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. 

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…]

A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

detourWhen I was young, my family would take long car trips in the summertime. It was always a big deal when we’d cross state lines. Everyone in the car would look up from whatever they were doing to pass the time and celebrate our progress. Going from one territory to another was exciting, but there was nothing like crossing into my home state at the end of the trip. Knowing I’d be sleeping in my own bed made me feel giddy with delight. When my dad pulled the car into the garage, my foul mood suddenly lifted. The familiar smell of home filled my senses and made me forget how much my sister annoyed me the previous nine hours. I’d jump out of the car, eager to move my stiff ligaments and see my beloved orange cat.

Although I seldom take long car trips now, my Hands Free journey to live better and love more causes me to think about state lines every single day. These lines are not physical territories, but rather emotional boundary lines—and I’ve discovered they are critical for a peaceful, loving, joy-filled existence.

Let me explain …

With adult decisions, daily responsibilities, kid mishaps, constant pressures, and blatant distractions, it’s quite easy to cross over fragile state lines:

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

You could have the best intentions in the world to be calm, present, and joyful and sometimes all it takes is just one incident to push you over the line. One sibling squabble … one added work assignment … one painful rejection … one burnt dinner … one dog-chewed retainer … or one call from the school and before you know it, you’ve crossed over into dangerous territory and find yourself in that place you never wanted to be (again).

I know. I remember.

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Before You Predict a Child’s Future, Try This Instead

chalk“Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will be.”
–Chris Moore

To the person who said my child would set a world record for longest period of time any human has gone without brushing the back of her head …

To the person who said she’d get her driver’s permit before she learned to ride a bike …

To the person who said she’d always move at a snail’s pace …

You were wrong.

 

To the person who said my child would never enjoy running unless it was to the ice cream truck …

To the person who said it would take a miracle to get her to dive off the starting blocks …

To the person who said she’d be sucking her thumb during the SAT test …

You should see her now.

 

To the person who said she’d always be a bit of a loner …

To the person who said she would probably get married in stretchy pants …

To the person who said she would live happily ever after among clutter, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, and snack wrappers …

I’d like to give you a piece of my mind.

But then I’d have to give myself a piece of my mind. Because it was me. I was the one with these future-diminishing thoughts about my child. I was the one who had her pegged from an early age, as if I had a crystal ball that predicted her destiny. Good thing I never said these things out loud … or so I thought. At a recent swim meet, I learned that my thoughts had the power to influence, and it wasn’t necessarily for good.

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One Word That Can Bring Us Back to What Matters

name HFM 1For the past six months, my 11-year-old daughter and I have been preoccupied with baby names. You see, when my sister-in-law invited Natalie and I to offer name suggestions for her third baby, we embraced it like a full-time job. At swim meets, we scoured the heat sheets for lovely names. At the doctor’s office, we exchanged knowing glances when we heard a name we thought my sister-in-law might like. My daughter and I searched baby name websites and when we found a good prospect, we’d pronounce it with the last name. If it had a pleasing sound, we’d write out the initials to make sure it didn’t spell anything inappropriate or odd. If the name passed all our tests, we’d send it to my sister-in-law hoping to make the monumental decision a little bit easier.

I’d nearly forgotten how both agonizing and exciting the name selection process was for my own two children. Tucked inside their baby books are lists of beautiful names that for several days or even months represented so much more than a name—they represented a future.

“I cannot wait for Natalie to be borned,” my fair-haired student, Morgan, would say every morning when she came to school and hugged my growing belly. I joked with my students that Natalie would be a very smart girl someday because she attended nine months of first grade before she was even born. Deep down, it wasn’t really a joke. I felt as if I could see her future, or at least envision grand possibilities, simply by saying her name.

Upon arrival, Natalie instantly lived up to her name. She had a full head of jet-black hair and was content and alert. Upon arriving home from the hospital, I made up a song using her name so we both could hear the beauty of her name over and over. Through her early years, Natalie’s name remained a sacred word spoken with immense love and care.

But somewhere along the line, that changed.

[Read more…]

The 3-Second Pause That Can Save a Morning & Spare Some Pain

"What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
" - Margaret Wheatley

“What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
”
– Margaret Wheatley

 

I wish I hadn’t taken my husband’s coffee pot and smashed it in the sink. I knew it the moment I steadied my shaking hands against the metal basin filled with jagged slivers of glass.

Regret hurts.

I wish I hadn’t peeled out of the gravel parking lot simply because things weren’t going according to plan. I knew it the moment my baby in the backseat began to cry.

