Replace ‘Guilt’ with ‘Gift’ & Watch it Become a Life-Changer

guilt #HFM

Guilt can be loud.

Are they getting enough?
Am I doing enough?
Should I be doing more?

You should be playing more.
You should be planning more.
You should be having more fun.

Earlier this summer Guilt got very loud and had a lot to say to me.

The old me would have listened and accepted its critical words as truth. But the Hands Free me has learned the best way to silence Guilt is to pull back the veil of darkness and shed light on the matter. I do this by telling someone what Guilt is saying.

In this case, I told my mom.

“Don’t you remember?” she said emphatically. “Don’t you remember how I worked all day while you and your sister took care of yourselves during the summer?”

Yes. I remembered. I thought it was cool that my sister and I were in charge of ourselves. I thought it was uncool that we had daily lists consisting of activities that improved our home, minds, bodies, and personal savings accounts. But I did my duties anyway.

I remember how my sister and I would spend the morning getting our tasks completed so we could ride our bikes to the neighborhood pool in the afternoon. I remember how we’d put sunscreen on each other’s backs before we left the house. I remember how we’d carry our towels and goggles in a drawstring bag. There was no one there to remind us to collect our belongings when we left the pool—we just did it.

I remember cutting the vegetables for the dinner salad. That’s around the time my mom came home from work. I would listen to my parents talk about the families she worked with—families in crisis. It was her job to teach them how to properly care for their children. It was my job to make the salad, but I knew I wanted a job like hers someday—one that made a difference.

I remember feeling my mom’s presence whenever I stepped into the pantry to make my breakfast and lunch. She bought the things I liked and foods that were healthy for me. I felt my mom’s presence in the little smiley face notes that she left for my sister and me in random places throughout the house.

I remember Mom being gone, but not absent. I felt her presence even when she was at work.

And when my mom was home, she did something that made me take pause.

She said, “I love you,” right out of the blue.

Like while riding in the car—she’d call out, “I love you.” I’d see her eyes smiling at me in the rearview mirror.

Or like in the morning when I groggily poured milk on my cereal. “I love you,” she’d say as if my bedhead was a beautiful sight to behold.

Because our time together was limited, I think my mom said the words “I love you” when she felt them rather than when it was expected. Most people I knew reserved that three-word phrase for special occasions, departures, achievements, or bedtime—but not my mom. With her, “I love you” was spontaneous. She just put it out there. And because the phrase was never surrounded by any other words and never tied to conditions or expectations, it was accentuated, heard, and absorbed.

That’s probably what I remember most about my mom who was gone a lot, but not absent.

I remember the unprompted “I love you” that hung in the air, mine for the taking as I set off on my path of independence.

Path of Independence HFM

“Yes, I remember the summers when you had to work all day,” I told my now 74-year-old mom after admitting that guilt was getting the best of me.

“Sometimes I left before you were awake and didn’t get home until dinnertime or later,” she elaborated. “You and your sister learned to manage your time, make meals, and keep up a house. And you two turned out just fine, in my opinion,” she added as if ready to take on anyone who might disagree.

Shortly after my mom and I had this conversation, I came across an unforgettable article on overparenting and how it correlates with the current mental health crisis on college campuses. The results of the studies described in the article quickly put guilt in its place and reinforced my mom’s view. Children who perform daily life skills and have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves are more likely to become capable and self-reliant adults. A particularly poignant section of the article read:

“When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.” [source]

I read the article several times and with each read, guilt lessened and a much healthier perspective emerged. It helped me get where I am today. Take a look:

Summer vacation officially ended today for my children. It is their first day back at school and I’ll admit, I feel a little sad. Between keeping up with medical appointments, recovering from two surgeries, and preparing for a September book release, it was a far cry from the fun-loving summers we’ve had in the past. Guilt wants me to think about everything my children missed due to the temporary challenging situation I faced. But through my teary eyes, I see something Guilt doesn’t want me to see—things that probably wouldn’t have happened without the freedom and the opportunity for my children to do for themselves.

