Tuesday, February 23, 2016


It was a much needed hang-out Saturday in our house. And looking back on this day, it is so obvious how important un-busy time is for families like mine. So I want to reflect on what none of us can see in the momentum of our busy, good intentions as parents and people. And I hope you’ll walk away  encouraged by five good reasons to take a break from regular busy with your kids. 

It had been another long, too busy week, and I was exhausted just thinking of the sum of it all. I slept in and woke on my own time. Ahhh. Except with three boys ages 4, 9, and 12, sleeping in means past seven. I was looking forward to the wide-open and finally unscheduled possibilities ahead. If you are a parent, I am sure you can relate.

It all started with a simple but not surprising question from my just-turned nine year-old, “Mom, can I make cupcakes?”  

1. Busy is not better. It is draining. Who are we kidding? 

See, he had these brand new silicone icing bottles on his mind. They were a birthday present, little accordions with lots of decorative tips that are meant to take a baking hobby to the next level. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on them.

And finally. No work. No rush. No agenda. Why not? Hanging out means relaxing in the unknown of what the day will bring. Except, really, relaxing as a parent can be complicated, much harder than we like to admit. 

Cupcakes, of all sweet things, reminded me of this parenting reality and how often I struggle with it. My kids do too. Kids are so much less free these days to roam and explore and figure things out by their own trial and error. And so are parents. 

I look around with my parenting friends. Normal has become planned, scheduled, overseen weeks so our kids get the most the world has to offer in their education, their extracurricular activities, and their lives. We feel so much pressure to provide the best opportunities for our kids. 

We get sucked into thinking busy is better. Even the best opportunities, though, when we string them together, suck dry every once of free time we have (ours and theirs). And when we can’t manage the demand of the routine we create—we feel, over and over again, like we are somehow failing them as parents. 

So when my child asked to make cupcakes, immediately, my mind started wrapping itself around how I would make cupcakes with my son from start to finish. Even though I didn’t say it aloud—my mind defaulted to a reluctant “yes, but” answer. 

The “yes, but” was going to be a long list of contingencies aimed at keeping cupcake making as organized, mess-free, and as easy as possible.  In truth, my “yes, but” insisted that I make the cupcakes and stay in-control of the situation because that’s what our weeks have come to demand so much of the time. The kitchen was clean, folks, and I really, really wanted it to stay that way. 

But, that day, I wasn’t in a hurry. My brain had time on it’s side. I heard the quiet voice in me that urged me to pause and notice.

The pause is important, I realize.

2. There is value in being still so we can can see and hear who our kids are becoming and live into the parents we want to be.

The pause fought the unnecessary rush I felt inside just long enough for me to really look in my middle boy’s brown, long-lashed eyes pleading wide. The pause encouraged me to really see and hear and consider my middle boy’s simple—but as it turned out—really important question that day. And somewhere in the pause, I remembered his brand new icing bottles with eight different shiny decorative tips, just waiting to be opened.  

The thing is, my middle boy is an artist at heart who thinks way outside the boxes I live in. And that decorating kit, it was the best, most generous kind of gift—one that came from really knowing him and loving him.

So that Saturday, we didn’t make cupcakes. He did. I just answered his question with simple and free “yes.”

I watched him sitting on a barstool in our kitchen, part of the time in my pjs sipping coffee. And while he baked, we talked—but not so much about how to make cupcakes. We talked about whatever came to mind. I did a lot of listening, and we had no idea how his cupcake undertaking would unfold. The thing is, it didn’t matter.

He took all that was separate and read, and measured, poured, cracked and combined, stirred and beat to transform pieces and parts into something entirely new and different and delicious.

All was going well, but you wouldn’t know it by the looks of things. 

As he worked hard figuring out how to cream butter, the butter worked itself right out of the spindles mixing it. Icing flew through the air in every direction. Thick globs hit his face and hair and mine and ended up everywhere! Our once clean kitchen turned into an explosion of ingredients.

It was an unnatural disaster.

And as it turned out, cupcakes opened doors for us to connect and relax from the busyness that demands so much of our attention.

My boy was determined and excited. I could see it. He cooked blueberries to a syrupy goodness for the icing. And while the cupcakes cooled, he decided to give the dishes a go with his own hands. Bubbles floated through the air.

Finally, his homemade labor of love was loaded into icing bottles, careful and sloppy and just right as only he could do. The cupcake became his canvas that day. And one-by-one he painted and sculpted with creamy, messy, mounds of blueberry dreams come true, each one of his masterpieces topped off with a fresh blueberry.

Before I knew it the whole day had gone by, and I had spent it sitting, watching, listening, and talking while my child made cupcakes all by himself.

3. The truth is, we need free time—to think and dream, to re-energize, to create, and to connect to who and what is most important.

