Summer vacation is fast approaching here in the U.S. And while my children cannot wait to have some significant time off from school, I’ve been noticing a slight wave of angst growing in the pit of my stomach. As my requests for writing and speaking increase, I find myself wondering how I will accomplish my work while maintaining my commitment to being a present and lovingly connected parent to my children.
Because here’s the thing: When I started writing this blog 18 months ago, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to be the real deal—meaning whether I am being “Hands Free” or writing about being “Hands Free,” I promised to be open, honest, and authentic about my successes and shortcomings on this journey to grasp what really matters.
Simply stated, there is no faking “Hands Free;” there is no half-way “Hands Free.” Either I’m distracted or I’m present. Trying to mentally and emotionally exist in two places at once is like trying to live life with one hand. And I tried that for two long, draining years—it doesn’t work. I have found that I can only grasp what really matters in life with two free hands and one committed heart.
So with that said, I’ve come to a decision about summer. And I share it with you because we all have responsibilities that beg for our time, attention, and energy.
Whether your work involves sitting at a desk or never sitting down … whether you do your job in a tailored business suit or a rotating set of yoga pants each with their own unique stain … and whether you are Type A or so “chill” that everyone wants to know what is in your coffee, we ALL want to do the things that matter to our children in the precious time we are given. In other words, we want to do the things that will stick with them, shape them, and cause them to look back on their childhood with happiness.
So what exactly are the things that kids remember? Would you believe there is a list of such items derived from children themselves?
When I stumbled on this list of what kids love their parents to do, I felt as if I discovered the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a “Hands Free” rainbow.
A wise teacher named Erin Kurt happened to have the insight to ask her students what they most liked their parents to do with them. She asked this same question every year for 16 years and from these responses she revealed, “The Top 10 Things Kids Want From Parents.”
Be prepared to be surprised.
Be prepared to be hopeful.
Be prepared to give yourself a celebratory high five, because the news is good, my friends.
And if you are like me, you might even have unexpected tears. Because the things your kids will remember are a lot easier to do than we often overly-pressured parents have been led to believe. And you might already be doing some of them.
The Top Ten Things Kids Really Want Their Parents To Do With Them
- Come into my bedroom at night, tuck me in and sing me a song. Also tell me stories about when you were little.
- Give me hugs and kisses and sit and talk with me privately.
- Spend quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.
- Give me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.
- At dinner talk about what we could do together on the weekend.
- At night talk to me about about anything; love, school, family etc.
- Let me play outside a lot.
- Cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite TV show together.
- Discipline me. It makes me feel like you care.
- 10. Leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.
Isn’t it simple?
Isn’t it beautiful?
Isn’t it achievable?
This list inspires me so much that I taped it to my fridge. It serves as a reminder that it’s the small things we do as parents that mean the most, and it is those very same things that our kids will remember when they are grown.
Most of these actions are fairly simple if (and this is a big IF) I am not tied to my distraction. I am referring to external distraction in the form of electronic devices, computers, to-do lists, and exploding calendars. I am also referring to internal distraction like pressure for things to look or be a certain way, thoughts of inconvenience, fear of messes—all things that prevent us from living in the moment and grasping what really matters.
But when I compare the distractions in my life to the things that matter to children, it quickly puts my distractions in their proper place on the priority list.
So based on this newfound knowledge, I’ve decided exactly what I want my summer to look like. Because the simple fact is this: I hold the power to determine what my family’s summer will look like based on the choices I make. But be warned, some of it may not look pretty.
