In the past week, the same question arose during a magazine interview and also while serving on a mindful parenting panel. This leads me to believe that the topic is important; it’s relevant; and it’s on our minds. While I feel the question and my response are both worthy of sharing, it goes much further than that. This particular question has led me to reflect on how I want to live out this one precious life. It’s brought me one step closer to grasping what really matters. This is my story …
“Why is it important to remember to be hands free in front of our children?” I was asked twice in one week.
And this was my response:
Our children are learning how to navigate life in a digital world by watching us. Through mindful technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, they will learn that the device takes priority over human beings and real life experiences. Their tech use is likely to resemble our tech use – so what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurant is likely what they will do.
One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:
If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.
If I want my children to appreciate the joy of a screen-free Saturday afternoon in the future, I must take time to show them the joys of screen-free Saturday now.
If I want my children to look directly into the eyes of those who speak to them when they are adults, I must look into their eyes and listen to their words now.
It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can now to be a hands free parent as they grow.
After I submitted my response to the magazine editor and relayed this perspective to a room full of conference attendees, I found myself going back to the “ultimate hope” line again and again:
It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes.
Keeping in mind how I want to be remembered by my loved ones when I am gone motivates me far more than any other tactic I use to grasp what really matters each day.
But let’s be real. It’s hard to be present, patient, and purposeful in this fast-paced, achievement-oriented, digitally-saturated world we live in. We often feel pressured to be available in the most remote places, during the most sacred times. We often have a multitude of requests coming at us with flashing lights and intrusive dings. We live in a world that wants to know how much we accomplished … a world where daily achievements are publically displayed … a world that values instantaneous electronic responses over leisurely face-to-face connection.
It’s hard to LET GO and LIVE when the world is constantly tapping us on the shoulder reminding us there is so much to be done.
But how much I achieved and how fast I responded is not what I want my family to remember about me when I am gone.
In fact, pinpointing the ways I don’t want to be remembered has been as effective as pinpointing the ways I do want to be remembered. Basically, I have identified my red flag behaviors. So when I find myself doing these actions I say to myself, “Whoa. If I should leave this earth today, this is not how I want to be remembered.”
So here it is … my reminder, my red flags, my daily Hands Free vow to my loved ones all rolled into one …
What I Want You to Remember
Today I want you to remember my listening face—not my fake listening face, the one that nods robotically and looks right through you.
Today I want to love you by listening, really listening.
Today I want you to remember my open hands—not my multi-tasking hands, the ones too full, too busy, too pushy to gently tuck your hair behind your ear.
Today I want to love you by opening my two free hands.
Today I want you to remember my loving voice—not my impatient, exasperated, not-right-now voice.
Today I want to love you by speaking kindly.
Today I want you to remember my present self—not my moving target self, the one darting frantically from point A to point B, too hurried to let you set the pace.
Today I want to love you by slowing down.
It isn’t easy to admit the fake listening face, the multi-tasking hands, the impatient voice, or the moving-target self … yet, the truth hurts, but the truth heals and brings me closer to the person I want to be. I’ll never forget the day I realized the unhappy, distracted, hurried version of myself was becoming the norm—it was who I was and how my children and spouse would remember me after I was gone.
I didn’t want to be remembered that way.
I’ve discovered that a little listening, a little stillness, a little softness, and a little patience only cost a few minutes of my time, but the positive results of these actions can last a lifetime, maybe even longer.
Little daily gestures of love, patience, and presence become who you are now and how you will someday be remembered.
And we can begin today with one listening face and two open hands.
Out of everything mentioned in “What I Want You to Remember,” the most important gesture to me is The Listening Face. My dad gave me the gift of The Listening Face throughout my childhood and tumultuous teen years; I am quite certain it saved me. The fact that my dad valued what I had to say—no matter how unimportant or trivial—gave me the confidence to speak up even in the most intimidating and dangerous situations. My dad’s listening face saved me time after time.
When my children were born, I vowed to give them that same gift. Even at my most distracted and overwhelmed, I can remember offering The Listening Face to my children. It was the one thing I knew I could do well even if I failed at everything else. And now, I continue to make every effort to listen with a loving, non-judgmental expression because I know how critically important it is to the emotional wellbeing of a child (big or small).
Someday I hope my children will remember my eyes, the nodding of my head, and my thoughtful responses. This is exactly how I want to be remembered when I am gone. But in the meantime, something wonderfully unexpected is happening.
My older daughter, Natalie, had spent the day with another family and her friend’s aunt happened to be there. After spending time with Natalie, the aunt gave my daughter the most heartfelt compliment. She said, “Out of all the children I have spent time with, I enjoy Natalie the most. I love that she looks right into my eyes when she speaks and she genuinely listens to what I have to say. She’s just a pleasure to be around.”
The Listening Face
My dad gave it to me and now it appears I have given it to my daughter.
More than stellar grades,
More than crisp blue ribbons,
More than innovative science projects, grand achievements, or superior athletic ability
More than talent, charisma, humor, or charm …
I want my child to have attentive eyes, open hands, loving words, and a contented heart.
So I will continue to offer her daily gestures of presence and love—even when the world taps me on the shoulder, even when I fail miserably, even when I am bone tired, even when love is the last thing I feel like giving.
I will keep trying.
And maybe, just maybe, the beautiful results of these daily gestures of love and presence will become evident sooner than expected.
Maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to wait until my dying breath to see these loving actions have made a difference.
Maybe, just maybe, these daily gestures will make up how I am someday remembered, but more importantly, who I am now.
Maybe, just maybe, these offerings will live in the heart, soul, and facial expressions of someone I love dearly.
And maybe, just maybe, her life will be better because of it.
How do you want to be remembered? What prevents you from offering daily gestures of love, presence, and patience to yourself and those you love? What are some small gestures of love and kindness that you are able to incorporate into your daily routine? Thank you for openly and honestly sharing your heart here in the comment section of this blog. When we show each other our scars, we love each other more. That’s what I believe.
Friends, it was a true honor to speak at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco where two-thousand people came together to discuss how we can we live with wisdom, awareness, and compassion in the digital age. Arianna Huffington mentioned my work in her talk, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power.” Afterwards, she offered me encouragement to continue writing and sharing the Hands Free message.
I am currently reading Arianna’s forthcoming book, Thrive, and this particular sentence resonated deeply with me: “We may not be able to witness our own eulogy, but we’re actually writing it all the time, every day.” I am grateful to influential leaders like Arianna who are inspiring others to consider a more fulfilling definition of success, both in the workplace and in daily life.
One final note: My publisher has added a book-signing event! The HANDS FREE MAMA book tour is going international! Here is the information:
What: Book signing and interview with Rachel Macy Stafford, hosted by parenting educator Andrea Nair
When: March 5th 2014, 7:00 pm
Where: Indigo Burlington
1250 Brant Street
Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Atlanta, you will conclude my book signing tour on March 6th. Please see the event details here. I would love to pack the house for this final signing!