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The Path Towards Thriving | Living Hands Free

Throughout 2014 I'm planning to blog about my One Little Word journey as I investigate what it means for me to thrive. I don't have a set schedule in place but will share as I identify areas, recognize strengths or weaknesses, ask questions, learn lessons, and hopefully make life-affirming choices along the way.

No. 1 | I believe that for me to thrive I need to live a less distracted life.


"You know we're going to have an intervention about that soon right?"

We were sitting on the couch after dinner, chatting and getting ready to play a couple rounds of Mario Bros on the Wii.

Darn it (that's not really the word that came to mind but you get the point). "Yes," I replied and felt a wave of shame wash over myself.

My connection to the phone and the online world is powerful. It's where most of my work-life exists (I'm on the type-A, take-care-of-this-right-this-very-minute, obsessive end of the personality spectrum), where many of my friends exist, and to be honest, sometimes some of my self-worth is mixed in here too.

I put my phone face-down on the couch next to me and turned to face him, "I know."

In my head I could rationalize it. I was waiting for him to get things set up. I was probably checking my email one more time because I'm responsible and I pride myself on being accessible and taking care of stuff immediately or I was peeking at Facebook seeing if any responses were needed or if there was a comment on a photo I'd recently posted on Instagram.

But I knew he was right.

I need a major iphone boundary check.


Another evening we had a discussion about parenting after Anna refused to put her coat away. She was exhausted and defiant. I was exhausted and not ready for battle because it seems like battling is all we do lately. During the discussion he said he thought she was mean to me. He had watched, unsure where to step in and when to step away.

It was a good talk about who we are and who we want to be as parents. I listened carefully, trying hard not to take anything too personally, listening instead for suggestions I could implement the next time an opportunity arose. It was hard and easy at the same time because I know what he was saying was coming from a loving place and that he was right.

As I reflect on how Anna and I have been interacting lately I think so much of it comes down to me being a distracted parent. Distracted by my work, distracted by the dishes in the sink, distracted by the running list in my head, distracted by pressures both real and imagined, distracted by a million other things.

Damn.

I don't want to be this person. I know there are times when I've been less distracted but over the last couple of years I've become that person again and it's definitely time for a re-alignment.

I have lots of excuses for my distractions but really none of them matter more than my relationship with my kids and those closest to me.

It's time to start living that way.


I wrote out the above stories a few days ago as I started working on this post.

Since then I've taken a few steps forward and a few steps back. The simple act of acknowledgement - and for me this has been a growing acknowledgment over the past few months - is starting to result in me actually taking action.

One of the first things I'm doing is reading Rachel Macy Stafford's new book Hands Free Mama. Rachel runs a blog of the same name that you might have seen me mention or link to in the past. She's a wonderful story teller and truth teller and is really inspiring life-changes by encouraging people to get connected to what really matters. I reviewed an advance copy of the book last year but feel like I'm really reading it for the first time now. And PS - this book isn't just about creating meaningful connections with your kids - it's about removing the distractions that keep us from deeply connecting with the people we claim to care about most.

One of the suggestions from Rachel is to go public about your intention to live Hands Free so here I am.

Hi, I'm Ali and I've been living distracted for far too long and I'm ready to let go and make a very meaningful change in my life.

Tonight I started reading a chapter book out loud to both kids in the evening. It's an opportunity for the three of us to do something together that doesn't involve a screen.

We're starting with Charlotte's Web.

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218 thoughts

  1. Jan From Canada living in Australia says…
    01/06/2014

    By far one of the best posts you have ever written Ali… You seriously touched my soul tonight.. I am a professor and completing a degree… I am a distracted mother far too much… I feel like one day I will turn around from this screen and grown adults will face me.. I too have made an intention to free myself from the world outside this house and concentrate more on the world inside.. the world that fuels my soul…

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. J3SS1C4 says…
    01/06/2014

    Love this! I get distracted easily as well, and I think this is an amazing challenge to implement! I stay up too late on my phone, spend too long in bed on the weekend checking out things online, most of my social time is gaming with my partner... Doesn't help that he works in IT and also spends a lot of time online as well!

    My word for the year is balance, and this is one of my aims for the year... Getting away from the computer and phone for longer, trying new things, spending distraction free time with my favourite people and really working on balancing out my life online.

    Thank you for sharing, Ali!