This summer there will be …
Less clean surfaces and more projects that reach across the table for hours … maybe even days
Less drawer usage and more piles
Less keyboard typing/online activity and more old-fashioned notebooks/face time
Less treadmill running and more unconventional forms of exercise
Less hours spent in the kitchen and more casual picnic dinners on the patio (popsicles included)
Less baking perfection and more helping hands
Less formal sheet music and more playing of the tunes within our heart
Less watching of Netflix and more watching of the storms roll in
Less “hurry up” and more “pause”
Less time spent on appearance and more hats on unwashed hair
Less sitting on the side and more jumping in to the action
As you can see, living “Hands Free” is not always pretty. It’s not always organized. It’s often not efficient or productive, and it’s definitely not perfect, but I can breathe; and I can laugh, and play, and feel joy—which are impossible to do when I am bent over the keyboard, constantly trying to pick up the mess, and stressing out over details that won’t matter 10 years from now.
Now at this point, I could wrap this post up with a warm and fuzzy bow and have every intention of following through on my summer vow. But I promised to be the real deal when I write in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so let me give you some realness.
I know me.
I come from a long line of overachieving workaholics. I have a tiny drill sergeant in my head that tends to drown out my “Hands Free” inner voice with demands of productivity and perfection.
So what I need is a little accountability. And I happen to know two “littles” who can hold me accountable.
So I wrote a contract. A “Hands Free” contract for the Hands Free Mama and presented it to my children. I explained the situation of a published book coming close to fruition, but also my deep desire to keep my “Hands Free” priorities in check.
And just as you would expect from the true experts on grasping what matters, the ones who taught me everything I know about living “Hands Free,” they looked the contract over carefully.
And with every “Hands Free” summer goal my children read, the wider their smiles became. They even whole-heartedly agreed to do their part to help me to be “Hands Free” (such as, helping with household chores, meal preparation, having positive attitudes, and cooperating with each other).
After we all signed the contract, I felt it was important to post it in a prominent location for us all to see. And when I stood back to view it, I swear I got a glimpse of the future.
I envisioned a wise teacher asking my beautifully grown daughters what they remember about their very favorite summer.
They didn’t say the summer they went to Disney World.
And they didn’t say the summer they got their ears pierced or got the newest electronic device.
It was the summer of 2012 when we grew our own tomatoes and made fresh squeezed lemonade despite the big mess it created. We caught lightning bugs on our fingers and had perpetual grass stains on the bottom of our feet.
It was the summer their mama could have spent hunched over the keys of her computer, but she didn’t. Instead she chose to live, laugh, and love her family through the unforgettable gift of her presence.
For those who are new to this journey, I provide some clarification about living “Hands Free.”
Living “Hands Free” does not mean:
-Giving up your electronic devices/technology
-Giving up your work time, job responsibilities, and home duties
-Giving up “me” time or much needed adult alone time
-And it does not mean staring at your children 24 hours a day and never leaving their sides.
Living “Hands Free” means temporarily letting go of external or internal distraction (i.e.; phone, computer, unrealistic standards, perfection) to be fully present with someone or something meaningful in one’s life.
All day long, we have choices on how we spend our time. When you begin to develop a “Hands Free” mentality, you become mindful of these choices.
For example, you might find yourself asking:
Could this (phone call, work assignment, Facebook status update) be done later?
Could this (laundry folding, car washing, house cleaning, dinner preparation) be done as a family?
Sometimes the answer will be NO. That is life. As adults, sometimes we must do what we need to do.
But other times, you will find yourself saying, “Right now, I see an opportunity to connect with my child/loved one and that is the most important thing I must do right now.”
Whether you are able to let go of distraction for 10 minutes, two hours, or an entire day, meaningful connection can occur in that precious time.
And for the record, I have never regretted the choice to let of distraction and go “Hands Free.” In fact, I am always grateful I made the choice to connect to what really matters.
Update: Because of the overwhelmingly positive response to this post, I recently published a follow-up entitled, “What a ‘Hands Free’ Fall Looks Like.” Thank you so much for your support of this message!
*Update: After reading this post, many people have asked to read my “Hands Free” summer contract so I am adding it here. Keep in mind this is based on my family’s interests/goals, as well as my personal areas of distraction weaknesses that need accountability. Every family’s contract will look a little different based on your own individual circumstances.