Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction

park connection 2At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.

But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.

But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.

What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.

It’s no secret that this type of parent-child estrangement can happen without warning. Furthermore, the realization that it has happened often comes too late. In fact, even before technology was a readily available distraction, many generations of parents have looked back on their child-rearing years and wish they had invested more time in their children’s lives.

This topic is addressed in a book entitled 30 Lessons for Living written by Karl Pillemer.  In this powerful book, Pillemer shares the priceless information he gleaned from older Americans—which he refers to as “experts” in the area of living an intentional, meaningful life. Interestingly, the elderly experts who didn’t have regret in this area had “creatively manufactured” shared time. This meant going along with their children’s interests whether the parent enjoyed these activities or not.

the world needs more open arms1

Pillemer shares this powerful observation: “The more I talked to the experts about child rearing, the clearer it became that the quality of relationships with the children is directly proportional to the amount of time spent together.”

I don’t need proof that spending time with my children now will likely result in a close relationship later, but it feels reassuring to know that the wisest Americans (through personal experience) confirm this theory to be true.

So here are the things I do … things that don’t come naturally to me … things I could easily take a pass on, but I don’t. I do these things—not because I enjoy them—but because someone very important to me does …

I hold the roly poly in my hand—not because I like how those creepy little feet feel on my nice clean hand—but because it feels good to slow down and marvel at a tiny miracle through my child’s eyes.

I go down the giant curly slide at the park—not because I like to hear my skin squeak as it sticks to metal—but because of the joyful laughter and grateful smiles that greet me at the bottom.

I read the American Girl chapter book out loud—not because it has a compelling plot and strong character development—but because of the way my child feels snuggled next to me as I read words she does not yet know.

I watch her lip-sync Taylor Swift music videos—not because I like to hear “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” ten bazillion times—but because the facial expression she makes are indescribable, and I want to remember them when I am 80-years-old.

I lay beside her when she’s worried about something—not because her bed is more comfortable than mine—but because after a few minutes, she whispers her fears into the dark, and I am there to comfort her.

I join her on the porch when she plays with the cat—not because I lack something more interesting to do—but because this is when she randomly throws out questions like, “What do you love about me?” and “What happens when we die?” And I want to be there to answer them if I can.

I strap on a pair of goggles and swim beside her—not because this is a good look for me—but because it allows me a close-up view of her proudest moment doing something she thought she’d never do.

I listen to her describe (in agonizing detail) how to create an iMovie using dolls—not because this topic interests me in the slightest—but because out of all the people in the world she could teach this to, she wants to teach me.

I sit on the porch and watch her do awkward handstands and clumsy cartwheels—not because this is riveting entertainment—but because I want my child to look back on her growing-up years and remember a mom that was present in the mundane, every day moments of life.

I make an effort to take an interest in my children’s preferred activities—not because their desires are more important than mine—but because I want to know them and I want them to know me … now and in the future.

lightning bugs

Just knowing there are some elderly parents out there today wishing they could turn back time and make different choices about time spent with their kids is a wake-up call for me. After all, when those folks had young children, the digital distractions that parents deal with today were not prevalent. Yes, there were other distractions just like my parents and your parents had, but more and more research shows that mobile devices are more distracting and habit-forming than the diversions of yesteryear. In fact, the association of childhood injury and lack of parental attention due to “device distraction” is quite sobering.

We are the first generation of parents raising our children with the ever-present lure of technology at our fingertips. We are the first generation of parents able to be digitally connected to virtually anyone, anytime, anywhere. We are the first generation of parents who will show our children that technology is either a tool or a crutch—that it can enhance or damage our lives. Time spent engaging as a family does not come naturally anymore, yet time isolated from one another comes a little TOO naturally. In fact, time spent alone on our respective devices has become a way of life for many.

I’ve decided I am going to fight the natural inclination for separate interests, separate screens, and separate lives. Even if it means sometimes doing an activity I am not crazy about doing. Because when it comes down to it, my motivation is pretty simple:

I want to know what makes her smile.

I want to know what makes her laugh.

I want to know what makes her hurt.

I want to know what makes her dream.