I see two children who carried out two full weeks of princess camp in our home for neighborhood girls … I see two kids who planned and managed a mini market with friends on a Saturday morning … I see kids who have gotten quite good at making beds … kids who created a Shutterfly album of our family vacation … kids who attempted and failed at French macaroons, but had fun trying … kids who finally caught on to hanging up wet towels after several unsuccessful years … kids who became expert laundry folders … kids who can order and pay for their food without adult assistance … kids who fix a delicious hot lunch and clean up afterwards … kids who can entertain themselves for hours with a little dish soap and a slip and slide…

princess camp in our basement #HFM

marketing plan made by kids #HFM

bed making HFM

laundry folders HFM

ordering HFM

hot lunch HFM

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slip and slide HFM

When I look back on this summer I see something that looks an awful lot like the gifts I once was given: the gift of independence … the gift of learning from my mistakes … the gift of confidence … the gift of doing something with my own two hands.

This wasn’t the most activity-packed summer. There was no celebration for crossing off all the items on our Summer Bucket List. We had no bucket list. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have gifts.

There were lots of gifts—ones that may not be apparent until my grown children are standing in their first apartment or place of employment and know exactly what to do without any help from me.

I’ve decided to call it the summer of I Love You.

I love you so much I will let you do for yourself.
I love you so much I will let you make a mess and clean it up.
I love you so much I will let you fail and try again without my commentary.
I love you so much I will not manage your time, but let you manage your own (with healthy boundaries and expectations in place).

I love you so much I will say, “I love you,” whenever I feel it. And because there’s less nagging, reminding, and instructing coming from my mouth, I hope to find myself saying it even more.

As I anticipate a happy and healthier new season ahead, one thing shall remain the same: The words “I love you” shall hang in the air so my children can grab it with their two capable and eager hands. May they hold it closely to their chests as they go forth on their path of independence.

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am so excited to tell you about one of the most necessary parenting books I’ve ever read. In light of the article mentioned in today’s post, there could not be a better time. I had the privilege of reading an early copy of Amy McCready’s new book, “The Me Me Me Epidemic: The Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids, in an Over-Entitled World.” Once I started reading it, I found myself telling everyone I knew about it. Not only does it present a solid case for moving our children toward greater independence, responsibility, and contentment, it tells us exactly HOW to do it. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of developing responsibility, resilience, and respectfulness in my children, but Amy’s book revealed opportunities I’d never even considered. And what’s even better, she provides the tools to implement these opportunities. Although my older daughter quickly realized I was learning a little too much from Amy’s book, I could see she secretly delighted in the raised bar on what I expected and believed she could do. I wish every parent could own a copy of this book. It has the power to create a generation of capable, independent thinkers who have a heart for others and an appreciation for the goodness in their lives. Amy’s book releases on August 11 and anyone who pre-orders it by August 10 receives free coaching with Amy on the topics of allowance & chores, consequences, and raising grateful & compassionate kids. Click here for all the details. You will be so glad you did!  

* For a summer list that was similar to the one my mom gave my sister and me, please see “Saving Summer From the Screens.” The list described in this post was tremendously helpful to our family this summer. 

The Glass Jar Every Human Being Needs to Hold

the jar of love #HFM“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray

“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”

I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.

“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”

And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.

I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.

If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.

And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.

[Read more…]

Ending the Stoplight Excuses

ending the stoplight excusesI could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.

I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.

I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.

I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within a few feet of your car door.

My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.

I’d like to say that incident changed me.

And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.

It’ll just be a second.
The traffic isn’t bad.
I’ll just check at a stoplight.
I’m good at multi-tasking.
The kids aren’t with me.
This call is important.
This message can’t wait.

And for two years after the red light incident, I continued my distracted ways. When I think about the number of times I put my life, my children’s lives, and other drivers’ lives at risk for the sake of a meaningless call or message, I feel physically ill.

But one glorious day, while out for a run, I was overcome with regret, sorrow, and clarity.  I vowed to stop making excuses as to why I was missing my life – and risking my life – for my distractions.

