Eileen Grimes, a former high school teacher and the founder of the company Loved as You Are, created The Us Journal: A Parent-Child Journey of Love and Discovery to encourage stronger connections between children and caregivers. Published last November, the book provides writing prompts for families to share. Grimes, a Spokane, Wash., mother of two elementary-age children, initially recommended the book for donation to the Ronald McDonald House of the Inland Northwest. She anticipated that families could use the journals while residing in that charitable space due to healthcare needs. Now Grimes has sent 53 copies of The Us Journal to Uvalde, Tex., believing her journal may be therapeutic for families processing the severe stress of the recent school shooting. She spoke with PW about parenting, meaningful action however small, and how writing her own eulogy sparked big life changes.

How did you come to create The Us Journal?

In 2020, I’d been working in insurance for a long time, in IT, and I felt like I was on a train to the end of my life. So I actually wrote my eulogy. This came at a point when I was thinking, if I were to be gone today, what is the mark I have left on this world? And it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So I wrote another, [a better eulogy] for myself. And I was like, this is what I want. This is the impact I want to have on the world, this is the connection I want to have with other people, this is the me that I want to live out loud. How can I do that going forward? I took time to redefine success for myself. I’m still working in IT right now to pay the bills, but [I published] the book because I want to have an impact and make this world kinder, more loving, and more connected.

Why did your epiphany take the form of The Us Journal, a way for children and adults to communicate better?

When I was a child I was one of six. I was number three, smack dab in the middle. That was a lot of kids, and not a lot of one-on-one intentional time with my parents. For me that closed off a lot of what my voice was, and when I went through a few traumas, I didn’t have anywhere to go that felt safe to share that experience. When I had my own kids, I wanted to have them know, no matter what happens in their lives, I would always be here to listen, here to support them. So The Us Journal started out as something I was doing with my kids, before I even thought about bringing it into the world. It came from letting my kids know they’re seen, heard, and loved. I think that’s what’s going to move the needle in this country. As soon as we can start reaching out and building our bridges toward each other, we can make a huge difference. That’s what I wanted this journal to be: helping families start to communicate in a loving way.

How did you develop the prompts and conversation starters for caregivers and children? What prompts do you find most effective when talking with children?

I’ve always had a gift for having open-ended questions with kids and trying to understand their world from their perspective. If I ask, “What makes you a superstar?” and follow up with “I think you’re a superstar because you ____,” it starts a conversation. What I want to do is support how we connect together. I also want to come up with questions that are intentionally inclusive. This book doesn’t include gender-specific language, because I want to celebrate what each of our kids can be, and I want them to feel free to express who they are. So with colors [in the book design], I was very intentionally non-gender-specific, and I tried to avoid an ableist point of view—I made sure the kids could be included who might have different abilities, and come from different religious backgrounds. I even struggled including the word parent because every household looks different.

Can you talk about your business model, given that you created the journal as a potential donation to help families? What will your next initiative be?

The business-for-good model is something I believe in and something that can make a difference in people’s lives. When I was pregnant with my son, we had to go in for testing for potential heart issues for him, and I remember how much that stress changes your world. I’ve also done work in the recovery space [including hospitals and organizations that treat addiction], and sometimes it’s so helpful to have a ray of shining light, a tool that you’re not having to create on your own. I wanted to be able to give books to the families who need them but might not be able to access them [financially and otherwise]. I wanted to support families going through hard stuff.

When I was developing the book, I ran a Kickstarter, and it was the first place I had that donation model. It was backed by Kristen Bell, which was amazing, and I wanted to be able to donate some copies to the Ronald McDonald House charities. Now we have 53 journals donated to Robb Elementary School [in Uvalde] that they’re going to be distributing to families. I’m also partnering with Recovery Centers of America, and we’re giving them a discount for the family members of folks who are returning from in-patient recovery.

We can only change the things that are within our realm of change—and sometimes those things are small. You hear the advisories on youth mental health, you hear the statistics on depression and suicide, and it’s so hard when you feel like you have no control. This was an area where I said, “I can make an impact.” The next journal [due out in 2023] will be a little older; I want to keep conversations going, and I want to give parents the tools to do something at home. I'm looking at what it is like to be a kid, and the things kids wish they could talk to their parents about.

The Us Journal: A Parent-Child Journey of Love and Discovery by Eileen Grimes. Collective Book Studio, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-951-41238-8