I want to know what makes her proud.

I want to know what makes her tick.

And I cannot know these things if I am spending time in another room

Holding tightly to my distractions

Creating a world of emptiness between us.

park connection 3


I wrote this post exactly 3 years ago not knowing the desire to know my children would only intensified with time. I look at my middle school age daughter and can see her future–a future I want to be part of.  That is why I eagerly accept my children’s invitations to check out what they are doing, hear what they have to say, or just sit beside them in connective silence. In honor of those suffering imaginable loss in Oregon today, let us do all we can to know our people a little more today than we did yesterday. Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution. Please enjoy hearing me talk about the beauty that happens when we designate small pockets of time to be fully available. So much goodness has come from the small steps I’ve taken to live Hands Free & it was truly an honor to share it on national shows like Global News and The Social this week while in Canada. A special thank you to all who came to my Q&A with Andrea Nair and the Hands Free Life book signing Wednesday night in Mississauga. I won’t forget your tears … your hugs … your stories … your gratitude for my words. (A few pictures below)

For those who are new here, you can find a wealth of practical & powerful strategies for connecting with your children & loved ones despite the distractions of our culture in my books, HANDS FREE MAMA & HANDS FREE LIFE. My new book has a whole chapter on avoiding the pain of regret by “filling the spaces” and accepting the invitations of life. Thank you for your support!

Q&A with Andrea Nair on 9/30

Q&A with Andrea Nair on 9/30

Meeting my readers on 9/30

Meeting my readers on 9/30

Love meeting my readers!

Love meeting my readers!

Books by Rachel Macy Stafford

‘Choose Love’ 21-Day Challenge: Part 2

choose love challenge 2

* On September 22, I posted a passage on The Hands Free Revolution page illustrating how ‘Choosing Love’ as a first response might play out in a typical day. The concept deeply resonated with many people. I’ve added it to this post and decided now was the perfect time to bring back this transformative 21-day challenge. Let love start this day. Let love end this day. Let love transform the minutes in between …

I never know where interviews are going to take me – but I can almost always be sure they will take me back—back in time. And although most days I try my best to look forward, sometimes it’s enlightening to reflect back and see something I can only see with time. This is my story, as well as a challenge, should you choose to accept.

It was this, the second to last question during my interview on Better Worldians Radio that stirred something inside me: “With the success of your book and popularity of your website I imagine you could be busier than ever. How do you keep the balance and keep living Hands Free?” asked Gregory, one of the show’s hosts.

I briefly described several strategies I used when I began my journey that are still in practice today. Wanting to place emphasis on what I feel is the most important one, practicing daily distraction-free rituals, I shared this story …

The night before the Hands Free Mama manuscript was due to my publisher I was working furiously to meet my deadline. My parents had come from Florida to help me any way they could.

It was around 8:30 p.m. and I was bent over the keyboard surrounded by empty soda cans, crumpled papers, and used sticky notes.

I felt my mom gently touch my arm. She’d just come from my older daughter’s bedroom. “Natalie requested her nightly Talk Time, Rachel,” she whispered softly.

Without hesitation, I got up from my work and headed straight toward Natalie’s room.

Suddenly my mom called out after me, neither of us knowing that what she was about to say would become one of my greatest Hands Free motivators. “I tried to tell Natalie that you had a lot of work to do tonight but she adamantly said, ‘Grandma, Mama always comes.”

Mama always comes.

I stopped midway up the stairs in an effort to wrap both my brain and hands around those sacred words and accept them as mine.

It hadn’t always been that way, you see. But somewhere along my Hands Free journey, I’d become someone my child could count on to come to her bedside each night to talk—no matter what.

talk time 2

As my radio interview began to wrap up, I was amazed that out of all the things the host could reiterate from our hour-long discussion, he chose this:

“I think these three words are words we all want to hear sometime in our life, even just once: ‘Mama always comes.’”

Hearing the interviewer say those words made me feel just like I did when my mom spoke them that very first time. I was crying now. I desperately hoped the show’s listeners could not sense that I’d become a blubbering mess. With tears dripping down my face, I realized something I could only know now looking back in retrospect:

I could have easily kept working the night my daughter asked for Talk Time, but I didn’t.