Within hours of that life-changing run, I took one of the first steps toward living free from distraction’s powerful grip. I turned off the notifications on my phone and put it in a drawer. No longer would I be controlled by the sound of notifications, beeps, and dings. No longer would my attention on the living beings in my home be suddenly dropped because of the summons from a little black box.

[Read more…]

The Loss of Life Beneath Your Skin & How to Revive It

making tea HFM“We push and pull
And I fall down sometimes
And I’m not letting go
You hold the other line
‘Cause there is a light
In your eyes, in your eyes.”
–Mat Kearney

A few months ago my newly turned 12-year-old daughter got into making iced tea.

We seek out new flavors at quaint little farmers’ markets and at fancy tea shops in the mall. My child holds the canister and asks questions of the vendor that I do not understand. She pays with her babysitting money.

I stand back and marvel at her maturity and her newfound passion.

She comes home with her wares and goes right to work. It’s quite a process, and she takes it very seriously. She makes a large pitcher and offers me a glass. My daughter knows I am trying to stop drinking diet soda once and for all. So whenever she makes a new flavor, she says, “I think you’ll like this one, Mama.”

She holds out that glass of deep orange liquid as if handing me a sunset made with her very own two hands.

I didn’t know why I felt like crying happy tears at such an offering until my friend shared something about her own life experience.
[Read more…]

The Unlikely Reaction to Filling Life’s Holes

waiting 2 #HFM“Oh, the joy of nothing is a sweeter something
And I will hold it in my heart.
Yes, I will hold it in my heart.” –Foy Vance

Exactly one year ago my family moved to a new state. I felt internal pressure to dive into activities, make friends, and navigate new territories because that’s what I did in our three previous moves.

But instead of going outside to become acclimated, I came inside.

I flanked myself with family. We planted seeds in the backyard. We waded in nearby streams. We paid attention to the way the summer rain sounded on our rooftop. My blog went quiet. I filled many notebooks, only my eyes privy to the words I’d share when ready.

I did not jump in. I did not take action. But I was always looking—looking for The Moment when it felt like everything would be okay in this new place. Much to my relief, there were many of those soul-assuring moments when divine connections and experiences brought tears to my grateful eyes. We’ll be okay, I often reminded myself quietly and consistently.

Despite the moments of assurance, I could not ignore the missing pieces—the important parts that made our life a life before the transition. These particular missing pieces created a painful void that could not be denied.

[Read more…]

If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]

An Invitation to Save Summer from the Screens

invitation #HFM“Rejoice as summer should…chase away sorrows by living.” ― Melissa Marr

The other night I was taking a walk when I came upon a man pushing a lawn mower across his overgrown grass. My pace slowed as I watched tiny blades of grass dance over his yard. I breathed in deeply and smiled.

Summer

It is the smell of fresh lawn trimmings and gasoline.
It is the sound of crickets and thunderstorms.
It is the taste of homemade vanilla ice cream.
It is the feeling of hot cement under bare feet.
It is more than a season and more than a memory. It is my favorite, most alive feeling, and it can be awakened with one smell, one taste, or one remembrance from my childhood summers.

Because when I was a kid, summer was an all-senses experience.

I cut the grass blasting tunes on my Walkman, waving to my dad as he supervised me mow the steep hill in back. I sported chlorine-scented hair and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. I wrote notes to my best friend in bubble-letter script and mailed them because that was second best to passing them in class. I babysat and carried a blue-eyed toddler on my hip treating her like the beloved child I someday hoped to have. I beat the fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the garage door in rhythmic succession. There was always one long car trip with my family—sweaty legs that stuck to the seat and ice cold soda from the cooler in back.

Now here I stand on an uneven sidewalk admiring a stranger’s lawn mower lines wondering what my children’s summer associations will be.

I fear for the extinction of nighttime hide-and-go-seek and tadpole catching in a shallow creek. It doesn’t take scientific data to tell me that an All-Senses Summer is greatly threatened by electronic screens, over-scheduling, endless duties and distractions—both on my children’s part and mine.

As the man tending his lawn gave me a friendly wave, I forced a smile wondering how I could save the season of watermelon-stained smiles from permanent extinction.

