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Attempting to Live Hands Free

on February 16, 2014

One of my life goals has been to be more present.  I want to be able to experience my life and not just rush through from one activity to another without every really feeling joy–and I don’t want my daughter to live that way either.  But, sometimes it is really, really hard not to be that way in today’s world.  There is a constant pressure to be and do everything, whether it is extra curricular activities, volunteer or work commitments, keeping a clean home at all times, etc.  There is a lot of pressure to be SUPER mom.  And, I freely admit that is pressure I put on myself without really realizing it.  My whole life I have been a perfectionist–even as a little kid.  There are definitely advantages to wanting things, all things, done well all of the time, but there are also huge drawbacks.  The pressure to be everything to everyone all of the time takes its toll.  And, the end result is that you are so focused on what is to come that you don’t really enjoy what is presently happening, and then you regret being there but at the same time missing out on parts of life you will never get back.

I stumbled upon some articles written by Rachel Macy Stafford about being a Hands Free Mama and how she came to realize her life needed a transformation–to be more present with her daughters.  At the bottom of the article they mentioned she had a book coming out in early 2014.  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.  The title spoke to me on so many levels.  I immediately jumped on my public library website and put myself on the hold list.  When the book came up as ready to pick up, I was excited to see what she had to say.  I expected most of the book to be about how technology is taking over our lives and ruining our personal relationships, but I was happy to find out I was wrong.


Sometimes it feels like our phones, tablets, etc. are ruling our lives and causing a disconnect when face to face with friends, family, or colleagues.  Other people feel this way–if two commercials I saw almost back to back show us anything about lives in America.  A man is trying to give his wife a diamond necklace and she won’t get off her phone–in fact everyone around them is on their phone instead of interacting with the people in front of them.  It takes him opening the jewelry box under her nose for her to acknowledge him.  The other commercial showed three people getting into a car, eyes glued to their phones, not communicating–until the driver (not on his phone) revs the engine and knocks them out of their stupor long enough to decide where to eat for lunch.  But, should it require diamond necklaces and fancy car engines to make us realize we need to disengage from the device and interact with the world around us?  Of course not.

Hands Free Mama is a little bit about how technology affects our relationships, but also so much more.  It is really about how we can spread ourselves too thin and end up focusing on the things we feel we “need” to do instead of the people in our lives that we love.  Stafford came to this realization while jogging and the weight of her life slammed into her knocking her to the ground.  She realized her girls were growing up, and she was missing it.  Her focus was on so many places at once that she wasn’t focusing on the relationships in her life the way she should…the way she wanted.  So, she set out on a journey to eliminate the distractions from her life so she could spend more time on what really mattered to her.  The chapters in her book read like a reminder board of how to begin your journey to live hands free.  Each starts with a main title like Acknowledge the Cost of Your Distraction, have a one word subtitle like Serenity or Clarity, and a quote related to the topic at hand.

If you really want to know what each of them are, I highly suggest you get your hands on this book.  It is a fast paced read that will really make you stop and think.

I found this little plaque at Gordman's and thought it was so appropriate for this blog post!

I found this little plaque at Gordman’s pre-Valentine’s day and thought it was so appropriate for this blog post!

My biggest takeaways from this book have been not just been simple acts like not looking at my phone as often, but more about a shift of mind.  I found that many of the items Stafford wrote about also pop up in Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project book.  And, both books spoke to me in similar ways.  Here are my top ten takeaways from Hands Free Mama…

1)  Acknowledge the cost of your distraction.  What is the cost of your distracted life?  What are you missing out on by focusing more on your electronics or to-do list than the people you love most.  Are you missing a valuable conversation, experience, or connection with your child or spouse?

2)  Identify your distractions.  This was something that came up at the beginning of the book–and about half way through.  I thought going back to this part way through her process was brilliant, because what you think is or isn’t a distraction in the beginning could be completely off base.

My identified distractions:  professional commitments outside of my normal job; the  need to check all of my emails and social media accounts very, very frequently; reading (this is a tough one, because it is a huge part of who I am, but I know it can be a distraction in a bad way at times); and finally my to-do lists.  I still very much like my to-do lists and daily/weekly/monthly schedules, but I am approaching them in a much healthier way–more on that later.

3)  Make purposeful connections with people.  When you are en route somewhere, waiting for an appointment, waiting for your food to arrive at a restaurant or a movie to begin, put down the device and take that opportunity to connect with the people around you.  (We went to breakfast with my dad last week, and I didn’t look at my phone once during the entire meal.  That little accomplishment made me happy, but at the same time a little sad that I considered it an accomplishment).

4)  Engage in household tasks together.  I got in the habit of doing household chores before my daughter woke up or after my daughter was asleep.  I thought it would be easier and we could spend more time together. And, not surprisingly, I have been failing miserably in getting my swing day/weekend cleaning goals done (deep clean kitchen, clean tub/shower, etc.).  I am too tired or busy trying to get something else done while she is asleep that many times it just gets shoved out of the way.  Instead of trying to do it all on my own without her seeing (or worse yet while she is zoned out in front of a show), I need to involve my daughter in the process.  She is old enough to help now with pretty much everything–AND she wants to!  Getting her involved in cooking dinner, prepping lunches, cleaning up the house–doing it together–gives us time and connection we wouldn’t have otherwise.  And, it sets her on the way to learn skills she will need as a fully functional adult.

