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Dear child: Let’s make this the summer of ‘yes’

When I started writing my blog, Hands Free Mama, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to be the real deal—meaning I promised to be open, honest, and authentic about my successes and shortcomings on this journey to grasp what really matters.


(When I say “Hands Free," here's what I mean: Before, I was holding on to the wrong things—my phone, my work, my stress—and missing out on life. Now, I am holding on to what matters, and it has given my life new meaning.)

Simply stated, there is no faking Hands Free; there is no half-way Hands Free. What that means to me is that I'm either distracted or I'm present. Trying to mentally and emotionally exist in two places at once is like trying to live life with one hand. And I tried that for two long, draining years—it doesn't work. I have found that I can only grasp what really matters in life with two free hands and one committed heart.

So with that said, I've come to a decision about summer. And I share it with you because we all have responsibilities that beg for our time, attention and energy.

Whether your work involves sitting at a desk or never sitting down... Whether you do your job in a tailored business suit or a rotating set of yoga pants each with their own unique stain... And whether you are Type A or so “chill" that everyone wants to know what is in your coffee, we all want to do the things that matter to our children in the precious time we are given.

In other words, we want to do the things that will stick with them, shape them and cause them to look back on their childhood with happiness.

So what exactly are the things that kids remember? Would you believe there is a list of such items derived from children themselves? When I stumbled on this list of what kids love their parents to do, I felt as if I discovered the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a “Hands Free" rainbow.

A wise teacher named Erin Kurt happened to have the insight to ask her students what they most liked their parents to do with them. She asked this same question every year for 16 years and from these responses she revealed, “The Top 10 Things Kids Want From Parents."

Be prepared to be surprised.

Be prepared to be hopeful.

Be prepared to give yourself a celebratory high five, because the news is good, my friends.

And if you are like me, you might even have unexpected tears. Because the things your kids will remember are a lot easier to do than we often overly-pressured parents have been led to believe. And you might already be doing some of them.

The Top 10 Things Kids Really Want Their Parents To Do With Them

  1. Come into my bedroom at night, tuck me in and sing me a song. Also tell me stories about when you were little.
  2. Give me hugs and kisses and sit and talk with me privately.
  3. Spend quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.
  4. Give me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.
  5. At dinner, talk about what we could do together on the weekend.
  6. At night, talk to me about about anything; love, school, family, etc.
  7. Let me play outside a lot.
  8. Cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite TV show together.
  9. Discipline me. It makes me feel like you care.
  10. Leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.

Isn't it simple?

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn't it achievable?

This list inspires me so much that I taped it to my fridge. It serves as a reminder that it's the small things we do as parents that mean the most—and it is those very same things that our kids will remember when they are grown.

Most of these actions are fairly simple if (and this is a big IF) I am not tied to my distractions. I am referring to external distraction in the form of electronic devices, computers, to-do lists and exploding calendars. I am also referring to internal distraction like pressure for things to look or be a certain way, thoughts of inconvenience, fear of messes and guilt over past mistakes and lost opportunities—all things that prevent us from living in the moment and grasping what really matters.

But when I compare the distractions in my life to the things that matter to children, it quickly puts my distractions in their proper place on the priority list.

So based on this newfound knowledge, I've decided exactly what I want my summer to look like. Because the simple fact is this: I hold the power to determine what my family's summer will look like based on the choices I make. But be warned, some of it may not look pretty.

This summer there will be…

Fewer clean surfaces and more projects that reach across the table for hours... Maybe even days

Less drawer usage and more piles

Less keyboard typing/online activity and more old-fashioned notebooks/face time

Less treadmill running and more unconventional forms of exercise

Fewer hours spent in the kitchen and more casual picnic dinners on the patio (popsicles included)

Less baking perfection and more helping hands

Less formal sheet music and more playing of the tunes within our heart

Less watching of Netflix and more watching of the storms roll in

Less “hurry up" and more “take your time"

Less time spent on appearance and more hats on unwashed hair

Less sitting on the side and more jumping in to the action

As you can see, living Hands Free is not always pretty. It's not always organized. It's often not efficient or productive and it's definitely not perfect. But I can breathe and I can laugh, and play and feel joy—which are impossible to do when I am tethered to my device, constantly trying to pick up the mess, and stressing out over details that won't matter 10 years from now.

Now at this point, I could wrap this post up in a warm and fuzzy bow and have every intention of following through on my summer vow. But I promised to be the real deal when I write in this space I call Hands Free Mama, so let me give you some realness.

I know me.

I come from a long line of overachieving workaholics. I have a tiny drill sergeant in my head that tends to drown out my Hands Free inner voice with demands of productivity and perfection.

So what I need is a little accountability. And I happen to know two summer-loving people who can hold me accountable.

So I wrote a contract—a Hands Free Contract—and presented it to my kids. I explained the situation of a published book coming close to fruition, but also my deep desire to keep my Hands Free priorities in check. (Update: book is now published!)

And just as you would expect from the true experts on grasping what matters, the ones who taught me everything I know about living Hands Free, they looked the contract over carefully.

And with every Hands Free summer goal my children read, the wider their smiles became. They even whole-heartedly agreed to do their part to help me to be Hands Free such as helping with household chores, meal preparation, having positive attitudes, and cooperating with each other.

After we all signed the contract, I felt it was important to post it in a prominent location for us all to see. And when I stood back to view it, I got a glimpse of the future.

I envisioned a wise teacher asking my beautifully grown daughters what they remember about their very favorite summer.

They didn't say the summer they went to Disney World.

And they didn't say the summer they got their ears pierced or got the latest and greatest electronic device.

It was the summer we played countless games of Euchre, visited with elderly folks at the nursing home and made fresh squeezed lemonade despite the mess it created. We caught lightning bugs on our fingers and had perpetual grass stains on the bottom of our feet.

It was the summer their mama could have spent hunched over the keys of her computer, but she didn't.

Instead she chose to live, laugh and love her family through the unforgettable gift of her presence.

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this

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One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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My first son was born via a non-medicated vaginal delivery. I felt like a mama warrior after I delivered him. (I was all—“I am woman, hear me roar!"—and everything.) So when I went into labor with my second son after my water broke at 34 weeks, I knew I would be having a much different experience.

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