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How to miss a childhood

It's all too easy to distract ourselves away from our kids. Here's inspiration to stop.

By Hands-Free Mama May 24, 2013 7:41PM

By sharing my own painful truths when it comes to the distractions of the modern age, I have gained an unexpected insight. In the 18 months this blog has existed, I have been privy to a new distraction confession every single day.

Up until now, I never knew what to do with this unusual collection of painful admissions from an overly connected society. But today, in a moment of clarity, I knew. And a woman with 35 years experience as a day care provider held the key.

It came as a message in my inbox after the woman read my post “The Children Have Spoken” which included heart-breaking observations from children themselves about their parents’ excessive phone use.

How to miss a childhood - photo from Rachel Macy Stafford

As soon as I read the first sentence of the caregiver’s email, I knew this message was different than any I had ever received. The hairs on my arms stood up as I absorbed each word that came uncomfortably close to home.

It was a voice of heartache, wisdom, and urgency speaking directly to the parents of the 21st century:

“I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.”

In a 100-word paragraph this concerned woman who has cared for babies since 1977 revealed a disturbing recipe … How to Miss a Childhood.

And because I possess hundreds of distraction confessions, including stories from my own former highly distracted life, I have all the damaging ingredients.

All it takes is one child and one phone and this tragic recipe can be yours.

How to Miss a Childhood

*Keep your phone turned on at all times of the day. Allow the rings, beeps, and buzzes to interrupt your child midsentence; always let the caller take priority.

*Carry your phone around so much that when you happen to leave it in one room your child will come running with it proudly in hand—treating it more like a much needed breathing apparatus than a communication device.

*Decide the app you’re playing is more important than throwing the ball in the yard with your kids. Even better, yell at them to leave you alone while you play your game.

*Take your children to the zoo and spend so much time on your phone that your child looks longingly at the mother who is engaged with her children and wishes she was with her instead.

*While you wait for the server to bring your food or the movie to start, get out your phone and stare at it despite the fact your child sits inches away longing for you talk to him.

*Go to your child’s sporting event and look up periodically from your phone thinking she won’t notice that you are not fully focused on her game.

*Check your phone first thing in the morning … even before you kiss, hug, or greet the people in your family.

*Neglect daily rituals like tucking your child into bed or nightly dinner conversation because you are too busy with your online activity.

*Don’t look up from your phone when your child speaks to you or just reply with an “uh huh” so she thinks you were listening.

*Lose your temper with your child when he “bothers” you while you are interacting with your hand-held electronic device.

*Give an exasperated sigh when your child asks you to push her on the swing. Can’t she see you’re busy?

*Use drive time to call other people regardless of the fact you could be talking to your kids about their day—or about their worries, their fears, or their dreams.

*Read email and text messages at stoplights. Then tell yourself that when your kids are old enough to drive they won’t remember you did this all the time.

*Have the phone to your ear when she gets in or out of the car. Convince yourself a loving hello or goodbye is highly overrated.

Follow this recipe and you will have:

• Missed opportunities for human connection

• Fewer chances to create beautiful memories

• Lack of connection to the people most precious to you

• Inability to really know your children and them unable to know you

• Overwhelming regret

If you find this recipe difficult to read—if you find that you have tears in your eyes, I thank you, and your child thanks you.

It is not easy to consider the possibility that the distractions of the modern age have taken an undeserved priority over the people who matter in your life. In fact, when I admitted this difficult truth to myself almost two years ago, I experienced an emotional breakdown. However, that breakdown became a breakthrough that propelled me to begin my life-changing “Hands Free” journey.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to follow the above recipe. Yes, it is the 21st century. Yes, the whole world is online. Yes, the communications for your job are important. Yes, at times you must be readily available. But despite all those factors, you do not have to sacrifice your child’s childhood; nor do you have to sacrifice your life.

May I recommend this recipe instead?

How to Grasp a Childhood:

Look into her eyes when she speaks to you … Your uninterrupted gaze is love to your child.

Take time to be with him—really be with him by giving your full attention … The gift of your total presence is love to your child.

Hold her hand, rub his back, listen to her heart beat, and smooth his hair … Your gentle touch is love to your child.

Greet her like you missed her when she was not in your presence … Seeing your face light up when you see her is love to your child.

Play with him … Your involvement in his activities is love to your child.

