I love spending time with my nephews. But because we live in different states and my daughters always monopolize their little cousins' time when we’re together, I rarely get alone time with them. But when I do, something magical happens. Time slows down. I become calmer, happier, and more attentive. I marvel at their long eyelashes and the way their small hands feel in mine. I ask them questions like, “How long does it take a tree to grow?” and marvel at the certainty of their responses. “’Bout five minutes,” beautiful Sam said when he was four.
When I am with my nephews it’s like getting a do-over. I get to do the things I wish I’d done when my daughters were three and five. But I didn’t because that is when I tried to control everything. That is when I worried so much about the outcome that I forgot to enjoy the experience. That’s when I counted my calories and my kids’ mistakes. That is when my voice was harsh more than it was kind. That’s when my phone ruled my thoughts and actions. That’s when I gave my time and energy to people I barely knew and had nothing left for the people I named myself.
But I try not to wallow in regret. It sucks the joy from today.
So instead I try to do better. And time with my nephews is a like a do-over. And it’s a reminder of what beautiful moments can come when you just hold a child’s hand and let him lead.
My nephews have a baby sister now. In her first few months of life, my sister-in-law would send me pictures of her sleeping. I’d study the photos and actually feel my blood pressure lower. One day, I got teary. The way my niece’s arms rested wide open and the peace settled on her tiny features made me cry as I wrote back to her mother: “Just look at the peace and trust she knows. That is all she knows.”
I couldn’t help but think that was not the case with my “baby”.
My child knows let down. She knows distance, agitation, and impatience. She knows what it feels like to have her hopes crushed like a paper airplane. She knows worry that makes it impossible to sleep. She knows confusion and the sound of my sobs. She knows a mama who breaks dishes in frustration. She knows a mama who broke under the pressure. She knows when it’s time to plug her ears and shut her eyes. She knows things I wish I could take back.
Looking at that picture had me wondering if I’ve let my baby down one too many times … if I’ve failed to be the positive and loving presence I aspired to be when she was born.
I could’ve done better, I think to myself more often than I’d like to admit.
But then I remember what day it is.
It is today. It is not yesterday.
Today all hope is not lost. Oh no—hope is not lost.
Today I can follow through.
Today I can listen, really listen.
Today I can say, “You can count on me,” and mean it with every fiber in my body.
Today I can use Soul-Building Words and swallow hurtful ones.
Today I can see what is good before I see what needs improvement.
Today I can pick my battles and choose love every chance I get.
Today I can bring peace to the breakfast table … to the front door … to the nighttime talks and then maybe, just maybe, that peace will begin to look like love and trust in my child’s eyes when she’s awake and in arms wide open when she sleeps.
I’ll never forget when I was packing my suitcase with a box of goodies to play with my nephews when I traveled to their state for a speaking event. My freckle-faced Noticer walked up to see what I was doing. She immediately picked up the brand new slinky.
“Oh wow! I love these. Did you get one for me?” she asked hopefully.
A twinge of sadness washed over me. “Well, no,” I said sheepishly. “I got it to play with your little cousins while Aunt Stacie has some time to herself.”
After a moment of silence my child said, “I am not too old for that.”
It’s not too late, a hopeful voice inside me whispered.
When I returned from my trip, I gave my daughter a slinky. We played with it on the stairs. She stretched it out as far as it would go and let it spring back. We laughed at the way our cat Banjo tried to catch it. My eight-year-old child loved the Slinky as much as the little guys did. Most of all, she loved spending time with her mom.
Suddenly I was reminded of the seven most hopeful words in the English language:
It is today. It is not yesterday.
Today offers a do-over, my friends. Let’s not waste it, shall we? The following list was inspired by my nephews, my daughters, my former special education students, and by my recent surgeries and healing process. I wish I’d done more of these actions when my kids were small, but here's the thing: It's not too late. I can do them now. And what’s more, these actions work on my husband, my parents, and my friends too. I am certain they will work for you and your beloveds too.
