At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.
But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to animaljam.com and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.
But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.
What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.
It’s no secret that this type of parent-child estrangement can happen without warning. Furthermore, the realization that it has happened often comes too late. In fact, even before technology was a readily available distraction, many generations of parents have looked back on their child-rearing years and wish they had invested more time in their children’s lives.
This topic is addressed in a book entitled 30 Lessons for Living written by Karl Pillemer. In this powerful book, Pillemer shares the priceless information he gleaned from older Americans—which he refers to as “experts” in the area of living an intentional, meaningful life. Interestingly, the elderly experts who didn’t have regret in this area had “creatively manufactured” shared time. This meant going along with their children’s interests whether the parent enjoyed these activities or not.
Pillemer shares this powerful observation: “The more I talked to the experts about child rearing, the clearer it became that the quality of relationships with the children is directly proportional to the amount of time spent together.”
I don’t need proof that spending time with my children now will likely result in a close relationship later, but it feels reassuring to know that the wisest Americans (through personal experience) confirm this theory to be true.
So here are the things I do … things that don’t come naturally to me … things I could easily take a pass on, but I don’t. I do these things—not because I enjoy them—but because someone very important to me does …
I hold the roly poly in my hand—not because I like how those creepy little feet feel on my nice clean hand—but because it feels good to slow down and marvel at a tiny miracle through my child’s eyes.
I go down the giant curly slide at the park—not because I like to hear my skin squeak as it sticks to metal—but because of the joyful laughter and grateful smiles that greet me at the bottom.
I read the American Girl chapter book out loud—not because it has a compelling plot and strong character development—but because of the way my child feels snuggled next to me as I read words she does not yet know.
I watch her lip-sync Taylor Swift music videos—not because I like to hear “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” ten bazillion times—but because the facial expression she makes are indescribable, and I want to remember them when I am 80-years-old.
I lay beside her when she’s worried about something—not because her bed is more comfortable than mine—but because after a few minutes, she whispers her fears into the dark, and I am there to comfort her.
I join her on the porch when she plays with the cat—not because I lack something more interesting to do—but because this is when she randomly throws out questions like, “What do you love about me?” and “What happens when we die?” And I want to be there to answer them if I can.
I strap on a pair of goggles and swim beside her—not because this is a good look for me—but because it allows me a close-up view of her proudest moment doing something she thought she'd never do.
I listen to her describe (in agonizing detail) how to create an iMovie using dolls—not because this topic interests me in the slightest—but because out of all the people in the world she could teach this to, she wants to teach me.
I sit on the porch and watch her do awkward handstands and clumsy cartwheels—not because this is riveting entertainment—but because I want my child to look back on her growing-up years and remember a mom that was present in the mundane, every day moments of life.
I make an effort to take an interest in my children’s preferred activities—not because their desires are more important than mine—but because I want to know them and I want them to know me … now and in the future.
Just knowing there are some elderly parents out there today wishing they could turn back time and make different choices about time spent with their kids is a wake-up call for me. After all, when those folks had young children, the digital distractions that parents deal with today were not prevalent. Yes, there were other distractions just like my parents and your parents had, but more and more research shows that mobile devices are more distracting and habit-forming than the diversions of yesteryear. In fact, the association of childhood injury and lack of parental attention due to “device distraction” is quite sobering.
We are the first generation of parents raising our children with the ever-present lure of technology at our fingertips. We are the first generation of parents able to be digitally connected to virtually anyone, anytime, anywhere. We are the first generation of parents who will show our children that technology is either a tool or a crutch—that it can enhance or damage our lives. Time spent engaging as a family does not come naturally anymore, yet time isolated from one another comes a little TOO naturally. In fact, time spent alone on our respective devices has become a way of life for many.
I’ve decided I am going to fight the natural inclination for separate interests, separate screens, and separate lives. Even if it means sometimes doing an activity I am not crazy about doing. Because when it comes down to it, my motivation is pretty simple:
I want to know what makes her smile.
I want to know what makes her laugh.
I want to know what makes her hurt.
I want to know what makes her dream.
I want to know what makes her proud.
I want to know what makes her tick.
And I cannot know these things if I am spending time in another room
Holding tightly to my distractions
Creating a world of emptiness between us.
I wrote this post exactly 3 years ago not knowing the desire to know my children would only intensified with time. I look at my middle school age daughter and can see her future–a future I want to be part of. That is why I eagerly accept my children's invitations to check out what they are doing, hear what they have to say, or just sit beside them in connective silence. In honor of those suffering imaginable loss in Oregon today, let us do all we can to know our people a little more today than we did yesterday. Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution. Please enjoy hearing me talk about the beauty that happens when we designate small pockets of time to be fully available. So much goodness has come from the small steps I've taken to live Hands Free & it was truly an honor to share it on national shows like Global News and The Social this week while in Canada. A special thank you to all who came to my Q&A with Andrea Nair and the Hands Free Life book signing Wednesday night in Mississauga. I won't forget your tears … your hugs … your stories … your gratitude for my words. (A few pictures below)
For those who are new here, you can find a wealth of practical & powerful strategies for connecting with your children & loved ones despite the distractions of our culture in my books, HANDS FREE MAMA & HANDS FREE LIFE. My new book has a whole chapter on avoiding the pain of regret by “filling the spaces” and accepting the invitations of life. Thank you for your support!