Why I’m not a “hands free” mom

I’ve being hearing about “hands free” parenting for awhile
but never paid much attention to it. I think in my head it was some
weird mix of Bluetooth headsets and the Waka Flocka Flame song “No
Hands.” But I finally saw it float past my Facebook feed enough times to
actually click through. It turns out that “hands free” now means never
using a phone or a device with a screen when you’re with your kids. And
no, that’s not me.

If it’s you, that’s great. If there’s something about it
deciding not to use a phone or screen when you’re with your kids and you
like the discipline of that, then by all means do it. Anything that
helps you be who you want to be as a person and a parent is excellent.
If you feel like your phone is getting between you and your kids, then
lose the phone.

My phone doesn’t get between me and my kids. It comes along
with the three of us. I love having my phone available because it helps
me be a better parent in a lot of ways. So it would be
counter-productive for me to go “hands free,” because I’d end up
teaching them things I didn’t want to, and not teaching them things that
are at the core of what I want them to know. What do I want to teach my
kids that the phone helps me with?

Knowledge is everywhere. Back when I was a kid, if I
wondered something, it was hard for me to find the answer if my parents
didn’t know. I had to remember what it was I wanted to know until I
could get to the library and hope the answer was in the encyclopedia or a
book. I couldn’t work on any theories because I didn’t have access to

Now, when one of my kids says, “I wonder if Madison
further into Central Time Zone than Philadelphia is into Eastern,” we
can find out right away. Yesterday we looked up Monte Carlo to find out
if it was its own municipality. (Turns out it’s one of four zones in
Monaco. It also turns out that the first hit for Monte Carlo is for a
casino in Las Vegas. We talked about that.)

I used to look stuff up on my phone all the
time, but now both of my kids can do it, and they’re getting good at
vetting sources, too.

Cite your sources. Speaking of vetting sources, I’m
teaching my kids that untrue facts are worse than no facts at all, so
we’re practicing finding good sources of information, vetting sources,
and not making claims unless we can back them up. I started doing it
just to annoy them, but now they’re calling out false claims on tv
commercials and other advertising, and my chest is growing three sizes.

Time is worth something. I don’t take most calls I get or
answer most emails I get when I’m with the kids. Sometimes I do answer
an email. I always respond to texts from my mom. I talk about the flow
of information and communication with the kids and about how I decide
what to respond to and what waits. They’ll need to make their own
decisions about prioritizing their time, and I want them to see how that
happens and how I manage it so they have a model.

You can make money. Sometimes when I’m with the kids I need
to take a client call or answer an email. When I do, I explain it to
the kids because I want them to understand what my work is about and how
I do it. I want them to understand that there are a lot of different
jobs and ways to make money, and that I work hard, and they can, too.

Friendships matter. I model being a friend for my kids with
the phone. I talk about texting and calling my friends when I do it. I
give them news about my friends from social media. We look at pictures
my friends post and talk about them. My kids keep in touch with their
two favorite babysitters via my social media accounts.

I’m proud of you. I brag about my kids by text and social
media. To their dad, their grandparents, their aunt and uncle, my
friends. My kids know I appreciate them and are proud of them, and want
everyone to know how delightful they are.

Something else I do with my phone is take pictures of the kids (even
though I don’t post them online). This is new, and it still feels
amazing to me. I wrote last fall about how I’d always been afraid of
taking pictures
until I talked to Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, who runs
. I’ve been working more with Alethea since then, and have
gone from a person who had no current pictures of her kids on her phone
to a person who has a lot of great, recent, emotional pictures of my
kids on my phone. (And am ready to admit that I might actually even buy a
camera. Maybe.)

One of the things Alethea showed me how to do was use taking pictures
as a way to interact with my kids, instead of having the phone camera
come between us. That was a shift in my head, and I’ve also applied that
to taking pictures of my cats (which is weird, but when I figured out
that my cat photography was getting better, too, that’s when I knew
Alethea was a super-genius. I mean, cats. Come on.)

So I’m not going to put my phone someplace else when I’m
with my kids, because sometimes we just need to know stuff, or take
pictures of stuff, or tell people stuff. The phone is a tool, like a
pencil. Only pencils don’t make us laugh together like the stuff we look
up on the phone does.


0 thoughts on “Why I’m not a “hands free” mom”

  1. Oh for the love of God, do we need another stupid term to separate us and define us and make us feel worse as parents? Obviously there are people who overuse their devices, which takes a toll on relationships with any other physically-present humans, children or otherwise. But as you say, Moxie, there are many ways in which the phone can help you as a parent. And really, at this point, the phone serves so many purposes that it’s kind of hard to remove it from your life. You can use it to make grocery lists, text your friends to come to the park, take pictures, literally shine a light in the darkness, and (I’m just gonna say it) do a little babysitting for you when you’re in one of those situations where you just need your kid(s) to be quiet. So that sanctimommy term can just shove it, because we have to just accept all new technology for what it is, the pros and the cons.

  2. This is great! There is a lot to learn (and teach) about handling this new communications technology and you’ve got some great ideas about how to do this. Thanks!

  3. This is all so sane and reasonable. I don’t know if I could survived certain parts of infant/toddlerhood without my smart phone. There’s only so much staring at a child one can do in a day. There were times on maternity leave that my phone was the only way I felt connected to the world – to news, my friends, fellow parents. Common sense should reign – and we should set good examples for our children who will have to navigate a screen-obsessed world, but everything in moderation.

  4. In our case, Daddy travels a good bit for business, and all four grandparents live far away, so Facetime can bring them into our daily lives. That’s made a huge difference in maintaining contact with our toddler.

