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.