Regret burns.

I wish I hadn’t run through the pouring rain, cussing and screaming about not being able to find my vehicle in a lot of thousands. I knew it the moment my daughter looked up at me with fearful eyes and asked if I was okay.

Regret aches.

I could go on. My list of overreactions is long, and it is shameful. I’d always liked to have things go just right, but during my highly distracted, stretched-too-thin, over-committed and under-rested years, overreaction became my middle name. And regret was right there beside it. Regret follows on the heels of overreaction every single time.

These unbecoming incidents—the coffee pot, the gravel-spitting tires, and the parking lot confusion—have resurfaced in my mind lately. Although they happened years ago, I can remember them clearly now, more clearly than ever.

I remember being so upset that I was unable to think straight. I remember coming so undone that I couldn’t get myself back together. I remember detesting myself in those moments. I remember wanting to run away. But most of all, I remember not wanting to be that person anymore. Regret can be a powerful motivator.

How did I begin to choose calm over crazed, reasonable over senseless, composed over fuming? One of my strategies was making a conscious effort to spot the “flowers” instead of the “weeds” in situations and in people. Another tactic was adopting a mantra to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought came to mind, I immediately interrupted it with the phrase, “Only Love Today”. Another tactic was to envision my angry words like a car crash, inflicting damage to the person on the receiving end. But it wasn’t until one week ago, after thinking about several embarrassing outbursts from my past, that I realized there is something else I do. I give myself a 3-second preview of how a situation could play out if I choose controlling hostility over peaceful compassion.

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Finding Your Footing in New Beginnings

grave #handsfreemama

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ” –Lin Yutang

One of the first things I did when I moved to my new state this summer was look for a quiet place to walk. You may recall that I had a hilly, serene area near my last home where I walked daily for the six years that I lived there. Many powerful epiphanies occurred to me on that stretch of tarmac where cars seldom passed. I had a feeling that finding a place where my legs could grow tired as my spirit came alive might be challenging here in my new, much bigger city. My suspicions were right.

On my first outing, I quickly realized it would be necessary for me to leave my neighborhood if I wanted a substantial walk. Upon exiting my subdivision I was greeted by a heavily traveled roadway that was intimidating, to say the least. There would be no daydreaming here, no getting lost in my own thoughts. This bustling thoroughfare screamed, “Pay attention or you might get hurt!”

I took a deep breath and forged ahead, hugging the outer edge of the sidewalk farthest from the busy road. With every Nissan and Chevrolet that barreled past, my hair blew back from my face and hot air hugged my legs. I kept my head down and walked briskly, pausing briefly to notice the historic cemetery on my right. I’m pretty sure I would have felt sad (or a little creeped out) if I hadn’t been so focused on finding a peaceful place to continue my walk.

As soon as I got past the cemetery, I saw what I was looking for: an established neighborhood canopied by lush trees and not a moving vehicle in sight. I immediately turned right and walked the shady maze of side streets and cul-de-sacs for an hour. When it was time to return home, I resisted the urge to walk past the cemetery at a quickened pace. Instead I noticed the names and dates of those who lived over a century ago.

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To Love Yourself “As Is”

to love yourself 4

To Love Yourself “As Is” (Part 1)

“Be kind to others,” they told her.

“Be kind to yourself.” She didn’t hear much of that.

Maybe they assumed she just would be. But despite the radiant smile on her face, the voice in her head said, “Not good enough.”

It wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.

For years she tried to reach perfection’s highest rung, but she missed again and again and again.

And then she had little ones of her own. At first their messiness and mistakes reminded her of her own imperfections. She found herself losing it over trivial mishaps and typical kid issues. But living in the shadow of fear and inadequacy was not the life she wanted for her children. She made every effort to see beyond their mess and mayhem. And in her children’s disarray, their humanness, and in their silly little quirks, she saw something worthy of love and forgiveness. She offered them love without condition and restraint, and when she did, their little faces glowed with validation and acceptance.

To love someone “as is” was a gift, she realized.

So whenever her children messed up she’d say, “Be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.”

As the children grew, they started saying it to themselves and to each other. And one day, when she burned the bottom of the crockpot, the littlest one said it to her. “Everybody makes mistakes, Mama. Be nice to yourself.”

She wished someone had said it when she was young. But it wasn’t too late. Thirty-eight years of being unkind to herself was enough. It was quite enough.

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The Ten Minutes that Changed My Distracted Life

“By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible. Believing is the first step.

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We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

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When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

[Read more…]