7 Small Actions That Can Greatly Impact the Life of a Child (Big or Small)
- Ask for their opinion
Whether it is: “What flowers do you think we should we plant in the yard?” or “How do you think our family should handle this?” asking your children to weigh in on a decision makes them feel important and valued. In addition, it provides great practice for them to make sound decisions without you.
- Let them do for themselves
Maybe it’s folding their laundry in their own way, pouring their own cereal, picking out their own clothes, or managing their time. By letting go of the need for tasks to be accomplished quickly and in a certain way, you foster vital life skills and confidence in your children.
- Listen with eyes, ears, & heart
Attentively listening to your children’s dreams, needs, and questions results in the ability to KNOW them. And when a person feels known, they feel loved and understood in the most powerful way possible.
- Kiss a forehead
When I was recovering from surgery, my husband got into the habit of kissing my forehead. It made me feel cherished in a way I could not describe. I began doing it to my daughter. I noticed she smiled the same way I did. A kiss on the forehead makes you feel protected and celebrated.
- Announce you have time especially for them
Some of the most powerful words you can say to another person are: “I’ve got ___ minutes and they are all yours. What do you want to do?” Although it appears to be a gift to the recipient, you may find yourself walking away from that time of connection feeling more peaceful and fulfilled than before you started.
- Give some breathing room
Let there be breathing room when it comes to the shot they missed. Let there be breathing room when it comes to their packed schedule. Let there be breathing room when it comes to their emotions. Taking risks, learning, growing, and expressing emotion mean there will be mistakes; there will be meltdowns; there will be challenges. Give your people breathing room to be human and you’ll see them prosper and thrive.
- Say “I love you” out of the blue
Rather than saving the words, “I love you,” for nighttime tuck in, departure time, holidays, or achievements, get into the habit of saying it when you feel it—like when her beauty astounds you … like when his giving heart shines though … like when you notice the joy they bring to the world. When the words “I love you” are not tied to situations or achievements, they are better emphasized, better heard, and better absorbed.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2015
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, the release date for HANDS FREE LIFE is just two weeks away! If you have found value in the words that I write, I would greatly appreciate your support by pre-ordering my book. Every order enables me to continue doing what I believe I was born to do—write truths that offer hope, healing, and connection. Don’t forget that with any pre-order of HANDS FREE LIFE, you get a free e-book download of my NYT bestseller, HANDS FREE MAMA. Details here.
Throughout the next two weeks, I’ve been graciously invited by a collection of like-minded bloggers and authors to share my message with their online communities. Of course, I don’t write anything without sharing it with you too! The following list shows where you can find additional Hands Free inspiration in the weeks leading up to the release of HANDS FREE LIFE. Please check out the site while you are there. These people are my friends. They are gifted writers with important messages.
8/24 Creative with Kids – “Two Words That Can Bring You Back to Peaceful Territory”
8/25 Roots of Action – “Managing Screen Time Increases Family Joy”
8/26 Emily Wierenga – “Changing the Way the Story Ends”
8/27 Kari Kampakis – “How a Critical Mom Learned to Connect With Her Child”
8/28 Q&A with Emily Plank of Abundant Life Children
9/1 Purposeful Faith – “A Moment We All Need to Give Ourselves”
9/2 Amy McCready – “The Single Most Important Parenting Action We Can Do Today”
9/4 Simple Homeschool – “School Year Hopes”
9/7 Hayhouse Radio interview with Mike Robbins, host of “Nothing Changes Until You Do”
9/8 Becoming Minimalist – “A Season for Hands Free Living”
9/10 Mamalode – HANDS FREE LIFE book review
Podcast with Dr. Laura Markham of Ah-ha Parenting
Podcast with Maggie Dent, Quietly Improving Lives
8/20 Janet Lansbury: Elevated Childcare – “A Feasible Way to Really Know a Child“
8/20 Power of Moms Podcast – HANDS FREE LIFE with Rachel Macy Stafford