The Freedom to Raise a Child

“The way I see it isn't necessarily the way you see it. Or the way it is. Or ought to be. What's more important is that we're all looking for it and a way to see it.” -Desi Di Nardo

A few weeks prior to my youngest daughter’s 6th birthday, I asked her what kind of party she’d like to have. As one might expect from a laid-back, ukulele playing, perpetually smiling child, her party suggestions were quite ambiguous.

“I don’t care what we do, Mom. Maybe just have some food that is cooked and do something fun,” she said grinning from behind her pink spectacles.

Hmmm … I had always dreamed of a relaxed party-planning style—apparently, I was about to get my chance.

Taking a cue from my daughter’s mellow approach to life, I waited to begin party preparations until the day before her friends were due to arrive. Together my daughter and I baked the never-fail Duncan Hines strawberry cake. At one point, my icing-loving child assured me we could skip the cake and just have a large bowl of butter cream frosting with six candles in it. Although the offer was tempting, I thought that would be taking the term “simple party” a bit too far.

After we iced the cake, she decided pizza was the ideal “cooked” food party fare and wrote her friends’ names on the goody bags. And voilà! We were party ready—with the exception of the “doing something fun” part of her minimal party requests. For that one, I was on my own. So I did what most people do when faced with life’s greatest mysteries: I “Googled” it.

After some thought on how to phrase my inquiry, I shrugged and got straight to the point.

I typed: What do 6-year-old girls like to do at a party?

To my amazement, tons of links came up. More great ideas than I knew what to do with appeared before my eyes. I decided to stick with the central theme of simplicity by choosing three activities with the least complicated directions and the least amount of materials.

By 5 p.m. the next evening, six little girls were happily painting heart-shaped wooden boxes, building giant towers with mini-marshmallows and toothpicks, and anxiously anticipating the laundry basket balloon race. I was actually a little embarrassed to propose that last activity because it seemed so … well … elementary.

I quickly discovered that colorful balloons, laundry baskets, “Call Me Maybe,” and bare feet on a summer night are a magical combination for 6-year-old girls.

For 30 minutes, the children used creative methods to get their balloon into the laundry basket at the end of the driveway without carrying it. The risk-takers of the bunch chose to give their balloon a good nudge so there was quite a bit of distance between their hands and the suspended oval. These kids were lax with their game strategy, trusting the balloon would eventually get where it needed to go. The other children kept their balloons right under their nose tenderly patting the balloon along its projected path–never letting it stray too far from reach.

Despite the difference in approaches, the children were all successful. No popped balloons and joy, pure sweet joy, written all over their perspiring faces as they attempted the task again and again.

As I relished the outcome of my daughter’s 6th birthday party in my lawn chair with a cold beverage in hand, I reflected on my pre “Hands Free” party planning days … when elaborate party themes were a must and email invites were unheard of … when the Williams Sonoma mechanical pastry bag produced frosting rosebuds and balloons were filled with helium—not Mom’s hot air. But things are different now. Circumstances have changed. My time is more limited and my children’s interests have changed, their abilities have grown.

But when I stop and consider if either method of celebrating a birthday was “wrong,” the answer is NO—not at all.

And when I consider if my children were happy at their parties despite the difference in style, the answer is YES—very happy.

Kind-of like the balloon game. There’s more than one way to get a balloon into the basket.

And kind-of of like parenting. There’s more than one way to raise a happy, independent, well-adjusted child.

I started this “Hands Free” journey to let go of the external distraction that was sabotaging my time, attention, and passion from what really mattered in my life. And in the process, I have freed myself from another form of distraction that prevents me from grasping the moments that matter. And that is the societal pressure that leads me to believe there IS a right and wrong way to raise a child.

It didn’t dawn on me that this newfound freedom I’ve been experiencing has seeped into my writing until some of you told me. Last week several readers sent me messages that used the word “permission.”

Thank you for giving me permission to invest in my family.

Thank you for giving me permission to spend time with my child and not feel guilty about it.

Thank you for giving me permission to do what I feel is right for my family despite what society deems as “appropriate.”  

So with that, I give you this:

You Are Free

You are free to rise to your feet and cheer at the top of your lungs.
You are free to watch with silent tears of pride from the back of the bleachers.

