I’ve spent the last two posts writing about making eye contact with your children or loved ones when they speak to you. Why? Because the personal connection derived through eye contact plays a critical role in grasping what really matters.
I guess you could say that on the Hands Free Mama Scale of Importance, looking someone in the eye is at the top, possibly right underneath, “Putting Distraction In Its Place.”
In the past several days, many of my readers have expressed that they “get it” in ways they did not before.
One reader shared this insight, “I am uncomfortable thinking about it, but is spot on. I feel like it even hurts my children's abilities to have conversations because they try to hurry up or tell the story in one breath for fear I won’t pay attention very long.”
Another reader said, “I got my children back after a week away for spring break with their dad, and I looked them in the eyes and I talked to them. They still acted like teenagers, but we connected in a more real way than we have in a long time. Thank you for reminding me how much eye contact and sincerity go together.”
One reader had this beautiful story to share: “I was getting ready to respond to a bunch of emails that have been hanging over me when my daughter came in the room to sit with me before bed. When she began talking, I put the computer down. Because I wasn't distracted by email, she spent ten minutes talking about the book she's reading that she loves.”
There is something powerfully reinforcing about those baby blues (or greens or browns) staring back at you that just makes want to keep stopping to look. Furthermore, when you give your loved one focused attention (rather than divided), conversation and connection are more likely to beautifully unfold.
The reader responses I have recently received indicate we have experienced a new awareness (or have been reminded) of the importance of eye contact. And due to this heightened consciousness, some of you are making changes accordingly…for that you should be applauded.
But being on this Hands Free journey has taught me something. And that is this: Sometimes it is necessary to go deeper. Sometimes it is necessary to go where it gets a little uncomfortable. Sometimes the brutally honest truth is the one you don’t want to acknowledge, but NEED to acknowledge. These kind of truths are the ones that make me pause and take a deep breath before I hit “publish.”
But that is how I grow. That is how I become a more loving and connected parent, spouse, and human being. That is how I get one step closer to grasping what really matters on this journey.
So here’s the honest truth. And by putting it out there, I begin the process of change, growth, and improvement.
I am talking about The Fake Glance. And for quite some time, even as I began my Hands Free journey to grasp what really matters, I used it. I used The Fake Glance until my four-year-old called me out on it.
And I am thankful for the day she did, and maybe you will be, too.
This is my story…
My four-year-old daughter is still very much in the “Watch me, Mama” stage. She wants me to watch her slide down the slide. She wants me to watch her jump on the couch. She wants me to watch her make the ever-challenging letter “W.” She even wants me to watch her put raspberries on her fingers while she imitates Ursula the Sea Witch.
So when my daughter would say, “Watch me, Mama,” I would glance up. I would give her ten to fifteen seconds, (which I justified by saying that was more than I used to give her in my Pre-Hands Free days), and then I would go back to the task at hand. And since I am being honest, sometimes I looked away from my child to go back to looking at something truly insignificant on my Blackberry. Oh yes, The Truth Hurts.
Somewhere along the lines of one Fake Glance after another Fake Glance, my daughter began saying something more than simply, “Watch me, Mama.”
My observant little girl who knew her mama was faking it said, “Watch me, Mama. And watch me the whole entire time, Mama.”
Watch me the whole entire time.
This is opposed to, “Watch me for a split second and then go back to what you are doing and miss the part I wanted you to see, Mama.”
How’s that for a Wake Up Call?
Suddenly I fast-forwarded ten years. If I keep up The Fake Glance, will she even ask me to look at her life anymore?
Or will she realize that she can’t compete with the daily distraction that consumes her mother’s focus and attention and simply give up?
I already traveled down that dismal path in “Someone Will Notice,” if you want to know the painfully honest answer to that question.
Granted, part of me wanted to shrug off my daughter’s new phrase by thinking, “What a new cute saying!” or “What a funny little girl I have!”
