I am Mom to four boys.
As you might expect, that can get loud, busy, and plenty messy too. Within the span of just a few minutes I may be called on to multitask the jobs of holding a crying toddler, helping a preschooler put on his socks and shoes, listening to a first-grader’s imaginative and detailed story about dragons, and fielding a third grader’s request for help on his math homework.
I’ll be honest, sometimes I just want to sit with my introverted self and have a few quiet thoughts.
And so that’s what often happens when I get into the car. I let my thoughts wander and meander with the passing road in front of us. With everyone buckled in, I feel less distracted than I do 97% of the day. That’s why it really got my attention when I was reading my friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! (*affiliate), and realized I was a distracted driver.
I thought I had been doing a pretty good job. I’ve put my oldest son in charge of being my receptionist during drives, and he’s quite diligent about his duty to keep the phone away from me. I felt like I was on top of this distracted driving thing.
Then I read this in Rachel’s book:
Although I only use the phone in the car on rare occasions and have stopped the dangerous practice of checking email and text messages at stoplights, I hadn’t taken the Hands Free concept to its fullest potential. Refraining from phone use while driving is only half the “letting go” equation. As I thought back, I realized I have a tendency to zone out behind the wheel. Driving had become a quiet time of collecting my thoughts and taking a breather. While there’s nothing wrong with that practice in itself, I could have picked a better time to do it. With acute awareness, I thought about the conversations I had missed, the details of their school day that I didn’t hear, the burdens resting on my children’s hearts that I would never know.
I wasn’t being a distracted driver in the traditional sense of the term, but I was being distracted from my kids. I had them in a perfect spot for making connections at some of the most pivotal transition points of their day.
And all too often, I was missing it.
After Rachel helped me have this epiphany, I’ve really started making a conscious effort to connect with my kids while driving. It isn’t non-stop chatter, just a conscious effort to connect and to be open to connecting. I ask about their school day or their practice or play date. I listen to their stories, talk about the things we see as we drive, or hear about which songs they like on the radio (and subversively try to influence their taste in music).
They all seem like small things, but that’s what connecting is about. Making room for even the small things with the people who take up the biggest space in your heart.
While working on this practice I was getting ready to take my oldest to another one of his basketball game. On our way out the door, my husband asked if I could talk to him a little about the recent series of blowups he and his younger brother had had.
The car drive was the perfect time for a really important conversation. He was calmer now and ready to listen and (more importantly) talk. Luckily the car had become a place where it was normal to chat. It was the two of us alone in this car with nowhere else to go. And, in what I hear is an added bonus for boys and young men in particular, we were engaged in a task (me: driving, him: keeping an eye on the navigation) that prevented too much uncomfortable eye contact. (More interesting tips on communication here.)
We talked a little about what had happened, what his feelings were, and how frustrating it can be trying to get along with your siblings. I told him about some of my siblings and my husband’s siblings — those aunts and uncles that he only sees as fun and loving adults — and how we would fight sometimes growing up too. We knew how frustrating it could be, trying to get along, and that siblings can be really get on each other’s nerves. But I let him know that if he and his brothers are lucky, they’ll also become the best friends he could ask for. I reminded him that as he grows up and life and scenery and friends all change, his brothers will always be there, as long as they keep working at taking care of each other.
“It may not seem like much now, but as an adult you’ll be so grateful.”
“Yeah. I know,” came his softened answer.
He wasn’t combative anymore. There was a sincerity that hadn’t come before when we’d talk about these sibling tussles. I really think that came from not only taking advantage of this opportunity to connect in the car, but also setting the precedence for it with the little things, so that there weren’t any walls up for a bigger talk.
All because Rachel helped me realize this simple, but perfect opportunity to connect — before it passed me by.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010 this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured in USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, PBS.org, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her first book,Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!* is available now.
If you happen to live in Birmingham, Alabama, Rachel will be signing books tonight at 7pm at Books-A-Million. Readers in Indianapolis can catch her at Barnes and Noble on River Crossing Blvd. on January 21. Find more book signing events here. If you’re interested in joining a virtual book group for this title, check out this one at Creative with Kids. And be sure catch Rachel’s FREE “Stress-less Parenting” workshop from the Huffington post!