Why? Why did I not explain that I was under a tight deadline and it would all be over the next day? Why did I not mention that my author advance and reputation were riding on a punctual submission? Why did I not quickly run upstairs and give Natalie a kiss and promise we’d have Talk Time in the morning?

Of all the times I could have said, “Not tonight,” I didn’t. Why?

Because I chose love.

Just like I did the night before … and the night before that … and the night before that … and the many nights before that.

I chose love that night just like I did on the very first day of my journey when I had no idea how to transform my distracted, joyless, maxed-out life into one of meaningful connection and peace. I wasn’t sure of anything that initial day of my journey except that love was the right choice. Love could never be the wrong choice.

But here’s the most critical element, the piece that made this choice a doable, repeatable action that stuck:

Sometimes I showed up to love without a smile.
Sometimes I showed up to love feeling ugly, worthless, and inadequate.
Sometimes I showed up to love alone and scared.
Sometimes I showed up to love when I didn’t know what I was doing.
Sometimes I showed up to love when it was the last thing I wanted to do.
Sometimes I showed up to love even though I had so much to do before the day’s end.
Sometimes I showed up to love when my patience was gone.
Sometimes I showed up to love when I had no love to give.

Despite the obstacles … despite the excuses I could’ve made … despite the pressures and distractions of the outside world … despite the mean voice of my inner critic, I continually showed up to love.


Because I never left the same way I arrived.

I always walked away a little lighter … a little more at peace … a little more hopeful … a little more grateful … a little more joyful. Love was always the right choice. I never once regretted choosing love over all else.

So I showed up to love again
And again
And again
And again
Until one day I was known as ‘The One Who Always Comes’ to a little girl whose opinion mattered more than the world.

closer than I was before #HFM

Making it a habitual practice to choose love changed my inner fiber, the wiring of my brain, and my entire life perspective regarding what was important. Thus, I’ve come to believe there is one single action that has the power to transform negativity to positivity … distraction to presence … disconnection to connection: Choosing love—choosing love as much as you humanly can.

On any given day, there’s probably 101 things running through your mind—from what you need to do … to what you should do … to what you didn’t do … to what you wish you would’ve done. I know because this was me. It was exhausting. I felt like I was failing a lot. Now I try to go with one action over and over and over. This singular action helps me focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t. It helps me make better choices and move on when I don’t.

Every minute of every day, I try to CHOOSE LOVE—two transformative words that become ingrained with repetition. Let me show you how CHOOSING LOVE could play out in a typical day:

1. Wake up. Mind starts racing. So much to do. So tired. Instead of reaching for the phone or grumbling about all there is to do, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: Today is a new day. I am thankful I have been given this gift. My goal is to get out of bed and greet myself and my family with love. Love is how I will start this day.

2. Child not getting ready. Frustration rises. Instead of threatening or yelling, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: How can I help? Let’s set a timer. How quickly do you think you can do clothes, shoes, backpack? Okay, let’s do it. On your mark, get set, GO!

3. Traffic is horrendous. You are going to be late. The whole day is going to be off. Instead of cursing, reaching for the phone, or making a dangerous U-turn, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: I have just been given uninterrupted time. I will take this time to breathe. I will ask my child to sing me a song. I will listen to that voice and know it won’t always sound like this. I will take this moment of frustration and turn it into gratitude.

4. Arrive at destination only to be met with criticism, judgment, or rudeness. Instead of taking it personally, wasting your precious energy, or saying something you’ll later regret, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: Their negative response is not about me. It is about them. I refuse to let their toxicity contaminate my day, my job, or my life. I will smile and let it go.

5. Perform your duty/assignment, and it is not as good as you’d like. Instead of berating yourself or trying to make it perfect, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might look like this: I have spent ample time and energy on this project. It is good enough for today. My effort is enough to make a positive contribution and that is what matters.