He’s smart, but he doesn’t know it.  He’s a serious thinker who notices the details and processes so much more than you’d expect for a kid his age.  
He isn’t like most boys. He is very tall (and handsome) and quite possibly the most flexible kid you will ever meet.  Seriously, he can bend in ways that make me hurt.  His best friends, besides his brothers, are girls. He loves to turn the music up, dance with total abandon, and sing every word at the top of his lungs with a passion that rivals Adele. He is good at gymnastics, cooking, designing, and creating, not really interested in sports that require a ball.  And sometimes being different frustrates and scares him, and he holds back and internalizes the world.  

He has already taught me more about God’s love and beautiful creativity than he will ever realize.

I wouldn’t trade those casual, impromptu cupcake moments and mess for the world.

I am reminded that breaking from regular busy is so good for us. It gives us time to think and dream, to re-energize, to create, and connect to who and what is most important. It leaves room for us to be inspired by what is right in front of us.

Cupcakes opened my eyes and my heart to the grace in letting go enough, bit by bit, along the way of this parenthood journey I am so wrapped up in to watch my kids live into the beautiful people God created them to be.

And I wonder what it might be for you? Because cupcakes aren’t just cupcakes.

I picked up my good camera and snapped some pictures that hang-out Saturday. The camera lens just froze in time what you can’t ever see in a hurry.

It was cupcakes—simple and free, "yes!" 

It makes me sad to admit this, but I am just going to say it in case it helps someone else. At first, it took everything in me to NOT multi-task those cupcake moments. 

As I sat to watch my boy, I fought a familiar pressure-induced urge deep inside me to pull out my computer and catch up on emails, to do my weekly online grocery shopping on my phone, to grab a pile of laundry and fold it at the table, to sort through the stack of mail that had been growing all week. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to wash the dishes and wipe up the messes as fast as they happened. I was especially tempted to do the biggest, riskiest parts of the cupcake making for him. But I didn’t.

4. In today’s over-scheduled world, maybe doing a little less for our kids is more—more of a gift than we realize. 

Thank goodness I went against the grain of regular busy. I would have missed so much.

I would have done for my child what he is perfectly capable of doing himself. And in doing that, I would have robbed both of us.  

In today’s over-scheduled world, maybe doing a little less for our kids is more—more of a gift than we realize.

For so long, as a parent, you have to be the hands and feet for your children because that’s truly what they need. And then slowly, right before your eyes, they grow up without your noticing just how much. Your parent-child relationship has to stretch and grow up too. 

I could see it so clearly as I watched my boy make cupcakes. His eyes celebrated every little independent cupcake-making step that day. He realized just how capable he is, how much he can do when given the chance, and how much he wants to learn and create.  Me too, and it’s pretty amazing.

The baby I once held so tightly and carefully doesn’t need me in the same way that I am comfortable with and used to.  And the conversation becomes more and more important between us. 

Cupcakes are not just cupcakes. They are connecting points. 

They are walks around the block and bike rides, superheroes and princesses, legos, art projects and dance moves. They are tents and castles, shopping trips, camping trips, pedicures, and hunting expeditions. They are play dates, dinner dates, and sleepovers. They are ball games in the backyard. They are books and movies. They are magic tricks and jokes only kids get. They are fishing trips and self-made stories that go on too long. They may even be video games, music, friends and sweethearts we wouldn’t pick. 

Cupcakes are not just cupcakes. They are all the windows into blooming hearts. 

They are unbusy time to know and see, to appreciate and encourage the growing young people we get to parent. 
They are a collection of intentional, laid back moments that are beautiful, watching, listening, and talking...a purposeful figuring out, where we—parent and child—are allowed the grace to not be perfect together...all under the safety net of real, unconditional love.

5. If you really stop and think about it, we want more for our kids than the best the world has to offer.

You might think that our cupcake scene was a romantic and perfect parenting moment in my house, but it wasn’t. Instead it was the real deal, at its best.
While my middle boy and I spent the day in the kitchen, my youngest and oldest boys jumped like rowdy hooligans on the trampoline, got on each other’s nerves (and mine), probably drove the neighbors crazy, changed clothes 10 times leaving the discarded ones all over the place, and ran in and out of the house like tornadoes looking for food every 45 minutes wanting to know when the cupcakes would be done.  Their rooms were total wrecks from all of their free time. And I still had to make dinner when the cupcakes were all said and done.

But sometimes, I think we have to endure the chaos and embrace the unplanned to find stand-alone joy that teaches, sustains, and fills us as parents. We need to purposefully NOT do for our kids what they can do for themselves—because we love them so much. 

I hope this cupcake story encourages you to take a breather from regular busy—to leave room to pause, to live in the mess and the unknown, and celebrate the moments you find there. Because these moments add up in the bigger picture we can’t always see.  Because, really, we want more for our kids than the best the world can offer. 
We want them to change the world for the better. We want to empower them, to give them the freedom they need to live into the gifted people they are made to be. It’s a sacred calling we have as parents. 


  1. I love this post. It made me realize how little I actually let the kids help make stuff in the kitchen when I should just let go and say yes. Thanks for sharing this. I wish we could be neighbors. His cupcakes look delish and beautiful!