A Feasible Way to Really Know a Child (Guest Post by Rachel Macy Stafford)

Rachel Macy Stafford has a gift for writing personal stories that bring to life many of the core practices of respectful parenting: Be present. Connect. Perceive children as unique individuals. Celebrate them for who they are. Her own transformation from a distracted parent to a present and engaged one (a saga she describes in candid detail in her books and articles), imbues Rachel’s message with power, compassion, and urgency. As someone who has experienced firsthand the profound before-and-after change that respectful parenting practices can bring, Rachel’s experience and perspective are both instructive and invaluable. Her personal journey has brought insight and richness to her relationships with her daughters and to every aspect of her life. 

As an admirer of Rachel’s work, I was thrilled when she agreed to share a guest post here for the second time, as well as exciting news about the imminent release of her second book, Hands Free Life.

A Feasible Way to Really Know a Child

Even though it was taken down when she decided she didn’t need it anymore, I’ll always remember the thin, white canopy that hung over my daughter’s bed for short time. The night my husband hung the canopy, Avery slept peacefully for the first time in months. In her mind, the silk drapes created an invisible shield protecting her from creepy shadows and bad dreams. Naturally, I loved the new canopy. I mean, what parent wouldn’t love something that instantly improved the sleep situation?

But there was more to the canopy than that.

Each time I parted the curtains and crawled into the airy cocoon, I felt more in tune with Avery than ever before. She’d nestled up to me and start talking. I never knew what was going to come out of her five-year-old mouth, but I knew it was going to be good.

I’d close my eyes and relish this feeling—this temporary induction into Kid World.

The only explanation I had for the tears that collected in my eyes was that I’d come painfully close to missing it. You see, I missed years two and three of Avery’s life. My distractions came at a mighty high price.

Unlike the translucent drapes of her canopy, the distractions of my life created an impermeable shield separating me from my daughter’s beautiful expressions, clever thoughts, and tender words. For two years, my phone, computer, overscheduled agenda, and façade of perfection acted as a barrier that prevented me from knowing her.

But all hope was not lost. One of my earliest discoveries on my journey to a less distracted life was the power of stepping into Kid World. I found that when I pushed aside my distractions—the phone, the laptop, the to-do list, the self-induced pressures, the regret—and let myself be fully present with my loved ones, something profound happened. I learned something about my loved ones that I didn’t know before. I quickly realized that stepping out of my world and into their world, even for a few minutes a day, was a feasible way to really know my children. The best news of all was that the invitation was open to me despite what happened yesterday. The invitation was open to me anytime I was willing to put aside my daily distractions and be all there. 

I missed years two and three of Avery’s life, but I did not miss year four and especially not five. I had a front row seat to age five, taking in every moment with my child like a priceless gift. What I learned was quite valuable, and I think about it every time I feel overwhelmed by life’s demands and want to remember what matters most. Today I share this discovery with the hope that it inspires someone else to enter Kid World. Whether it is the world of a baby, toddler, child, teen, or young adult, our children have so much to teach us about living a present, joy-filled life if we just give them the opportunity.


In Kid World …

There is freedom.

Freedom to tell it like it is.

Freedom to make up the words to the song that plays within your heart.

Freedom to forgo the hairbrush and simply wear a smile.


In Kid World …

There is time.

Time to stop and admire mystic clouds and find the beauty in a dandelion.

Time to give your waitress a hug.

Time to do it yourself … even if it takes longer … even if it’s not perfect.


In Kid world …

There is confidence.

Confidence to celebrate bathing suit season.

Confidence to pair unusual style combinations and wear them in public.

Confidence to dance when everyone is watching.


In Kid World …

There is safety.

Safety in the glow of a bedroom night-light.

Safety in Daddy’s arms.

Safety in homemade forts built with your sister as rain beats against the windowpane.


In Kid World …

There is beauty.

Beauty in freckle-kissed noses and grass-stained feet.

Beauty in mispronounced words like “liberry” and “funder storm.”

Beauty in open-mouth laughter and disobedient curls on a warm summer night.


In Kid World …

There is comfort.

Comfort in the smell of Mom’s hair.