6. Evening packed with sports, meetings, dinner, and homework. Instead of bemoaning your chaotic, crazy life, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might look like this: Sometimes it is hard to be here. Tonight is one of those nights. But I am needed. Tonight I will focus on the smile I receive when my loved one spots me on the sidelines. Tonight I will focus on the sound of contentment I hear when my loved one digs into the meal I prepared. Tonight I will focus on the goodnight kiss that is offered to me. I am needed. I am loved. I am here.

7. Fall into bed. Mind starts racing. Instead of reviewing mistakes, failings, and what you didn’t accomplish today, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

Think of all the times you chose love today. And even if it was only once, celebrate it. In the midst of chaos, inconvenience, frustration, and crabby people, you chose love. With the millions of other choices you could’ve made, you chose love. Love is how this day will end.

My friends, consider the possibilities for a moment: What might result if love becomes your default choice for 21 straight days? What opportunities might open up? What connections might be repaired? What moments might you grasp that otherwise might be missed? Who might you become?

Instead of

The One Who’s Always Too Busy
The One Who Overreacts
The One Who Never Listens
The One Who Rarely Slows Down
The One Who Always Looks Miserable
The One Glued to the Phone
The One Missing All the Fun
The One Who’s Given Up

You might just become The One You Always Wanted to Be …

A Listener
A Hugger
A Forgiver
A Take Your Timer
A Belly Laugher
A Risk Taker
A Silly Grinner
A Moment Grasper
A Liver of Life

Why? Because good things start with love.

Just show up to love today.
Don’t worry about what you look like or what yesterday looked like.
Just show up to love.
Something tells me you’ll walk away a little better than when you arrived.

Then do it again.

longer than necessary hold 1


Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, although I did this challenge back in February, I feel now’s the time to do it again. I am excited about the renewed connection & peace this challenge will bring to our lives over the next 21 days. If you are joining me, I’d be grateful if you’d you leave the words, “I Choose Love” in the comment section and share this challenge with someone else. Let’s see what transformations can happen in our relationships, our life’s work, and in our own hearts if we commit to choosing love as often as we can for the next 21 days. 

As a powerful visual reminder, the I CHOOSE LOVE bracelets are reduced by $5 until Monday, September 28th. They are available in aqua green & pink. I CHOOSE LOVE also comes in a vibrant blue non-leather reminder band

For more Hands Free Life Daily Declarations like the one below, check out my new book, HANDS FREE LIFE , a #1 Amazon bestseller in Inspiration for 3 straight weeks. I will be doing a Hands Free Life Q&A with Andrea Nair & signing books at Chapters at Square One Mall, 189 Rathburn Road, Mississauga at 7pm on September 30, 2015.  Hope to see many of my Canadian friends there! 

“Today I will choose love.
Tomorrow I will choose love.
 And the day after that, I will choose love.
If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response … my gut instinct … my natural reaction. 
I will choose love until it becomes who I am.” 
-Rachel Macy Stafford 

i choose love


Wish List for Those Growing Up With a Phone In Hand

wish list #HFM

There are a few things in life that fuel me more than anything: being in nature and being at a live concert. In each of these settings, I feel most alive. Most at peace. Most hopeful about the world. A little over a week ago, I got to see one of the most talented musicians of our time, Ed Sheeran. I’d been looking forward to the concert for months. I’d listened to his album on repeat while writing my second book, Hands Free Life. Attending his concert was the perfect way to celebrate the book’s recent publication.

Happily nestled between my husband and one of my best friends, I surveyed the diverse crowd. From the animated teenagers behind us to the grandfatherly men across the aisle, Ed Sheeran fans stood for the entire concert and and sang along to all the lyrics.

I couldn’t help but notice there was a distinct difference between the way the younger generation viewed the concert and the way the thirty-and-over crowd viewed it. One saw the concert through a screen; the other did not. Although I was trying to immerse myself in the moment at hand, my eyes kept being pulled to the white light coming from the hands of the young couple in front of us. In the glow of a palm-sized screen, I could see the young lady’s beautiful face. Her long brown hair with honey blonde highlights made me think of my twelve-year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder what my daughter’s future dates would look like … what her conversations would entail … where her most alive moments would be found in about ten years.