5)  Start family traditions and a daily hands free ritual.    We have long done a Friday night pizza and movie night, but there were times I fell asleep during the movie or spent the time surfing Pinterest instead of really engaging in the show with my daughter.  Since reading the book, I have actively experienced the movie with her–we cuddle up on the couch under a blanket or two and talk about what we think will happen next.  Our daily hands free ritual has also been around for a few years, but I am much more consistent with it now.  As my daughter winds down for bed, we read a book, and then I crawl into bed with her and give her a cuddle or rub her back as we listen to the “sleep” cd her dad made her.  I have not missed one night time cuddle in two weeks–which might be a record.  I always had some pressing issue calling me away like dirty dishes or an email I just had to respond to at that moment that seemed more important.  What I realized (and really already knew) is that the traditions and rituals are precious.  I am so grateful that she still wants to cuddle with me; sometime in the not too distant future, she won’t.  I want to take every advantage of it and a million other moments while I can and really be present so we can both enjoy and appreciate them.

6)  Without fail, give proper goodbyes and enthusiastic hellos (this was also mentioned by Rubin).  Be sure to give affection to your loved ones when you greet each other after an absence (no matter how short) or when you are bidding each other farewell (every single time).

7)  Identify your roadblocks to living hands free.  For me, not getting enough sleep is a major factor.  When I am tired, I am much more likely to respond crabbily to stress or difficult attitudes.  I also know that I get flustered easily when things don’t go as I had mentally planned them out in my head so we stay on schedule.  These are things I need to address by making sure I get to sleep on time and letting go of some of the regimented scheduler syndrome.  If we are a few minutes late, it’s better than arriving cranky and blowing any chance of enjoying what we are doing.

8)  Envision your future relationships.  What you do now will dictate how your future relationships will be.  Do you want to be connected to your children or your spouse twenty years from now?  If so, you need to start building that foundation now.

9)  Let go of perfection.  So, maybe you don’t get your makeup done before taking your daughter to her Saturday morning class.  Did anyone care or even notice?  Nope.  This goes for your personal self as well as your environment.  By no means am I saying you should live like a slob, but if the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned on bathroom day or the day after, the world will continue to rotate on its axis.  AND, don’t force your perfectionist attitude on your kids.  Allow them to fail.  Praise their attempts and not giving up attitude.  This shows our kids perseverance is more important than perfection–something that will suit them better in the long run.

10)  Don’t beat yourself up for what happened in the past of minor slips here and there.  You can’t undo the past, but you can make a conscious choice to be different in the future.  And, every once in a while, you will become distracted.  Acknowledge that it happened, examined why it happened, and move on.  These feelings of guilt or remorse–and the need to be perfectly hands free–can also distract you from what matters most.

Funny, and very true. Have you ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why you entered because something in there distracted you? Do you ever feel like relationships in your life are this way too? Chances are you are living at least a semi-distracted life.

In addition to some of the practices mentioned above, in the last few weeks I have taken the following steps to live less distracted:

I plug my phone into one of the two chargers in our house and leave it there.  I try really hard to only check it twice a night–once right when I get home and once right after my daughter goes to bed.  I have also tried very hard to keep the phone in my purse when we are out and about as a or with family or friends and when it’s just the hubby and me.  Instead, I have focused on the people around me.  Really looked at and listened to them.  The “I love you more than my phone” sign could seem a bit silly, but it is also so true.  By making sure my phone is not a distraction, I am telling my family I love them more than whatever is going on in the cyber-verse.

I silenced the email alert on my phone.  (Duh!)  I didn’t even realize that whenever I heard that little chime, I reacted like Pavlov’s dog until Stafford mentioned it.  With a little reflection, I became aware that I would automatically reach for my phone to check and see if some important email had come through on one of my several non work accounts whenever my email alert would sound.  Usually, nothing earth shattering was needing my attention, but I kept checking it anyway.  Without the alert, I have almost forgotten to check those accounts during the day.

I have loosed up on some of the cleaning “rules” and routines.  If something isn’t done on its scheduled day, I don’t stress about it.  I know it will get done soon.  Putting off vacuuming for a couple of days won’t hurt anyone.

I am trying really hard not to be so rushed in everything I do.  I don’t want to feel rushed or rush my daughter all of the time.  This will probably be my biggest hurdle.  The first step will be to not over schedule ourselves.  Still working on that, but I know it is a problem and know it will be a work in progress–much like this whole process will be.

I think the biggest thing is just being aware.  Knowing that you are living a distracted (or semi-distracted life) and realizing you have the capacity to change that type of existence, starting now, is incredibly powerful.  If I want to be more present…then I need to take steps to be more present.  If I don’t want to continue feeling like life is flying by and that I am missing the joy in the little AND the big moments in my life, then I have to take charge and make the pledge to live a hands free, less distracted life.

Has anyone else read this book?  Does anyone else feel like they live their life somewhat distracted from what really matters to them?


One response to “Attempting to Live Hands Free

  1. […]  Just say “no” to technology.  You can read about my desire and plan to go “Hands Free”, but to give more of an update it is going ok.  There are times when I definitely need reminding […]

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