But my Hands Free Inner voice (the one that doesn’t take any BS) said this, “Listen up, Rachel. You have just been given a gift. Don’t waste it.”
I immediately started doing something I hadn’t done since my children were babies.
When my daughter said, “Watch me,” I stopped what I was doing and sat down. I gave her my full attention to watch the complete action she wanted me to see in its entirety.
The first few times I did this she seemed surprised. She peered into my face as if to see what was going on. It appeared as if she thought I was sick and needed to take a seat and catch my breath.
But once I smiled and said, “O.K! I am ready,” she looked excited. In fact, she looked more than happy; she looked overjoyed.
I remember the time she showed me how she could run half way across the kitchen floor in her pajamas with attached “feet,” fall to her knees and slide the rest of the way across.
Seeing her slide across the kitchen floor may not be on my “Top 10 things I want to see in my lifetime,” but it was important to her, and I knew she wanted me to see the whole ENTIRE thing.
In my front row seat at the kitchen table, I applauded. I cheered. I complimented her form. I praised her distance. I marveled at her bravery.
Then she did something I was not expecting. She came over and wrapped her little arms around my neck and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”
I was sold.
The Fake Glance was officially buried.
The Authentic Gaze was embraced.
Instead of taking a quick (and often forgettable) mental snap shot of my daughter’s “performances,” I vowed to start taking video. Invaluable video. Setting the lens of my eye on one beautiful moment to capture forever.
In fact, one of my favorite invaluable videos was taken recently when my husband asked my four-year-old to make her own NCAA picks.
He went through each college or university but instead of saying “Michigan or Tennessee,” he said, “M or T?”
There were A LOT of picks to be made. And she was into it. I could’ve easily slipped away unnoticed to straighten up the house, do some laundry, or catch up on email. But instead I sat there and the invaluable video began rolling.
I witnessed her choosing the letter R over the letter N because “Rachel” starts with R.
I watched as her eyes rolled upward and scratch her curly head as she thought through each “important” decision carefully.
I heard a short story about her Uncle Brad triggered by the selection of the letter B.
I witnessed her finding she had the power to change her mind and select a different letter by saying, “No, I don’t want M. Actually, I choose S.”
I watched my husband’s surprised facial expressions as she amazingly managed to select a mighty fine final four line up of Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Louisville.
And the background of this invaluable video was my laughter, my joy, and the sound of my heart beating with happiness.
I often say I am simply the messenger on this Hands Free journey. And today the message that comes from something far greater than me is this: Bury the Fake Glance. Adopt the Authentic Gaze. Go beyond the mental snap shot and roll the video. Capture the once-in-a-lifetime moments that develop in front of your eyes. These are the moments you will play over and over in your mind when you are old and gray. These are the moments you will tragically miss if you look away.
And the side bonus is the fact that the star of the show will thank you…in ways you cannot begin to imagine.
Do you have any habits that could fall into the category of The Fake Glance? Think about your daily interactions with your loved ones, friends or colleagues. Is there something you do that they could call you out on? Why not call yourself out? Bury the old habit, the one that prohibits connection, and embrace a new one…one that creates the lasting bonds to a beautiful relationship. Please click the “share” button if you think greater personal connection is a message worth spreading.
Indiana Lori says
Sara learned to ride her bike without training wheels this week, so these are important words for me to hear. She wants me to watch every single pedal…and why not? THIS is a lifetime achievement for her. Good post!
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Congratulations to Sara and whoever the patient parent (you or Greg?) who is the real hero in this memorable achievement! And thanks for your encouraging words to the Hands Free Mama, too!
I have been reading your blog for a little while now and came across this post. A lot of your posts resonate with me because I too am guilty of a lot of these things.
Reading this one, I’m guilty of this ALL day long. I used to be guilty of it with TV, but I’ve graduated into the Internet. I don’t have a smart phone though, so I do have my boundaries! lol!
