note because all I can think to say to my daughter is “Love, Mom” on someone else’s card?

I stopped my lunchbox love note planning immediately. Don’t get me wrong: I still plan to slip notes in my daughter’s lunchbox when I think she needs them (or when I need to write them). I may pack an extra treat or photo or word of encouragement, but I want them to mean something, not to become one more task to check off each day.

Like most things we do as moms, the love and intention behind this lunchbox love note craze is good. We love our kids. We miss them. We want them to feel loved and protected and invincible. But sometimes we take it too far. We lose sight of the goal amidst all the cutesy hoopla.

I don’t want to be frantic at night to get my love note in her lunchbox because if she opens it and (gasp!) there is no card with a heart on it she will undoubtedly question my love for her and her emotional stability will collapse around her in the cafeteria while the other kids whose mothers love them enough to put notes in their lunch will look on and laugh at her.

I refuse to lose sight of the whole point of lunchbox loves notes: love. I want her to know I love her by spending time with her, paying attention to what’s important in her day and knowing when she needs that little extra post-it note in her lunch. And sometimes, being a mom is knowing when your child needs an extra song or back tickle at bedtime rather than you taking the time to print out tomorrow’s perfunctory love note.

The thing is, kids are smart. They can tell the difference between love and a love note. I hope I’m wise enough to do the same.

What are your thoughts on lunchbox love notes — great idea or over-the-top obligation?







  1. Esther

    As the creators of Lunchbox Love for Kids, we agree that lunch notes are not meant to replace communication with children but to reinforce positive communication between parents and their kids. If a simple note of love or encouragement brightens a child’s day, whether hand-written or pre-printed, we think it’s worth it. Additionally, our cards have fun trivia and jokes on the backs that kids love to share with their classmates. We’d love to send you a pack or two so you can see them for yourself.

    • Erin Stewart

      Thanks Esther. I’m so glad you wrote in because I agree — these types of notes should supplement a relationship and I think families who use them as such are on the right track.

  2. Danny Chipman

    I was not even aware of the existence of lunchbox love notes until I read this post. Somehow, I managed to survive (and thrive in) my childhood without them. I’m guessing your kids could, too. There’s plenty of time before and after school to reinforce those loving bonds. An occasional note might be nice and special, but every day? Jokes and trivia are one thing, but I’m sorry, I find the idea of pre-printed, packaged love notes really sad. Almost as sad as the ridiculous number of children’s television show characters who have to tell kids they love them, because maybe their parents don’t.

    The only thing I pity your daughter for is having to go to full-day kindergarten.

  3. Erin R.

    Our mom wrote us little notes on our paper napkins and we loved them. I don’t think it was every single day, but fairly often. Sometimes little “roses are red” poems, or just “I love you,” or even just a drawing of a jack-o-lantern for Halloween. I loved those notes so much I couldn’t bear to throw my napkins away with the rest of my lunch garbage. I wasn’t disappointed on the days she didn’t write them, nor did I feel like I was competing with anybody else at the lunch table (I actually don’t know if anyone else even got notes from their mom). I guess what I’m saying is: go ahead and do it if you’re feeling it that day or if you think your daughter particularly needs it. You’re on exactly the right path. She will love it, whatever you do, believe me.

  4. Meredith

    My mom wrote a poem to me every day, well into high school, and I read and cherished it every day. My brother, on the other hand, said he never read them. I think it depends on your child’s love language…if they love words of affirmation, it’s a great thing. If their love language is quality time, take that five minutes every day and spend it with them instead of writing a note. Each kid is different, learning who they are and how they love enables you to care for them in the best way possible!

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