If that’s what feels right to you.

You are free to make vegetarian meals from the produce in your backyard garden.
You are free to be on a first-name basis with the drive-thru guy at McDonald’s.

If that’s what works for you.

You are free to stare at your child’s face for hours.
You are free count the minutes until you get a break from that adorable little ball of energy.

If that’s what gives you peace.

You are free to sit side-by-side at homework time.
You are free to declare homework is not for parents, and feel secretly relieved that math wasn’t that hard when you were in fourth grade.

If that’s what you think is best.

You are free to know all the lyrics to the “Sing and Dance with Barney” CD.
You are free to jam to Led Zeppelin with your three-year-old on air guitar.

If that’s how you roll.

You are free to encourage the use of hand sanitizer and a nightly bathing regime.
You are free to believe that food retrieved from the floor within three seconds is not contaminated and a dip in the pool counts as a bath.

If that’s what keeps you sane.

You are free lay beside her until her she succumbs to sleep.
You are free to do a fist pump as you close the bedroom door and make a nose-dive for the couch.

If that’s what gets you through the day.

You are free to be lax or firm … or somewhere in the middle.
You are free to get advice or trust your gut … or do a little of both.
You are free to wing it or plan it … depending on the day.
You are free to read the research or come to your own conclusions … or a combination of the two.

Love comes in different forms and through various approaches.
Your child doesn’t care how love graces his life or touches her heart as long as it comes from you.

You are free to bring your child to the finish line (if there is such a thing)
With peace, pride, and confidence,
No matter how you choose to do it.

So carry on, dear parent.
You are free.

******************************************************

What parental freedoms have you adopted along your journey? What freedoms would you like to adopt?

Thank you for making The Hands Free Revolution a supportive community of people striving to let go of distraction—both internal and external—to grasp the moments that matter. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Every single comment is valued and cherished.

 

 

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Comments

  1. 2

    Hope says

    Your blog is lovely to read. I was a “hands-free” parent for years out of sheer necessity (only way to keep from going completely insane with 3 kids, military husband gone for long stretches of time, a full-time job plus pretty heavy church responsibilities), and since all 3 are now fairly normal adults, it seems to have worked (the amount of sanity remaining with me, however, is questionable). Thanks for sharing the lessons you are learning as you let go!

  2. 3

    justanotherwakeupcall says

    Beautiful! Beautiful! post :) As a mom of two I know all about the do’s and the dont’s . And I always find myself questioning the prescribed routes. I think kids are born with an internal compass and as long as you dont do something to completely smash it , they pretty much manage to reach their finishing lines on their own.

    • 4

      says

      What a lovely thought regarding children having an internal compass. As I consider my children, I see that as being so true. They each have a very different approach to life and are guided by their unique internal compass. I am grateful my “Hands Free” journey has allowed me to appreciate their approaches, although very different than mine own, to living life. In fact, they often teach me a beautiful way of going about something. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. 5

    Erin says

    thank you. In my belief system I believe we were sent to earth because we wanted to be free to make our own choices. Reading your poem brought tears to my eyes because I feel that God would say something similar to us. Just love your kids. And do it while looking in their eyes instead of in the faces of the people around us. Thanks for being a conduit of goodness, and sharing the gifts of insight you receive. We try so hard to figure it all out, and it’s so so simple, so easy to overlook.

    • 6

      says

      What a beautiful comment, Erin. I am so guilty of making things much more complicated than they need to be. I appreciate your enlightening perspective and loving words. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  4. 7

    Sarah says

    This posting is an anwer to one of my prayers. My sister and I have drastically different parenting styles, and I find myself getting very judgmental about how she raises her twins. Yesterday, I asked for a way to find peace and not get caught up in my opinions and judgments about her parenting style so that our relationship as sisters wouldn’t be affected any more. Your words helped me to remember that love comes in different forms and through various approaches. My sister is free, and now I am too. Thank you very much for giving me the peace I was searching for.

    • 8

      says

      You don’t know how happy this makes me, Sarah! What a gift to know this message has allowed you to have peace and acceptance in your heart. I am inspired by your willingness to realize this was something you wanted/needed to overcome. I know when I face difficult truths is when I most grow and heal. Thank you for being real.

