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 facts.

Now, when one of my kids says, "I wonder if Madison is 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 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.