At my very first “Hands Free” speaking engagement, 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 youngest child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.
But here I am a year 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 animaljam.com and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, this technology-challenged parent 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.
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.
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 recent 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.
Those who are regular readers of my blog know I am all for the concept of letting go to grow. But I also believe in the invaluable gift of presence. This post is not advocating smothering or hovering over one’s child. This post is advocating taking time each day—whatever increment works for you—to be present and available to foster a loving relationship with some very important people in one’s life.
How do you nurture your most important relationships with the gift of time and presence? And if it’s been awhile since you invested time into the people you love the most, there is always today.
Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution—a community striving to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters in this one precious life!
Every comment you leave and every personal email you send is a cherished part of my journey.
The Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.