  5. 9

    says

    Wonderful words! Where were you when my children were infants/toddlers/kids & it seemed the whole world wanted to tell me I was doing everything wrong?! You are wise, wise, wise. Thank you. It matters, even now – and they are twenty-somethings. And turned out just fine, despite my worries.

  6. 11

    Gail McCready says

    I stopped reading parenting magazines because of how guilty they always made me feel so that helped free me but your post made me think about the other things that have not allowed me to be free in how I raise my children. A few minutes ago I was feeling guilty for being happy that I just sent my twins (and my 2 youngest of 5 children) to their first day of kindergarten and feeling bad that I felt a sense of accomplishment rather than wanting to cry because my babies were all grown up like all my friends are doing…but reading your post helped me realize that it’s okay because it is what is unique to me. I have been raising young children for almost 13 years and that I am excited to move on to the next chapter in my life with no pregnancy, babies or toddlers in the house!

    • 12

      Shandy C says

      Gail, there are more of us out there than you know. I too just sent my youngest to kindergarten yesterday with a big smile on my face and not a tear in sight. We are raising our children the way WE see fit and in a way that fits our family and our kids, not the way the “world” thinks we should do it.

      You are right about reading all the parenting magazines! It makes me feel inadequate and like a failure. I’m not one to “play” a lot with my kids, and I always felt so awful about it. But my kids also know how to entertain themselves and don’t ALWAYS have to have me to come up with activities for them to do. It works for us and that is what matters.

    • 13

      says

      Gail, thank you for sharing and bringing up a great example of how our reactions to parenting experiences can differ so widely. I, too, have had times when I felt differently than what society implied I “should” feel about different milestones in my children’s lives. We should never feel like we have to justify our feelings, but I so often do. Thank you for your being so open and sharing this lovely bit of wisdom here today! And congratulations! What a momentous occasion for you!

  7. 17

    says

    I cannot tell you how much I love this post, or how timely it is. My family and I just spent the weekend at a wedding with my husband’s entire extended family, and there were a lot of judgements made about the way I parent my son, (some subtle, some not so much).
    I get very offended by it, but the truth is that I am guilty of judging other parents all the time. I don’t do it front of them, but I talk about them to my husband, my parents, my friends. It is something I really want to strive to stop doing. We are all just doing the best we can, and what we feel is best for each individual child (what works for one wouldn’t for the next!) and for our family.
    I am glad your daughter had such a fun birthday! How did you manage to only end up with 6 girls? My son’s birthday is in November, so an outdoor party isn’t possible.

    • 18

      says

      Thank you for your realness and authenticity, Jen. I love that you are striving to keep in mind that other parents, just like you and me, are just trying to do the best they can and doing what they think is best for their particular child. I will join you in this endeavor! And yes, just 5 girls plus Big Sister. That is the nice thing about summer birthdays. My daughter was able to invite her closest friends. It was the most delightful group of fun loving girls!

  8. 19

    says

    Reading your words provides a freedom for the soul. My children are now grown but I recall wondering if other mothers did the silly things with their children that I loved so much. Our dances, songs, and make believe. I have come to feel validated that I truly enjoyed them as children as they are wonderful adults now. Love, it does wonders.

  9. 20

    Zanni Arnot says

    This is so lovely Rachel. Reminding parents they are free to be loving and caring is such an important message to send. I often feel that parents are trapped into feeling they have to be strict with children or serious with them. Once again I love your little girls and the joy they express. X
    http://heartmama.net

  10. 21

    says

    It has taken me a very long time (and it is still a work in progress) to not care what the world thinks of my parenting. My girls are healthy, happy and loving life. To me that means maybe I am doing something right. I love reading your posts and they truly make me realize that life is short, hands free is my way to go.

    • 22

      says

      Oh, I love this, Carmen. I love that you have set your OWN standard of good parenting, your own indication of how you are doing. One of mine is that my girls are kind and compassionate. When they go out of their way to say or do something for someone in need, I think to myself, “I am doing something right.” Thank you so much for bringing this important notion to light.