These questions have stuck with me, and I’ve been giving them a lot of thought. I feel quite an urgency, a panic even, for preservation. I’m afraid the abundance, ease, and social acceptance of technology are threatening certain life experiences to the point of extinction. Like the seldom seen pay phone and rarely used digital camera, life’s most simple, yet most meaningful experiences, could easily diminish with my daughter’s generation.

yogurt #HFM

My wishes for my child when she was born included being anything she wanted to be and living a long, prosperous life. While those wishes are still valid, there are now some wishes far less complicated, but absolutely critical–and it makes me cry even to type this. I want her to live. I want her to experience life with all her senses. I want her to experience life in living color, face to face, with two open hands. I have wishes for my child growing up in a text-happy, vitamin D deficient, connection-starved culture. These wishes are simple, but they are rich. These are for you, my brown eyed beauty with honey highlights, whose smartphone lays unattended for now.

My Wish for You: A Living Life

I wish you crickets that lull you to sleep.
I wish you pumpkin guts oozing through your fingers.
I wish you the most perfect S’more stick you can find.
I wish you the ability to be alone with your thoughts.

I wish you the feeling of someone’s hand in your back pocket.
I wish you shade from a Weeping Willow tree.
I wish you goodbye kisses and puppy dog fur.
I wish you moments of complete silence.

I wish you fresh squeezed lemonade made by your hands.
I wish you spontaneous gatherings where no one wants to leave the table.
I wish you porch swings and bare feet.
I wish you sea air breezes.

fresh air #HFM

I wish you playing cards that slide from your fingers in a triumphant hand.
I wish you historic monuments and sunsets that make you feel small.
I wish you books in bed.
I wish you peace.

I wish you answers without Google.
I wish you mindless wandering with a good old-fashioned map.
I wish you boredom that leads to the best ideas you’ve ever had.
I wish you starry nights.

I wish you window watching from the subway, wondering what’s his story.
I wish you talented street musicians who make you stop and stare.
I wish you flowers from Pike Place Market that brighten your day.
I wish you joy.

heart inside you HFM

I wish you laughter from a small child that makes you look up.
I wish you wrinkled hands to embrace you and share stories of long ago.
I wish you handwritten notes in your mailbox.
I wish you a chance to heal a broken soul.

I wish you memories and someone who holds the door for you.
I wish you smiles that are not for public consumption.
I wish you travels without chargers and safety worries.
I wish you freedom.

freedom #HFM

I wasn’t quite finished with my list—there were more wishes. But something happened. My daughter asked me if we could go to the “rock river”. I’d been taking my daughters there for over a year since we moved to our new city. Mother Nature had given me peace in the midst of book writing and settling into a new life. “Rock river” was my refuge.

“But this time, Mama,” my daughter said, “I want to invite my friend.”

I was surprised. It was usually just us.

“She’s been looking really sad,” my child explained. “I’ve asked her what is wrong, but she’s not ready to talk about it. I thought maybe going to the river would help. It is so peaceful there. I always feel better after I collect rocks.”

rock creek #HFM

As I looked into those big brown eyes, I felt as if one of my wishes had just come true and maybe I didn’t need to keep adding to the list. As she ran off to invite her friend, I realized life experiences do not have to diminish with each new version of the iPhone. Human connection does not have to weaken as the need for WiFi grows. The electronic screen does not have to become a substitute for life’s richest experiences—not if we pass down the tradition to live

She can inherit my love for baking if I invite her into the kitchen.
She can inherit my need for walking outdoors if I ask her to join me.
She can inherit my thirst for authentic conversation if I open up and give her time to talk.
She can inherit my love for music if I take her to concerts and listen to what she likes.
She can inherit my places of refuge if I take her to wade in the river.
She can inherit life’s richest experiences if wishes become invitations.

So let’s keep wishing—it’ll keep us intentional.

Let’s keep living—it’ll keep us alive.

Let’s keep inviting—it’ll keep our precious children from fading into the light.



Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am grateful for those who have reached out while reading HANDS FREE LIFE to let me know the difference one of the 9 habits is having on your life. In light of today’s blog post, please note that Chapter 7 describes practical ways to empower children to make smart, safe, healthy, and informed decisions about their digital lives. Chapter 8 reveals a collection of meaningful rituals that would make life-giving gifts to pass on to your loved ones. I love how Kristi specifically mentions her connection-staved soul in this beautiful Amazon review: 

“Reading Hands Free Life has been both freeing and revealing. I have been suffering from a ‘connection-starved soul’, and the pressure to ‘do’ had become overwhelming, robbing me of the chance to really enjoy life’s sacred moments. Since reading, I have been trying with intention to disconnect a little more each day from whatever it is that fills my mind, day, and even life with clutter. We live in a world in which we face a distraction almost non-stop. This book has given me practical ways to recognize that and to actually do something about it. I highly recommend this book to women, men, parents, non-parents, book clubs, Bible study groups, anyone and everyone. The message presented within these pages is life-changing.” –Kristi D

Thanks to all who have taken time to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give an author. I am really looking forward to seeing my Canadian friends on Wednesday, September 30. I’ll be doing a Question & Answer session with brilliant parenting educator Andrea Nair and signing copies of Hands Free Life at Chapters at One Square Mall, 189 Rathburn Road, Mississauga at 7pm.

If you like the LIVE HANDS FREE bracelet worn by my daughter and me in today’s post, they have been reduced in price this week only. This includes the ONLY LOVE TODAY & I CHOOSE LOVE bracelets, as well. Bracelets can be cut to fit small wrists for children & teens. Click here to shop. Thank you for walking beside me on this journey! I am incredibly grateful for you! 


One Thing I’ll Never Stop Doing

will never stop doing #HFM

My husband records The Jimmy Fallon Show and if we like the guest or musical performer we’ll watch it after the kids go to bed. Sometimes I’ll show one of Jimmy’s hilarious lip sync videos to my daughters, and we’ll laugh ‘til our sides hurt. What I never expected was to see my younger daughter watching the show without me. But there she was, curled up on my side of the bed wrapped in my favorite lavender blanket.

“I thought you were getting ready for bed,” I said stifling a chuckle at the sight of her looking like such a mini Rachel.

“I’m watching Jimmy Fallon,” she said matter-of-factly, as if this was common behavior for a nine-year-old child.

I couldn’t help but shake my head and smile. “Watching Jimmy Fallon … in my bed … with my blanket!”

My daughter giggled. “I wanted to see Justin Bieber perform his new song.”

Now it made sense. “Well, we can watch it together tomorrow. C’mon, it’s time for bed.”

My freckle-faced girl with curls in disarray crawled out of my bed, her legs looking unusually long. She obediently clicked off the antics of Jimmy Fallon and made an announcement—almost as if she’d been reading my mind.

“I’m growing up!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Just in the last few weeks, her grown-ness has been very apparent. The way she neatly organizes her excessive collection of Bath & Body Works products on her desk … the way she puts her completed homework back into her folder each day … the way she strums her guitar and sings with more confidence than ever before … the way she reads thick chapter books and rarely needs help with the words. And the obvious one—the way she comes up to my chin when she hugs me.

[Read more…]

A Relationship Worth Protecting

relationship HFM“Can you see your love for me shining through? Cuz what you see in me, I can see in you. And soon enough, you and me we’ll be out of time. And kindness will be all we can leave behind.”

- Nimo Patel

My younger daughter rushed upstairs, her face wet with tears. She said she was having trouble putting together a Lego structure and couldn’t figure out what to do. When she asked her big sister for help, she cut her down—her words sharp and pointed and straight into the heart.

Yes, it had been a long summer. When you move to a new state, your sibling becomes your full-time playmate. My children had been in the company of one another for two solid months, no reprieves. But I’ve noticed that as my older daughter becomes more tween and less child, her patience is thinner … her sass stronger … her tone edgier. And there’s something about her little sister’s laid-back, leisurely nature that pushes her buttons. But something needed to be said before irreparable damage was done.

I went downstairs to talk privately with my older child. She was aptly securing the final pieces to an impressive Lego tree house. Pushing stray pieces aside, I sat down next to her. “I have something to tell you,” I said my voice low and serious. My daughter knew to stop fiddling and look into my eyes. “Whether you like it or not, you are shaping your little sister’s self-esteem. The way she feels about herself will largely come from how you treat her. In fact, your opinion of her may be even more important than mine.”