  5. I still don’t have a smart phone (only because we’ve chosen to spend money on other things instead) but what you say makes complete sense to me. Like Trey said, connections with the outside world and other adults make parenting easier today. Parenting is often solitary today, and I don’t believe it’s meant to be so. When my kids (now 12, 9, and 6) were very little I wished so much for a tribe. I kind of found one, but only my husband was around consistently and reliably. I spent a lot of time connecting with people online in forums and with email and that helped a lot. My favorite place to breastfeed was in my computer chair.

  6. This is fabulous, but specifically, as someone who has taught a lot of college composition courses, I have to applaud your "cite your sources" paragraph. I have taught at a top-twenty university and at a local community college, and this is something many, if not most, of my students struggle mightily with (or worse, choose not to struggle with — I imagine because they have a hard time conceptualizing that there’s more than just solid fact and unfounded opinion. And that happens, I imagine, because of the ways that K-12 education has changed in the last twenty years or so). We often talk about how simply reading every day with little kids is one of the most powerful things we can do to boost them educationally; likewise, I think if there’s one skill to work on with kids in preparation for college, evaluating and engaging with sources and arguments — basically, critical thinking around what one reads — is it.

  7. Yes!! Checking /using my blackberry sparingly when I’m with my kids allows me both to support my family by working full time, and to spend less time away from them in the office. There are some things that I allow myself to feel guilty about as a WOHM, but that is emphatically not one of them.

  8. Thanks, Moxie. Totally agree, and in general try to stay away from those ‘I never do….’ kind of rules. However, I have been second guessing my omni-present phone of late: in part b/c my 4 yo has specifically asked me to put it down and pay attention (to her), and in part b/c a friend of mine told me she was putting a self imposed 2 hour ban on phones btwn 4:30-6:30pm and, when I tried to replicate, I couldn’t even make it 15 minutes! I agree that we need to accept the universality of technology, but I do also think it’s good to periodically remind ourselves how addictive the connected-ness can be and try to take a breather.

  9. These are great ideas! Thank you 🙂 Yes, we need to teach our kids to … "use responsibly" … and while I love the time we spend unplugged – having dinner, playing games, chasing each other around the dining room table – it’s not an either/or situation, and we DO need to model how these devices fit into our lives, too. Your post is already shifting my perspective. Thank you for that!

  10. I like these points, but I also think a lot has to do with the child’s age. There are ages and stages where it’s really hard to mix kids and screens because the kids are too demanding of your attention for where they are. I think the are awesome sanity-savers for times when you need distraction, such as when a sick child won’t let you put them down all night or get off the couch with them. I don’t think there needs to be any smug judgement that it’s superior to parent "hands free". I like the discussion, though, because I think it’s good for us to be conscious about how we mix kids and screen time. Like anything else, screen time around kids can be overdone. We should talk about it.

  11. As a librarian-mom, I love this. Thank you for your reasonable treatment of this!

    And this, from Schwa in the comments: "We often talk about how simply reading every day with little kids is one of the most powerful things we can do to boost them educationally; likewise, I think if there’s one skill to work on with kids in preparation for college, evaluating and engaging with sources and arguments — basically, critical thinking around what one reads — is it."

    Love love love. 🙂

  12. I don’t have a whole lot to add at the moment, but wanted to say how much I appreciate this post. I have been seeing a kind of unquestioning acceptance of the idea that using your phone/computer around kids is a bad thing, full stop, and it doesn’t sit right with me, not least because it always seems like it’s reacting to a ‘straw mom’- if you’re the kind of parent that’s thinking about this issue, I’m not sure how likely it is that you’re knee deep in Facebook updates while your kid is crying beside you.

    You’ve included some great, concrete examples of how technology can be used to enhance family interactions. I appreciate the discussion. Bookmarking for when my little is less so.

  13. I have a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old. And I know that if I am not conscious and intentional, I can slip into over-using my smart phone around my kids. I realized this when my son and I were having a challenging phase in our relationship. I just started to pay more attention to what was happening when we would fight. I noticed several things, but one of them was that I was using my phone more. Unconsciously, I started to feel like my son was interrupting my emailing/texting/reading. Of course, saying that aloud sounds awful, but that is the true sentiment that was there. More than anything, this was all a sign that I was multi-tasking too much. A similar dynamic would happen when I was trying to do lots of chores around the house. Except that I can actually talk to him when I’m cooking, as opposed to reading. Even still, the multi-tasking makes me feel more stressed/less calm, and that affects my kids. (FWIW, I notice when my husband gets a little too into his smart phone – I start to feel less visible.) Interestingly, my baby has a strong, visible reaction when she sees me use my phone. It’s hard to tell if it’s upset or excited or a combo.

    I absolutely use my phone for work things (also explaining it) or for time-sensitive communication. And sending photos to family is HUGE for me, because I don’t use Facebook. And I "slip up" all the time. Sometimes I’m bored or lonely for contact with the adult world, and I email/text/read stuff online around my kids. The online world can be a real escape for a few minutes. It works better if I do this while my son is having his own screen time (watching a cartoon over lunch, etc.)

    So while I’m certainly not "hands-free," I do make a conscious effort to be as deliberate as I can be about my phone use when I’m with my kids. My attention is less divided, which helps me stay calmer. I know I am prone to less mindful surfing/reading/responding, mostly out of habit, and it’s something that I try to keep in check. I don’t think this needs to be an all-or-nothing way of living at all. But I know it’s something that I need to pay attention to.

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