Sofie Jacobs was in third grade when she and her mother began a tradition. They started writing to each other.
“I had this huge crush on the guy that sat next to me in class,” says Sofie, now 20, on what gave her the idea to start journaling. “It was my first crush and I didn’t know what to do. And my mom was writing her first book, so she was busy — not too busy for us, but busy enough that it was an excuse for me not to talk to her about anything that might be awkward.”
Instead, Sofie wrote down her feelings and questions in a journal and passed it to Meredith, who did the same back to Sofie. Turns out, what can be difficult to say in person is easier to write down.
“I really connected with where she was, instead of always as a mother to her daughter,” says Meredith, a former editor of Washington Jewish Week.
As Meredith was promoting her book, “The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat,” she would speak about their journal and other moms in the audience wrote down the idea.
That’s how the Jacobs’ first mother-daughter book, “Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms,” came to be. That 2010 book was followed this April by “Just Between Us: Grandmother and Granddaughter.” Another volume for sisters is due out in August.
The journals have lots of space for writing, and also include writing prompts, ranging from the fun (“My top 10 favorite songs” and “A funny story about me when I was your age”) to the more thoughtful (“Questions I have for you” and “My biggest regret”).
“We try to be really thoughtful about all the talking points,” Meredith says. The key was to have Sofie’s voice as a then-middle school-age girl who could come up with topics she wanted to write about, or ask her mother about. “For the book to work, girls would have to want to write. I knew moms would want to do it.”
For the later two journals, Sofie and Meredith consulted Sofie’s grandmother Ellen Levin (known as “Buddee” to Sofie) and Meredith’s sister Jennifer Kagnoff. Sophie has a brother, Jules, but no sister.
Their journaling brought mother and daughter closer together and allowed them to navigate hurt feelings and new experiences. Sofie could tell Meredith why she was upset at something her mother had done and Meredith could give her side of the story, but also consider the action from Sofie’s perspective.
“I just think of every time I was able to speak to my mother about things I wouldn’t have otherwise spoken to her about,” Sofie says about the journaling.
Since 2010, the mother-daughter journal has sold 200,000 copies and the grandmother-grandaughter version from April 8,000. The feedback from the published journals has been overwhelmingly positive, they say. Meredith says they received notes from mothers and daughters alike saying, “I was finally able to create a relationship with my mother/daughter.”
“It feels like we put something good out there that’s helping people,” Meredith says.
Their first book was even noticed by television personality Brooke Burke, who wrote in her biography (and in a Mother’s Day spread for People magazine) about how well the journal had worked for her and her daughter.
Sofie and Meredith don’t journal much now that Sofie is away studying at the University of Michigan. But they do text a lot — the short-form digital version of their previous journaling. And they’re not sure which relationship they’ll take on next, but they don’t plan to stop writing together.
“I think as long as people want these books and people have relationships that are important, we’ll keep making them,” Sofie says.