When I was given the opportunity to read Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama, a book about her journey to put down the electronics and say no to other time-consuming distractions in order to live her life as it was intended – as a fully engaged parent and spouse – I thought, “Well, okay. I know plenty of people for whom saying no and putting down their phones is a real issue. I’ve only had a smartphone for a little over a year, but I’m not glued to it. Okay, I spend way too much time on Facebook. But I wait until the kids go to school. I sure don’t spend too much time away from my family leading committees or spreading myself too thin in various volunteer positions. I have a good balance. But I’ll read this book. After all, it’s a great idea for some.”
And of course I thought “Huh. This would be a great book for my husband, Mr. Can You Bring Me My iPad, to read.”
And then I began reading. And almost from the start, I noticed that as I sat at the kitchen table in the mornings, laptop open as my children came down to start the day, my nose was on the screen as I mumbled “mmm-hmms” and half-hearted “do you have your gym clothes?” and snapping at them when they interrupted me to ask a question. I noticed that I was hiding from my family to read another block of blogs. I noticed that I was watching the clock for when everyone went to bed so I could relax and veg out in front of the TV or read my book. No matter that I hadn’t spent any real time with them all day or evening.
Everyone knows that moms are busy. When kids are little, moms are busy wiping noses and taking care of basic needs. As children get older, the busyness continues, but it occurs at different times and for different reasons. I am no longer reading to my children, but helping with homework. I am no longer dressing them, but finding their basketball sneakers. I’m going to their band concerts and sporting events and awards assemblies. As my kids age, I’m busy with them, but I’ve also filled my spare time with my own stuff. Because after a while, moms just need a BREAK.
Hands Free Mama made me realize that I was allowing my spare time, my breaks, to leak into time I spent with my family, that after years of putting aside my needs for them, I swung wildly in the other direction to take care of my own desires above theirs.
It’s not the best feeling, to know that you are missing out on the important things – like relationships with the most dearly loved people in your life.
That’s just what Stafford thought when she embarked on her Facebook community The Hands Free Revolution, her blog Hands Free Mama, and now her book of the same name.
Stafford peppers her chapters – subtitled with good words like Awareness, Connectedness, Serenity, Simplification, and Acceptance, among others – with real-life anecdotes from her own experience living distractedly, what she missed by being distracted, and then what she gained back by living hands free. Her stories could be my stories, even despite our differing levels of activity. Stafford is a doer – she is the committee leader, the all hands on deck volunteer, the PTA mom, the go-to when something needs to be done now and right – and I am not. But her actions mirrored mine, and we both need to learn how to put aside the distractions to focus on what really matters.
Playing with your kids. Having real conversations with them, no electronics allowed. Taking time to watch a blazing sunset. Noticing little pieces of your child’s personality that makes her who she is. Really loving your family – not just saying the words.
It’s a simple concept, a “duh” idea. Who needs to be reminded to love her loved ones?
I do. We all do. When distractions take over and we find that we are choosing them over the most beloved people in our lives, we all need to be reminded of why we are here in the first place. Is holding onto our outside responsibilities with an iron grip our purpose in life? Probably not.
“I was buried. Buried beneath the weight of my distractions. I was no longer living. I was just barely existing” (p. 12)
This is where Stafford found herself, and I admit, this is where I find myself sometimes, too. Being hands free meant that Stafford had to give up some of the things that previously brought her joy but that eventually weighed her down. When she intentionally gave up those things, she found “Sunset Moments” with her family, wonderful moments in the ordinariness of life that she previously would have missed had she kept up her previous level of activity and distraction.
“For the first time in a long time, I was not just managing life, I was living it” (p. 37).
The truth is, all of us need time to step back from distractions and really focus on what is important in our lives, no matter when those distractions appear. Hands Free Mama made me realize that I was pretending that I was fully engaged, when really I could do so much better. And that the rewards of living hands free are so much more than any rewards I could gain from the things that distract me.
I’m far from being totally hands free in life. I still snap at my kids when they interrupt, still find myself counting the hours sometimes. But then I look into the faces of my husband and children, and I remember:
They are why I am here.
Hands Free Mama is here to remind me.
“As adults, sometimes we must do what we need to do. But other times you will find yourself saying, ‘Right now, I see an opportunity to connect with my loved one, and that is the most important thing I can do right now.’ Choosing connection over distraction offers a chance to nurture your most sacred relationships – now and in the future. I cannot thing of a better use of your precious time, can you?” (p. 218)
Stafford’s book goes on sale tomorrow, January 7, 2014. Find it on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Also read more about living Hands Free at Rachel's blog and at her Facebook community, The Hands Free Revolution.
I was given an Advanced Reader copy of Stafford’s book Hands Free Mama to review. All opinions are my own.