A Simple Tool for a More Positive Home

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child's life and it's like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

 The other night I was lying beside my 6-year-old daughter at bedtime when she snuggled in close and released a contented sigh. “I’m glad I have a family,” she whispered softly.

After agreeing whole-heartedly with her beautiful statement, an unexpected question popped out of my mouth. “If you didn’t have a family, who would you want to live with?” I asked.

Without hesitation, she rattled off four extraordinary women in our family’s life, including a current teacher and a past teacher.

As we were discussing these special ladies, my oldest daughter popped into her sister’s room to return something she borrowed. “What are you talking about?” she inquired.

When I told her what we were discussing, she immediately confirmed the value of a teacher in a child’s life by saying, “If I didn’t have a family, I would want to live with my teacher, Mrs. Reynolds.”

I was not the least bit surprised that my daughters had great affection and trust for these particular teachers. I had been in their classroom many times. I saw the love they had for their students displayed in both words and actions on many occasions.  On the day my youngest child came to school in her new glasses, her teacher did not wear her contact lenses as usual. She dug up her old glasses and wore them so my child would not feel alone. She did that for months—maybe even the remainder of the school year. To this day, my daughter still loves to wear her glasses, and she wears them with pride.

I also remember how one of these special teachers noticed my oldest daughter was struggling with the organization of her assignments and loose papers. As soon as the teacher spotted the difficulty, she told my child, “When I was young, I was just like you. I had so many neat things going on in my brain it was hard to keep up with the papers.” As a team, my daughter and her teacher figured out a way to stay organized that my daughter still uses today.

I could name countless ways these particular teachers chose to build on the positive when addressing my children’s differences, insecurities, and weaknesses rather than using condemnation to get them to change, conform, or improve.

I am fortunate to have observed these extraordinary teachers when I most needed to be reminded of the power of positivity. Because I must admit, I was once prone to criticize my children under the guise of “good intentions.” Whether it was poor posture, unmannerly eating habits, improper grooming, uncoordinated outfits, or a less-than-desired performance in sports or music, these were all areas in which I felt the need to correct. I justified the criticism by saying I didn’t want my child to be teased …  or I wanted her to be successful in life …  or be well liked … or gain self-confidence. But truthfully, it was all about me. I was concerned about how my children’s behavior or appearance was going to reflect on me. I pushed for perfection because I was overly concerned about what other people were going to think me, not them.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

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The Important Thing About Yelling

the important thing about yelling #handsfreemama
I cherish the notes I receive from my children—whether they are scribbled with a Sharpie on a yellow sticky note or written in perfect penmanship on lined paper. But the Mother’s Day poem I received from my 9-year-old daughter was especially meaningful. In fact, the first line of the poem caused my breath to catch as warm tears slid down my face.

“The important thing about my mom is … she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.”

You see, it hasn’t always been this way.

In the midst of my highly distracted life, I started a new practice that was quite different from the way I behaved up until that point. I became a yeller. It wasn’t often, but it was extreme—like an overloaded balloon that suddenly pops and makes everyone in earshot startle with fear.

So what was it about my then 3-year-old and 6-year-old children that caused me to lose it? Was it how she insisted on running off to get three more beaded necklaces and her favorite pink sunglasses when we were already late? Was it that she tried to pour her own cereal and dumped the entire box on the kitchen counter? Was it that she dropped and shattered my special glass angel on the hardwood floor after being told not to touch it? Was it that she fought sleep like a prizefighter when I needed peace and quiet the most? Was it that the two of them fought over ridiculous things like who would be first out of the car or who got the biggest dip of ice cream?

Yes, it was those things—normal mishaps and typical kid issues and attitudes that irritated me to the point of losing control.

That is not an easy sentence to write. Nor is this an easy time in my life to relive because truth be told, I hated myself in those moments. What had become of me that I needed to scream at two precious little people who I loved more than life?

Let me tell you what had become of me.

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What Our Children Want Us To See

What Our Children Want Us to See

*name has been changed

“I wish you were my mom,” Jeremy* said—not once, but twice.

I wasn’t even a mother yet. I was simply a teacher who listened and loved and ran to her mentor if she didn’t know what to do—which was quite often.

But in Jeremy’s eyes, those traits were enough to qualify me as a good mom.