Comfort in that certain pair of pajamas despite being two sizes too small.

Comfort in worn teddy bears that sleep under your breath.


In Kid World …

The gaps between the teeth are wide.

Individual differences are noticed, but openly accepted.

Laughter between friends cures all ills.

Apple seeds can become trees if planted with love.


In Kid World …

Forgiveness is abundant.

Flaws are easily overlooked.

Bad breath and crazy hair are signs of good sleep.

There’s no such thing as too many stuffed animals.


In Kid World …

There is no need to hurry.

Hope is never lost.

Love is an endless commodity.

And the world looks beautiful from down here.


In the coming days and years of your parenting journey, I hope you see requests for your time and attention as priceless invitations, rather than draining demands. Although accepting these invitations requires a willingness to let go of one’s own agenda, preconceived notions, and preferred interests, these are the moments when life’s most precious words can be heard. What we learn by stepping out of our world and into a child’s world can enhance our view of life forever.


Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is The New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama, and her highly anticipated Hands Free Life releases on September 8. In her second book, Rachel demonstrates how to live better and love more despite the daily distractions and pressures that pull us away.

Pre-orders of Hands Free Life from now until September 7 receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click HERE to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus. 


(Photo by Honza Soukup on Flickr: )


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I just wanted to point out that when someone is 5 years old, they are in year 6, their 6th year. (When they are born they are in their first year, when they turn 1 they are in their second year, etc.) But beyond that nitpicky point of fact, I love the article. I just hope it’s not too late for me! I occasionally venture into my kids’ worlds but mostly I’m busy and distracted. They are 9 and 15.

  2. Becca Gullion says:

    I find your website and books extremely helpful and useful in my role as a parent. Thank you for providing me with new insight and solutions for respectful parenting.

  3. I love Kid World. Kid World is where peace is and smiles grow wild.

    I just finished reading Hands Free Life and now it sits on my writing window ledge marked up from intro to conclusion. I loved it and will share it like crazy.

    P.S. I am an Avery kin-spirit

  4. Dear Rachel and Janet,
    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. It is such a good point that we need to step out of our worlds and enter their worlds. This was one of the hardest aspects of parenting for me – as you say, to let go of our own agendas, preconceived notions, and preferred interests.

    A few weeks ago, my 3.5 year-old son and I visited a wonderful gristmill where they had activities and a tour for children. He was one of the youngest children there. For about ten minutes, he was enjoying the tour, but then said to me, “Mommy, I have had enough. Let’s leave.”

    Before learning about RIE parenting through Janet’s blog, I probably would have insisted that we finish the tour. I realized though that he was communicating his needs to me and I needed to respect that. We left the mill house, and in the pouring rain, discovered puddles, a tunnel, and a beautiful pond. He danced in the rain. I’ll never forget that moment of seeing him dance and watching the rain splash on the pond with him. We were both soaked and experiencing such joy and peace! It was definitely Kid World, and a bit of heaven, I’m sure! Thank you for your wisdom!

  5. Erika Cedillo says:

    Another absolutely wonderful post!!!
    This summer we visited our family in Mexico City, we now live in Vancouver, Canada so this was a very much awaited visit for us and our family there. One of my silent wishes was to splash with my daughters (2 and 6) outside in a typical summer rain fall while we were there. It was not until our last days when there was this strong rain fall, the 4 of us were outside splashing and giggling under the rain and I felt my heart boasting in joy. It was stepping into Kids world and this was a piece of my own little kid world I wanted to share with them and is one of my very special memories of this trip.
    I loved when you say “take every request for time an attention as a priceless invitations”… I will do that and be more present with them… thank you Rachel and Janet 🙂

  6. It feels so good to know that you know your child than anyone else. We need to be part of their world as they also became part of our worlds. It is such a glimpse of their life that they are children, so why can’t we be kids too? In this way, they can get closer to us, and we can know them better as what we want to happen. Just like what I have to my application that is the Child recorder app, I was able to recognize the emotion of my child with the way she cries, with the sound and loudness of it. By this, I was able to know the appropriate action to be taken and how will I stop her crying. Thank you so much for this post.

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