I paused to let my daughter absorb this information. When I continued talking, I surprised myself by divulging something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that moment. “Do you know why I know the impact your opinion has on your sister’s life?” My daughter shook her head. “Because I was the little sister. Yes, my sister and I fought over clothes, music, whose turn it was to feed the cat, the bathroom, and other silly things, but never once did my sister shame me or put me down. Not once. Just imagine what that gift did for me.”

By now I was crying. Surprisingly my daughter wasn’t looking at me strangely or searching for the nearest exit. With a mixture of interest and sadness, my daughter looked like maybe what I had to say was something worth listening to. I swallowed hard, attempting to regain control over my unexpected emotional breakdown. “We all need someone in our corner, to have our back, to believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves. If you haven’t noticed, your little sister looks at you like a hero. And when you criticize or belittle, it hurts. But when you compliment or encourage her, she soars.”

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Sweet Release From the Judger in My Veins

release #HFM

I’ve come a long way since the days of tearing myself down in front of a mirror. But once in awhile, certain life circumstances cause doubt to creep in and I feel myself going down a slippery slope. For the past several weeks, I have been sliding. You see, I’ve been preparing for this momentous day, September 8th, for many months—years, actually. It’s the day my new book, Hands Free Life, releases. And as this day has gotten closer, the Judger in my Veins has gotten louder.

I have been working longer hours than usual. I have not been getting proper sleep or engaging in self-care practices that are critical for my health and wellbeing. And even though I know this feeling of overwhelm is only temporary and life will go back to normal soon, the Judger in my Veins has been hitting all my vulnerable spots. Like a heckler from the crowd, there’s a judgmental comment on just about everything:

A good mom would have said yes to that request.

A good friend would have picked up instead of letting it go to voicemail.

 A good spouse would be listening better right now.

 A good writer writes about current events.

 A good daughter would ask her parents more questions instead of just talking about herself.

 A good post-surgery patient would not be up at one o’clock a.m. writing.

For the past several weeks, the list of judgments against me has been long and relentless. And it was only five days ago that I fully acknowledged what I was doing to myself and how imperative it was to stop. I was in the middle of responding to a blog reader who was going through a challenging time. In her message, she confessed to reacting to her daughter in ways that were damaging and hurtful. Although the reader had recently experienced some success with being more positive and calm, she felt like a failure. This was my response:

I know it does not feel like it right now, but you are doing many things right. You are asking yourself hard questions. You are asking for help. You are staying calm in the face of extremely hurtful words and reactions from your child. I am certain you will get through this difficult period because your love and commitment to your daughter is evident in the words you write. I have something to help you get started. This is your homework tonight: I want you to notice all positive interactions you have with her and any positive actions she does. Do it for yourself. Do it for her. And then speak of them. “I appreciated the kind voice you used to talk to me just then.” Or “I love the way you dug into that meal I made! That makes me feel good.” Or “I love how you treated your sister/brother just then. You are good at figuring out how to help.” Notice her face when you say these things – even if it is not a smile, look for a more relaxed expression or a sense of relief. Anytime you to see a tiny glimmer of light on her face, grab it. Hold on to it. Let it give you hope for the next five minutes. Let it give you hope for better days. They are coming. 

It was while proofreading my message before sending it that something struck me. This message was not just for my reader, it was also for me. I began to cry as I whispered a prayer of thanks to the One who had started me on this Hands Free journey and continues to guide me when I lose my way.

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This Is Important

Two weeks before my first kidney surgery in July, I felt a sense of urgency. There were things I felt I must do before I was wheeled into the operating room. I needed to attend a morning service at a historical church I’d been yearning to visit. I needed to play Scrabble on the front porch with my daughters using the same board my grandma and I used. I needed to hear the sound of the ice cream maker, gather with friends and barefooted children, and eat icy goodness like my dad made when I was young. I needed to send a round of handwritten cards to special individuals who encouraged my writing dream. I needed to write love notes to my family.

And I did.

I did all these things and my family obliged.