[Read more…]

Change the Child or Change Your World

noticer 5“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”
–Walter Hagen

I would still be getting sick from sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

I would still be making my way through typed to-do lists and neglecting the most important tasks of life—like living and loving.

I would have missed the mama bird who tucked her nest in the corner of my porch.

I would have been in at least one fender bender (or worse) due my dangerous rushing and multitasking ways.

I would have given up on tangerines because they take too long to peel.

I would have missed a thousand conversations that just come when one sits still and waits for words to come.

But I didn’t miss any of them.

Thanks to her.

noticer 6Embracing my daughter’s Enjoy-the-Journey approach to life didn’t just alter my actions and my behavior, it changed my perspective, transformed my thought-processes, and loosened the tightly wound fiber of my inner being.

Although I am a work in progress, the change in me has been quite remarkable. But there is something even more remarkable about this story. And it became apparent to me when a blog reader asked for an update. She wrote:

“I see it’s been several years since you wrote, “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’”. Did your daughter’s slow pace and ultra observant nature cause trouble in school? What is she like now? May I have an update? I have a Noticer and knowing how things turned out for your daughter would mean a great deal to me.”

As I began typing my response, unexpected tears fell on my keyboard. With clarity, I realized my transformation was secondary to an even bigger story—a story that could quite possibly bring solace and hope to those wondering if they too could let a loved one just be.

This is our story …

[Read more…]

A List Worth Printing, Posting, Remembering, & Living

DSC_1017“Your eyes, they shine so bright
I wanna save that light.”
-Imagine Dragons

When I began my Hands Free journey almost five years ago, I did it to free myself from the external distractions, internal pressures, and unrealistic societal standards that prevented me from truly living. But there was an unexpected result: As my distracted ways lessened, my loving ways increased—tenfold. For the first time in my life I saw a direct correlation between my undivided presence and my ability to love my people in ways that most nurtured them. When I was in their presence, I studied them. I listened to them. I watched their faces when I used certain words and tones. I noted what words brought sighs of relief … surges of confidence … and glows of acceptance. I vowed to say those words more. I also noted what words brought shame … disconnection … pain … and silence. I vowed to say those words less. Over time, I collected quite a powerful list of words that helped me love my people in ways that helped them thrive. Like sunlight and water to a plant, these words nourished the deepest parts of their human hearts and fostered growth in all areas of their lives. Hence, I called them Soul-Building Words.

Recently a reader of my blog wrote to me about her 19 year old daughter. She was facing great challenges in her schooling and the mother wanted to support her in ways that would lift and strengthen her. The mother asked, “Do you have any words I can say to my daughter?” That is when my mental Soul-Building List became a physical one. When I shared it on The Hands Free Revolution page, many people said they wanted to hang that list on their refrigerator, in their bedroom, in their child’s bedroom, in their classroom, in their office, and even on their foreheads. “Please make this list a printable!” I heard over and over. The word “printable” is definitely the opposite of Soul-Building to me (quite befuddling, actually), but I knew someone who would not cringe at the sight of that word. My multi-talented, soul-building friend Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli graciously made us that beautiful printable for today’s post.

So here is my list of 20 Soul-Building phrases followed by the printable and two extraordinary resources for knowing and loving your people. My friends, thank you for helping me discover what my Soul-Building Words are. Whenever you say, “Never stop writing,” my heart beats stronger and my life’s purpose becomes a little more solidified.

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Soul-Building Words for the Ones You Love:

When they need to know how much you love them:  

* You make my day better.

* You make my life better.

* I love spending time with you.

* Seeing your face makes me happy.


When they need to know you are ALL there:
 

* I’m listening.

* My time is all yours.

* How can I be a better _____ (parent, friend, spouse) to you?

* Nothing is more important than being with you right now.

 

When they are stressed or frustrated:

* How can I help?

* Take your time. You don’t have to rush.

* I think you are doing a tremendous job.

* Keep going. You got this.

 

When they experience failure:

* Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can.

* Mistakes mean you are bravely learning and growing.