Tonight I’m going to really try this technique when being at home with my 2-year-old and my husband. I’m going to see how I feel. I bet I feel less overwhelmed.
Question: when do you do things like load the dishes or sweep or laundry? I try to quickly do these things right after supper, but already I’ve lost time with the toddler while cooking and of course being at work all day. Then an hour later, it’s time for her to go to bed. I do have time with her while she’s taking a bath, but I often feel guilty doing chores that need to be done, when I know I should spend more time with her. Do you wait until after she goes to bed? Then any “me” time though is gone, but it’s worth it to have time with my daughter.
I am trying to be Hands Free. If it weren’t for this blog, I’d still be breezing through my toddler’s years without really stopping and thinking about the undivided attention I should be giving her. Thank you.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you, Wendy! It is so rewarding for me to know the impact my messages on your life. What a gift! I have tried to answer your question below:
Let me start by saying that being “Hands Free” to me means choosing certain times of day when I am solely focused on what matters to me. I choose to be “Hands Free” when my children arrive home from school until they go to bed. I try to make a conscious effort to turn off my cell phone and computer during that time period. Granted, I miss calls and emails, but once they go to bed, I catch up, if needed. This is quite different from the non-Hands Free version of myself. I always had my phone on. It interrupted my connection to my family constantly, yet I did not see it that way at the time. Once technology was off and no longer tempting me during the designated times, I found connection with my children and spouse that I had been tragically missing. This is what works for me, and I realize this may not work for others. My main reason in sharing my “Hands Free” journey is to bring the awareness that holding tightly to distraction is a choice. And when a person decides to connect with their family is up to them. My point is just to make some effort, even if it is just 20 minutes a day, to connect with the people you love and know who they are as people. It is amazing what can happen in mere moments of focused connection. Even small acts will make a difference to your children. But on days that you cannot find time to do this, don’t give herself a hard time. Just keep in mind you are doing the best you can and try to do better the next day.
My favorite Hands Free recommendation is to create ONE daily ritual where time with your loved one is sacred, meaning void of distraction. Whether that be tucking them in at night, having dinner together, enjoying morning snuggles, do it every day so that no matter how the rest of the day goes, your child can always count on that one period of connection. Even the smallest moments of connection will someday make up their most treasured childhood memories. That 5 minutes you spend talking together at night will add up. That 10 minute drive you take everyday singing together will add up. Keep in mind, all those ordinary, mundane daily activities can either add up to nothing (distraction) or they can add up to something meaningful and lasting (connection).
Also, I like to share this list created by Erin Kurt. It contains the things kids remember as being their favorite activities that their parents did with them when they were young. I think you will see that these activities require little effort and no cost. In fact, you might already be doing some of them!
1. Come into my bedroom at night, tuck me in and sing me a song. Also tell me stories about when you were little.
2. Give me hugs and kisses and sit and talk with me privately.
3. Spend quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.
4. Give me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.
5. At dinner talk about what we could do together on the weekend.
6. At night talk to me about about anything; love, school, family etc.
7. Let me play outside a lot.
8. Cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite TV show together.
9. Discipline me. It makes me feel like you care.
10. Leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.
Lastly, I definitely have to take time to do household chores, that is just life. Like I said above, as long as I am creating designated time during the day to connect with what matters to me, I am still reaping the benefits of being “Hands Free.” In addition, part of being Hands Free for me means letting go of perfection, as well as distraction. Now many of my household chores such as laundry and cooking are things I do with my kids because they do not have to be accomplished perfectly. Here is an example of that, if you are interested in reading more, “The Beauty Inside The Fold,”
I hope these suggestions help! Keep me posted!
Julia Kurskaya says
This one does hurt… Not even a little.
We thought we were all nice and healthy, but then doctor came in and said, ‘Nope, you’re sick. But it’s OK, I know the remedy.’ Thank you.
I put down to my diary the words in bold at the end of the post. I will frame them and put them on the wall. So that I won’t ever EVER forget them.