Set an example of being distraction-free while driving … Positive role modeling behind the wheel is love (and safety) to your child.

Create a distraction-free daily ritual … Consistently making him a priority each day is love to your child.

Focus and smile at her from the stands, sidelines, or the audience … Seeing the joy on your face as you watch is love to your child.

The recipe for “How to Grasp a Childhood” requires only one thing: You must put down your phone. Whether it is for ten minutes, two hours, or an entire Saturday, beautiful human connection, memory making, and parent-child bonding can occur every single time you let go of distraction to grasp what really matters.

The beautiful, life-changing results of your “Hands Free” action can start today … right now … the moment you put down the phone.

Want more from author Rachel Macy Stafford? We'll be featuring more of her awesome work on Mom to Mom so check in! Meantime, find her at Hands Free Mama.


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For continued inspiration and tips about letting go of distraction to connect with the people you love please join “The Hands Free Revolution.” We are a growing community striving to grasp “the moments that matter” in our one precious life!

Aug 13, 2013 10:57PM
when they are teenagers they want nothing to do with you unless they need something............
Aug 13, 2013 9:14PM

As MY mother always told me.  "You neglect your own needs.  You sacrifice yourself for your kids.  And, in the end - they're absolutely fine - They've always been fine.  And, you are the one - who continually suffered for them & bore all their pain (so they shouldn't bear any) - who is dropping dead, who has been dropping dead since the day they were born.  Your kids will turn out fine.  It's YOU I'm worried about!"


I think the article above is for guilty parents.  Time to drop the guilt the media & others, (throw on moms in particular), for their own personal 'business' purposes.  I'm sick of this politically correct crap.  We all take care of our kids.  Nothing wrong with US taking care of ourselves (which I NEVER DID!)

Aug 13, 2013 7:38PM
Recently my husband and I took our two older granddaughters to Breckenridge, CO for a "special time" with them and for us.  They wanted to go to the Children's Museum and because I had heard how much fun it was I obliged.  I went in with the girls (ages 6 yrs and almost 6 yrs.).  They were so excited to play and I quickly realized my role was to engage with them when asked to do so by them.  It was crowded with kids of all ages and with parents and grandparents and not many places to just sit and watch.  I also quickly realized that most of the parents were on I-phones or other mobile devices, doing whatever you do on these devices and their children were left on their own.  Most of the grandparents were watching and playing.  My heart went out to the children wanting attention from an adult and I tried to help them as well as my own two grandchildren.  Parents - please don't miss any opportunity to be/play with your children.  Nothing is more important.  As a grandmother I can look back to my own children's childhood and deeply regret my own businesses.  We are fortunate to live close to all our grandchildren and are still in good health.  I love spending time with them and regret that their parents are sooo busy that they may be missing some of these precious times.  God bless the parents who recognize the importance of spending personal time with their children and "stop to smell the roses" with their kids.
Aug 13, 2013 6:54PM
Thank you... is hard to read this a not to cry. I will print this and read it every time I think I am too busy with life and not being present in the MOMENT with my child.
Jun 20, 2013 9:29PM
Things like Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, etc. are sucking the life right out of families.  Knowing what all our "friends" (and acquaintances) are up to (every second of the day) is so not important and will mean nothing nor add anything to our lives in the end.  Not missing out on our kids lives, being present for them...these are things that will have real impact. 
Jun 20, 2013 8:03PM

There is another part of the equation.... parents who give their kids cell phones....

too many times have I seen kids standing within inches of each other and rather than

hold a conversation they text each other.... what kind of world will their children live in?

Jun 20, 2013 3:51PM
Wow...this is hitting home and I am ready to trade the iPhone in for an old flip phone! I am a single mom of one. My daughter is almost 10 and this past school year flew by and she struggled. I should have been there! SMH!! 
Jun 19, 2013 12:25AM
Thank you for sharing,  perhaps your insight will wake-up some individuals, who, at the sound of that confounded cell phone, forget the most important person in their lives,  their  son and/or daughter. Those children   may be waiting to share some exciting, or some not so exciting news about their day.  Sad to say, many just want to be in the know of things, like who, what, when, or where, and then they  wonder years later, what did I do wrong?  hummmmm. We live in a very fast paced world but our children should be our # 1 priority.  They grow up far to fast in a dangerous system that is prone to distract them and  if we don't give them our undivided attention, someone else is probably just waiting to do just that. 
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