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
Photosanity. 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
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.