For weeks leading up to his heartbreaking admission, I noticed that when he would hug me, he’d take in deep breaths—as if my scent was his oxygen.  He lingered in my classroom long after the other children departed to proudly present me with a rock or a feather he found in his backyard. And sometimes he would just stand next to me—not saying anything, just standing near. It was clear Jeremy found comfort in my presence, but until he voiced his wish for me to be his mom, I had no idea why.

“What do you need that you aren’t getting at home?” I cautiously asked one day, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer.

Jeremy’s words were chilling. I can still remember how his eyes became dark, like the bottomless depths of a somber lake, when he whispered, “I just want her to see me.”

I swallowed a lump in my throat and fought back tears that were on the verge of spilling out. “What kind of things does your mom not see?” I managed to squeak out without crying.

And what Jeremy told me has become my guide for giving my children what they need—not to survive—but to flourish.  I don’t know where Jeremy is now, but I know he’d want me to share the words that impact my daily interactions with my children.

What I Want You to See (From the Voice of a Child)  

See the way my tongue sticks out when I’m making a beautiful creation for you.
See all the things I am doing right, not all the things I’m doing wrong.

See the way the way my eyes scan the auditorium until I find you.
See how the sight of your face makes me sigh with relief.

See the way my face changes when you take time to explain things to me.
See what a little patience and compassion can do for my scowl.

See the way I look at you when you read a book to me.
See that it doesn’t take much to make me feel loved and secure.

See that I gave it my all even though I didn’t quite succeed.
See that I’d do anything to make you proud.

See that my pants are too short because I am growing, not because I am an inconvenience.
See that I want to grow up to be just like you.

See that I’m calm and quiet when I am sleeping.
See that I’m carefree and joyful when I am running.

See that I’m gonna be something great if you can just look beyond the flaws.
See how a few words of affirmation make my shoulders rise.

See that my eyes tear up a little when we say goodbye.
See that my favorite pastime is spending time with you.

See that you’re the light of my life.
See that I desperately want to be the light of yours.

See me for what I am: a child who has many needs, but also a heart full of love.

See that beneath the dirt-stained pants and pouty lip, I am your everyday miracle.
Your everyday miracle.
And if you look a little deeper and gaze a little longer,
You’ll see all that am.

Out of all the students I had in my ten-year teaching career, I think about Jeremy the most. I’ll be honest, that little boy haunts my dreams. I tried to make things better in his home life. I sought as much outside help as I could to improve his situation. But I’m still left with the feeling that I could have done more.

Maybe that’s why I look into my children’s eyes when they speak, even though I’ve heard that story ten times already.

Maybe that’s why I pay attention when they say, “Watch me, Mama!” And not only do I watch, but I say, “I see you, baby. I see you!”

Maybe that’s why I say, “I’m the luckiest mom in the world,” even on days when I don’t feel like it.

Maybe that’s why I look for the good, always the good in my children, even when I have to dig a little to find it.

Because loving a person means seeing him, really seeing him, above the distractions, the chaos, the mess, and the imperfections.

Loving a person means seeing him with so much love in your eyes that you can’t hold back the tears.

Because you are his parent and he is your child.

And you couldn’t bear the thought of him (or her) belonging to anyone else.

children who shine 2



May 7th marked the one-year anniversary of “How to Miss a Childhood.” Thanks to you, it has reached over three million views. Through hundreds of heartfelt comments, I know children are being seen. I’ve received many messages that say, “I didn’t realize how many precious moments I was missing in my child’s life.” I wrote that post to help bring awareness to those, who like myself, had become consumed by their distractions. I am grateful to know the message did, in fact, create awareness. Looking back at it now, one year later, I know I wrote it in honor of Jeremy, the kid who wanted to be seen … the kid who asked his teacher if she would be his mom—because everyday a part of my heart wishes I could have been.  I

Update: January 2016 – Since this post was published, I’ve gone on to write two books that enable our children to be “seen”. See HANDS FREE MAMA for 12 steps to letting go of distraction, perfection, and pressure. See HANDS FREE LIFE for 9 daily habits that bring peace, presence, and positivity to a hurried home & frenzied heart. 

Thank you for being a part of  The Hands Free Revolution. I am grateful for your company on this journey to let go of distraction in order to see the everyday miracles in our lives. Your comments, emails, and presence inspire me greatly.