* It may not be the outcome you hoped for, but I noticed your effort and it was quite remarkable.

* I believe in you.

 

When they face a challenge:

* I am amazed at how much you are handling right now.

* I am learning a lot from you by watching you do something so challenging.

* This isn’t over—there’s still time to turn this around.

* You are not alone.

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Recommended resources: 

  • “Journey” is the word I often use to describe my life’s transformation from less distracted to more lovingly connected. Some might even call my experience an “inspired parenting journey”. Little did I know there was a step-by-step guide that has helped many people create the lasting change I’ve experienced on my Hands Free journey until I read Parenting Inspired: Finding Grace in the Chaos, Confidence in yourself, & Gentle Joy Along the Way. As I read the pages of Alice Hanscam’s enlightening book, I felt like I was reading the perfect companion guide to Hands Free Mama. Many of the concepts that Alice illustrates in the book (like focusing on the positive, the power of the pause, and the importance of self care) have been critical to the success of my journey. Alice goes a step further by providing highly relatable examples, sample dialogues, and practical exercises based on her experience as a PCI Parenting Coach. Her in-depth instruction allows readers to implement loving practices into everyday life and reflect on the positive changes that are occurring. After working through this excellent resource, I believe you’ll come away feeling less alone and more hopeful for the calm, connection, and confidence you yearn for in life. 
  • I know many of you follow my blog for encouragement and inspiration to be the best parent you can be. That is why I wanted to share this with you. The amazing 2015 Be the Best Parent You Can Be free online event has drawn together 20+ leading experts, including my colleagues Sandy Blackard, Dr. Laura Markham, Jane Nelsen , Patty Wipfler and more, to share their simple mindful parenting strategies for raising happy, independent and successful children in today’s fast-paced world. If you’d like to see daily video interviews with these experts, chat with them in a private Facebook group, and receive their free gifts, I encourage you to sign up by clicking here

The End of Your Insignificance

first and last 1“It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder

First to get up.
Last to lie down.

First to believe.
Last to give up.

First to offer what you have.
Last to take what you deserve.

First to look on the bright side.
Last to throw in the towel.

First to defend.
Last to abandon.

First to worry.
Last to relax.

First to believe.
Last to doubt.

First to shield.
Last to endanger.

First to pick up the pieces.
Last to break down.

First to welcome.
Last to exclude.

Some people are first—first to arrive … first to speak up … first to finish.
Some people are last—last to leave … last to know … last to quit.
But there are very special individuals who
Knowingly
Voluntarily
Graciously
Fill the role of First and Last, with accomplishments that are quite remarkable.

Perhaps you know someone like this.
Perhaps you are someone like this.
But you’ve focused too much on the failings in between that you neglected to realize you are a First and Last Constant in someone’s life.

If so, please take the following words to heart. Accept them as your own. Let them soothe those painful days, months, or perhaps even years, of thinking that you are not enough.

Recognizing My Significance: A Personal Tribute

I am first, and I am last.
Suddenly all that messy stuff in between doesn’t matter so much.

I am the beginning, and I am the end.
I am the dawn, and I am the dusk.
I am the first responder, and I am the last survivor.

So today I shall stop focusing so much on the failings in between.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to wonder if he’ll wake up alone.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to shout to be heard.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to walk unaccompanied.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to comfort herself.
Because there is human being who doesn’t have to ask for love—it is just given. It is just given.
Because of me.
Because of me.
I am first, and I am last.
And today I realized how truly significant that is—how significant I am—in the life of another human being.

Today marks the end of my insignificance.

I am first, and I am last.

And that is cause for celebration.

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Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for being a community of Nurturers, Encouragers, Bad Dream Chasers, Second Chance Givers, Hand Holders, and Love Bestowers. You meet me here each week in an effort to live more and love more despite the distractions, pressures, and challenges of life. Sometimes we stumble; sometimes we fall flat on our faces–but we keep showing up. Today let us celebrate the mothering we do. Let us mother ourselves. Let us continue to mother each other. I am grateful for every single one of you and the way you encourage me. You are my writing fuel.