It’s been about three months since I started this Hands Free Mama challenge. As with anything else, I have good days and bad days.
I’m touched when my children race to the pantry to grab their aprons the second I suggest a joint cooking activity. I love the look of intense concentration on my son’s face when he makes “eggshell soup” out of the leftovers from baking, and whatever else he can find around the kitchen.
Those are moments I wouldn’t want to miss.
There are still times, though, when I have to remind myself to turn off the notifications on my phone (if I don’t hear it, I’m less inclined to be distracted by it). There are times when I feel like I can’t turn it off, though, because I’m handling issues with our Girl Scout troop, or waiting for an important work e-mail. And there are still occasionally times when I miss something one of my children has said because I’m dealing with one of those e-mails.
Are the e-mails really that important? Can they really not wait an hour?
Sometimes, sadly, I think it’s easier to zone out and get lost in the phone than deal with what is at hand: Yet another fight over whose turn it is to choose a television show, or who had which toy first, even though they weren’t playing with it anymore. Or, after spending most of an afternoon actively engaged, I, like any other human being, need a break. Just 15 minutes of peace and quiet to be alone with my thoughts, or, yes, my phone.
My husband has gotten really good at calling me on it when I slip. We were hiking recently, on one of those gorgeous warm weekends in late February, and I pulled my phone out of my pocket to answer a text message about a Girl Scout cookie booth sale. “How’s that working for you, HFM?” he cackled, using his little shorthand for the Hands Free Mama. I sputtered excuses about why I had to answer that message right then and there, but I knew he was right.
Sigh. Unplugging, it turns out, is harder for me than it should be.
The good thing about the Hands Free journey is that one of the main components is forgiving yourself for those little slip-ups. Hands Free Mama author Rachel Macy Stafford recently wrote on her blog that it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, as long as you’re here now. Essentially, she’s saying we need to let ourselves off the hook for past mistakes and live in the moment with our children today. I’m finding that mindset shift to be one of the most important changes I need to make.
This month’s chapter is about making small, everyday choices that lead you to being more connected with your children. Stafford talks about how she always wanted to do household tasks herself, to make sure they were completed as quickly and well as possible. When she started living hands free, though, she involved her daughters in the household chores, from folding laundry to doing dishes. Sharing the work may have taken longer, but the memories she made with her daughters made it worth the extra time, she says in the book.
That’s what led to the cooking adventures I mentioned above. My children have always loved doing things in the kitchen with me, but too often, I would decline the help because I was in a hurry or because I wanted the cake to turn out just so, with no stray bits of eggshell in the batter.
Now, when they ask, unless it involves something unsafe, I say yes. We get to hang out together and chat while we’re cooking, and they are also getting some valuable life skills in the process. My 9-year-old recently asked if he could tackle an entire meal for the family, so we went for it. He planned and cooked the meal himself, with minimal supervision from me. It was the best pigs-in-a-blanket, mac-and-cheese and roasted carrots I’ve ever had.
Even better: His announcement that cooking with me made it “the best day ever.” And my obligations (and phone) were nowhere in sight. Baby steps.