  11. 23

    Becky says

    I will start following your blog TODAY! I love it. You have defined what I’ve been trying to be for the last seven years. BALANCE. Yes, sometimes I’m crunchy and don’t want my kids to even look at a chicken nugget, but others, I’m “hands free” (thank you for the term!) but fun, and like the other day, I might decide that we’d have cupcakes for dinner! They were decorated to look like mashed potatoes, chicken, and cheeseburgers (thanks to Paula Deen!)
    We all get some pressure from uber moms who like to be competitive, but like you suggested, we have to do what works for us.

    I need to play more- let go more, and surprise my kids more. Otherwise, you’ve shown me that I’m actually doing pretty great. Here’s to the revolution!

  12. 25

    says

    Lovely post! I have finally accepted the kind of mom I am. It is freeing. I love being hands-on with my kids, so I am proud of that. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I don’t cook breakfast– just cold cereal and fruit everyday. I don’t make elaborate lunches– PB&J or yogurt most days. I don’t make dinners that take more than 20 or 30 min— beans and rice or pasta. My house is not as tidy as it should be. But, my kids and I are happy. It is a wonderful feeling.

    • 26

      says

      Thank you, Danielle. You know I LOVE your blog and am inspired by all the wonderful adventures and experiences you do as a family. This makes me love you even more to know you are just REAL. Thank you for sharing yourself here today. I feel pretty special knowing you and I have the low-fuss cooking thing in common!!!! Thank you, friend!

  13. 27

    says

    I have adopted the freedom to not have children. And I’m often faced with adversity in this decision from various people, although most are women, who haven’t yet considered the many children I already have in my life. I’m surrounded by beautiful children through my siblings and friends who I adore and dote upon. And with those children, who I love with all my heart, I can apply your style of “hands free” aunt-ing. :)

    Thanks for your posts.

    • 28

      says

      Thank you, Kelly. I love this. You have so beautifully pointed out that there are many interpretations of “parenting freedoms.” And my brilliant and beautiful older sister has adopted the same freedom you have. She is a “hands free” aunt, as well, and the impact she is having on my children’s lives is immeasurable. I think the doting aunts and uncles of the world deserve a lot of credit for the nurture and love they provide children. I can only imagine how important you are to your nieces and nephews. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely and enlightening perspective!!!

  14. 29

    says

    As someone who completely went overboard on my son’s last birthday, I totally understand this! It brought me a lot of pride to host a “Pinterest-ready” party and all of the kudos that brought, I spent too many nights the week before staying up until 1 AM. And for what? All that matters is that he has fun… not whether I shine at it. :) I love your message, and this goes for so many things… be free to go with your gut!

  15. 30

    Elizabeth Kane says

    Wonderfully put. Watching kids go with the flow of it all serves as a great reminder that not everything has to be overly complicated to be great. Sometimes information overload can turn into a huge amount of noise that gets in the way of what life is truly about! I think there’s a balance between finding better ways to live your life, and feeling paralyzed by too much information to put it in place. When I start to feel overwhelmed with all the “should do”s during my day, I know I need to give myself permission to do what feels right for me too.

  16. 31

    says

    I love your writing! I am a mother of 3 and I am working really hard to spend less time on the computer and more time with the kids. Today we made playdough. It was great. And I stayed in the kitchen the whole time they played with it. I am a mom who feels societal pressure more than I should. It doesn’t drive my decisions but I do feel it. My 5 year old just started school. She got the flu after the first day and missed the rest of the week. She is more happy at home. We are going to stick it out for a month. I feel like I am destined to home school and I am gearing up for that. After the first day I realized I am doing a damn good job at teaching my kids! They love each other, they are kind, they play nice more than they fight. They are smart and ask insightful questions. We spend a lot of time learning. I need to give myself more credit. It is inspiring to see another mother do the simple things. Thanks for making your hands free and your heart open.