Even though it was a long drive to the church. Even though they didn’t really love Scrabble. Even though homemade ice cream isn’t easy to make, they said yes.

ice cream HFM

When I said, “This is important to me,” my family listened. They did not ask questions.

Interestingly, as I was honing in on what was important to me, I was better able to see and hear what was important to them.

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Lose Yesterday’s Regrets With a Do-Over Today

I love spending time with my nephews. But because we live in different states and my daughters always monopolize their little cousins’ time when we’re together, I rarely get alone time with them. But when I do, something magical happens. Time slows down. I become calmer, happier, and more attentive. I marvel at their long eyelashes and the way their small hands feel in mine. I ask them questions like, “How long does it take a tree to grow?” and marvel at the certainty of their responses. “’Bout five minutes,” beautiful Sam said when he was four.


When I am with my nephews it’s like getting a do-over. I get to do the things I wish I’d done when my daughters were three and five. But I didn’t because that is when I tried to control everything. That is when I worried so much about the outcome that I forgot to enjoy the experience. That’s when I counted my calories and my kids’ mistakes. That is when my voice was harsh more than it was kind. That’s when my phone ruled my thoughts and actions. That’s when I gave my time and energy to people I barely knew and had nothing left for the people I named myself.

But I try not to wallow in regret. It sucks the joy from today.

So instead I try to do better. And time with my nephews is a like a do-over. And it’s a reminder of what beautiful moments can come when you just hold a child’s hand and let him lead.

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When Life Feels Like a Mess, There’s Something We Can Do

signing HFM for my nurse, Kristen

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
Brené Brown

My friend lost her sister to cancer four months ago. She talks about it—the pain and disbelief, the pressure to move on, the things that help and the things that don’t. She talks about the good days and the indescribably bad days.

I listen to everything she offers. I tuck it away for safekeeping. With her help, I’ll know a better thing to say when someone hurts. With her help, I have some perspective on inconsequential problems when they’re getting more attention than they deserve.

Each time my friend shares, I am struck by admiration and awe. I think to myself, she never wanted to be the messenger; she never wanted to be an expert on grief; she never wanted to know what words, what actions bring a moment of solace to an aching soul.

But she is. And she does.

This is now my friend’s story and as much as she’d like to deny it, she’s chosen to own it—quite bravely and brilliantly, I might add.

I thought of my friend and her unchosen expertise when I had a CT scan in June. It was the first time I laid beneath a big scary machine and held my breath for dear life. When the machine began to inch forward slowly, I thought of my friend and her story. I wasn’t sure how my story was going to play out, but I decided I would own it. Tell my close friends what I was going through. Say, “I’m scared,” when I felt scared. Ask for help when I was in pain. Above all, I knew it was important to pay attention. So I vowed to take it all in—the good and bad—and perhaps discover something worth sharing in the process.

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The Conversation I Almost Missed & the Future It Could’ve Cost

you make me feel like I belong under the sun -citizen cope

 “You make me feel like I belong under the sun.” –Citizen Cope

I was not expecting to experience such an emotional response when Dr. Shefali Tsabary shared her video about parent shaming with me. It was the following words, found two minutes and twenty seconds into the video, that brought me to tears:

“I came to you so you could honor my soul, nurture my worth, and preserve my spirit. Yet it is you who annihilates my very essence in the name of parenting, in the name of love, in the name of teaching.”

Dr. Shefali then calls on parents to “become the person they are meant to be.” She describes it from a child’s perspective as:

The parent
The guardian
The usher of my soul

Not too long ago, I was good at shaming my children. It wasn’t obvious. It was subtle. Exasperated breaths. Eye rolls. Belittling. Inducing guilt. Acting like they should know better. But they were children. They were learning, and I seemed to forget that.

I thought it was my job to teach them a lesson.

But what I was teaching them was that I could never be satisfied. I was teaching them to confide in someone else—someone who would be more understanding and less reactive. I was teaching them to strive for perfection, no matter the cost.

Although I’d improved on seeing the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations, there was still work to do. It was an intentional change in my approach to life that revealed exactly where further improvement was needed and more importantly, why.

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