  17. 32

    Brion Burkett says

    So what I have noticed about your current writing is that something powerful in it has waned and yet this waning has gained you something greater in the process. As I began reading this heart stirring, convicting, and overall inspiring blog of yours, I noticed something almost immediately. Mingled in with all of the proactive steps toward the intentional savoring of what we all have around us, there lay a deep and audible sadness. And this bled through in every soul-mined writ published here. And I will submit that this sadness is shared by millions of people. And I concluded that this was one of the main draws for so many who are flocking to read your much needed refreshment in this desert of soul deadening tech addiction. You articulated the sadness so many of us feel daily after we choose our phones and computers and business over our loved ones and true joys. You were putting into words the horrible truth none of us stay focused on for too long: The longer we put off what will bring us and ultimately everyone else, the greatest joy (Giving and receiving love) the more sad we will become. And this I Believe is why when I told the sad lady on her phone in my produce department that she should check out your blog she replied, “Oh I love her! I read it all the time! She writes what I feel!”
    Rachael, you and this effort of yours are like a forest fire with the wind behind it. This could get very great and could affect more folks than you could hope for. But let me encourage you with something I began this letter with. That wind that will spread this fire is a combination of so many things. Sure it definitely includes your incredible gift of encouragement and your sometimes heart wrenching honesty, and it also included that very identifiable sadness that I was talking about. But I have noticed something else coming through that has become a newer pattern I see in your writing.
    You are more hopeful of the future and less sad about the past.
    You seem to not be so conflicted.
    The old programming is dying at a rapid rate under the sway of your tenacious savoring of your family and what may be the most important things God has so graciously given us.
    And you seem more wonderful loving mom and less literary achiever.
    Your honesty and faithfulness to your original vision has conquered even the compulsion to crochet together a fantastic word quilt each and every time.
    I want to commend you for being an honest and truly fantastic writer. You are. I believe Hemmingway would have weekly enjoyed your blog if he were alive today (he too was distracted by gadgets).
    I want to thank you for taking up the call to cast aside what hinders you and your own from relishing this very great gift of live.
    And I want to encourage you in relishing the possibility of your new lifestyle infiltrating your very writing style.
    Always believing the best for you, your husband, and your family,
    Always grateful for the you, the clear beacon in the fog in steering my own stewarding of my wife,
    may you and your own continue in the actual living and not the waiting to live one day…

    Brion

    • 33

      says

      Brion, ‘thank you’ does not suffice to describe the gratitude I feel when I read and re-read your message. This is truly a GIFT to hear your beautiful perspective of how my writings have changed over time. You have managed to capture many emotions I have felt, but not been able to really put my finger on. I am really quite blown away by your insight and humbled by your gracious encouragement. This message could not have come at a better moment in my life. It is truly providential. God has been truly faithful on this journey and yet, again provided the encouragement I so needed to hear. I thank you for taking the time to write this eloquent message that speaks to me on a very spiritual level.

      With gratitude,
      Rachel

  18. 34

    says

    This sounds like a fantastic way to spend the day, I think our kids would like some balloons and laundry baskets too! In fact, this might be a fun thing to do tomorrow just because. The pic of her running is so gorgeous! Happy Birthday sweet girl.

  19. 35

    Kim says

    I read this blog entry on the anniversary of 9/11. It’s a great way to remember what really matters — that we all love our children in our own unique ways, and everybody is FREE to have their own ways. Thank you so much. I truly enjoy your posts.

  20. 36

    says

    I already left a comment about this post, but I had to leave another one. Today I was judged again, as a parent, and I reached a breaking point. I screamed, I cried, I broke down, and I finally expressed all the pain and frustration I’ve been feeling for far too long to someone. I don’t know if it will help, or make things worse, but it felt good to let it out. Afterwards, I watched “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, for the second time, and the message that came across so loudly for me was that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me, or of my son. What matters is that I have his back. That I make him feel valued and understood. I came back to read this post and to remind myself that I am free to be whatever kind of parent I choose to be.
    Thank you so much.

    • 37

      says

      Jen, I am so glad you came back to write and to remind yourself you have the freedom to do what feels right in your heart, what works for your situation, what works best for your son. No one else lives your life. No one else knows your son like you do–no one. And you, not them, will be standing by his side in 15 years. I’m sure you think about what you want your future relationship to be like with him. I know I do. And that is often what confirms my choices. Methods of parenting and what is “all the hype” change. The way “everyone” is doing it will also change. But what will remains constant as your child grows is your love for him. What a gift that he can COUNT on that. I worked with many children who could not count on their parent’s unconditional love and support, and it deeply saddened me. When you feel beat up by the views of others, just remember you are giving him the greatest gift a parent can give–love and support. In fact, you said it best when you said, “I have his back.” The power of that statement should not be underestimated. Hold your head high. And carry on, dear Jen.

      P.S. I commend you for sharing your feelings with someone. For a long time, I kept my insecurities, imperfections, worries, fears, etc to myself. One day, I decided to share. The friend, who I thought had this “perfect” life, said, “I feel that way, too.” WOW. Instantly, I felt comforted. I was not alone. I had a friend who was open to being real. And I allowed her to be real. I think living in realness is a beautiful, authentic way to live, and I am never going back to keeping all those negative feelings to myself.

  21. 40

    Kristin says

    I love, love, love this! Due to not being hands-free and currently trying to work on getting there I have gotten too caught up with all the parenting “advice” I find on the interent. I always for some reason feel I need to do more crafts with my kids, but your post made me realize I am FREE to do whatever it is my kids want to do with me. Which is often playing chase or racing cars across the floor. I need to remember I don’t have to make every or even any cute little craft I see on Pinterest. You made me realize I just need to spend quality time with my kids doing whatever works best for me and them.
    And as others have mentioned, I need to free myself but also free others. I need to remember they are doing what works best for them and their families, just like me.

  22. 41

    says

    The older I get the more I realize that there are many, many, many ways to raise kids and to be a “good” mom.

    My mom made us girls all custom made cakes every birthday, spending hours on her fun creations. I let me kids decorate their own cakes…then when we realized we each ate one piece of cake and the rest went to waste, I began buying ice cream cakes or another ready made dessert. For one birthday I got a box of cheesecake samplers for our son. More than once our daughter has had birthday dessert in a restaurant.

    Halloween–I don’t like the holiday but always took the kid trick-or-treating w/their friend and their friends’ moms. Obviously I didn’t like making/putting together/buying costumes either. One year they were both crayons, wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants that were the same color. I cut the word “Crayola” out of black felt and pinned it down their side. Pretty pitiful, but I got some good pictures and they didn’t mind a bit.

    My kids showed cattle for years. I enjoyed watching them, but never developed the “eye” to know what a good calf looked like. I was not interested in learning how to wash, clip, lead, etc. the cattle (I was running my own business as well) and went to the shows to see THEM show–often leaving right after they showed and just taking pictures. It was right for me and more importantly, they were just glad I was there–they didn’t mind that I couldn’t tell a good calf from a bad one and sometimes couldn’t even remember the name of the calf they were showing.

    Now my kids are in college. Their high school graduation parties were completely different and SIMPLE–but they both loved them.

    A friend of mine went to her kids’ college events so often she was on a first name basis with a local hotel. I have been to my son’s college exactly once…and he’s in his junior year.

    Moms, please, enjoy your kids! Make your goal to instill in them the values that are important to you. Make sure they KNOW they are loved. You’ll be a better mom when you are enjoying what you do rather than trying to be the “perfect” mom–unless of course you enjoy being “perfect.” :-) Enjoy your time with them–it flies by faster than you can imagine!

  23. 42

    says

    Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and
    checking back often!

  24. 43

    Vicki says

    I also say thank you for that permission. As parents, and individuals in general, we are judged DAILY on almost everything. I have often worried if I am doing something “right” and if others would agree with how I am raising my 4 year old. But lately I’ve had to learn that it only matters if I am doing right by HIM. HE is the one that matters. Because he is his own little person, with his own personality, feelings, emotions, wants, needs and history. And when I see him laughing daily and saying “I love you mommy” like it’s going out of style, I have to think that I’m doing something right.

  25. 44

    Julia Kurskaya says

    Yes, yes, we are FREE! And it feels so good! Rachel, each of your posts grants permission to take it easy, to have fun, to live and to breathe. I think back of the person who was never smiling, never satisfied, absolutely exhausted, having a to-do-list for every day… I can’t believe it was me – a year ago! And things would have been the same now, if you haven’t given me this PERMISSION. We love you!

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