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Robin says…
    01/06/2014

    Great choice.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Laura says…
    01/06/2014

    Have you seen the TedX talk by Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan? She talks about a similar thing in her talk, I think you might like it, it's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hFimIczB0s. I'm planning on doing the same for my word, 'build'. I hope that by going public with my intentions I am more likely to really work on them.
    Thank you for sharing :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Laura says…
    01/06/2014

    There were no cell phones when my kids were little, but I do get so angry when I see parents,mostly moms, walking, shopping, at the park, etc...on their phone instead of interacting with their children. Equally bad is when I see little children in carts either chewing on a phone, or playing a game. I fear that day to day leaning and interaction and bonding will be lost on an entire generation. Cheers to you, Ali. The hardest job is to be a parent. So much to navigate. We tried hard to be parents, not friends to ours. They are now adults and we all have wonderful adult relationships and we can NOW be friends. Follow your gut. You can reflect their words and behavior back and ask them how they would feel if you treated them the same way. It really helps.

    Reply 3 Replies
    1. Courtney says…
      01/07/2014

      "but I do get so angry when I see parents,mostly moms, walking, shopping, at the park, etc…on their phone instead of interacting with their children"

      Please be kind. It may be infuriating to you, and seem like the mom is ignoring her kids. But, for every mom that is, there are more moms that aren't. I have a phone in front of me at the store because it holds my grocery list. I've pulled my phone out to send Daddy photos I just took of my kid playing at the park. I've had my phone out changing a song that's playing while walking with my child because he just requested to hear "Call Me Maybe" again. I've escaped for a few minutes to play Words with Friends, because all day I've been catering to my toddler, and he is playing with someone else right now. I've pulled my phone out to pay a bill.

      As "Fried Okra", a blogger, succinctly puts it: "You use your phone to do all the things our Moms did with paper and pens, stamps, recipe files, checkbooks, clocks, timers, typewriters, fax machines, calculators, calendars, phones with cords, newspapers, books, thermostats, televisions, radios, and cameras."

      Maybe she is running a business from home so she can be home with her kids. Maybe she is regaining sanity after answering "Why" for the hundredth time and it's only 10am. You are only seeing one single glimpse of her life, and since you aren't walking in her shoes, don't get angry. Give her the benefit of charity and love.

    2. Michele says…
      01/07/2014

      Courtney makes some good points

    3. Laura says…
      01/07/2014

      Please don't get me wrong. I understand technology and times have changed. What I am talking about is obvious social use, people ignoring their children who are trying to interact with them. I appreciate that many people are working from home now, multitasking, trying to do it all.

  6. Brooke says…
    01/06/2014

    Charlotte's Web is a great place to start. Santa bought my 5 year old an easy chapter book. I read it to him, he has been reading it to me, reading to his little brother and to his Nan. Awesome bonding and so cute to watch.

    So happy to be in your class and on a better journey this year.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Holly says…
    01/06/2014

    Ali,

    Finding the balance between family and work is always a struggle. I wanted to be the best mom I could be, and yet I have a strong work ethic and desire to be successful in my career.

    For me, it's knowing that I tried my best with the resources I had on any given day. Some days are better than others at balancing those resources...it's ok. I wanted my children to see me trying to balance my life...not struggle with it. So I let go of the need for perfection, both at work and as a parent.

    My children are young adults now, and each one of them have a strong work ethic of their own, and the absolute knowledge that they are loved.

    I am more than ok with that.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Laura says…
      01/07/2014

      Amen.

  8. Charlene says…
    01/06/2014

    It's so hard to find the balance especially when you are a single mom type A like myself… I too have an addiction to technology and always feeling the need to respond to everyone immediately. My word is centered and I am practicing deep breathing with my eyes closed many times during the day visualizing my picture prompt to slow me down and find my center of balance.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Nancy says…
    01/06/2014

    So, so awesome...

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Jane says…
    01/06/2014

    I love how you bare your soul for us all to share - so brave. I'm now in a different stage of parenting - caring for an elderly parent- and I'm finding this just as difficult and allow myself to be distracted by my phone, laptop, crosswords, sewing and knitting (to name just a few) rather than giving him my full attention. My OLW is ACCEPT and I'm trying to accept that I'm not a bad person for allowing these distractions, it's just my way of coping and not loosing sight of me. Parenting is tough on all levels.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. janie says…
    01/06/2014

    Ali, for what it is worth... I have a daughter (15 now) that sounds like Anna. What worked for her was... a "time frame" so instead of telling her she had to "do it now" she was given until a specific time that something needed to be done (some things were non-negotiable). It worked very well for us and ended up being a win-win. I wasn't the bad guy then... the clock was. Just a suggestion from a mama who has been down that road! Happy New Year!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Julie says…
      01/06/2014

      Oh great idea - my miss three is like this - I will try this suggestion as if we tell her to do things we get a battle ! She doesn't seem to be cajoled along like we could with her brother and I already worry that food is going to be an issue - if she doesn't want something there is no way she will even try it ! So ill try the clock thanks ;) julie

  12. Sandra says…
    01/06/2014

    Hi Ali! In the last days of December I was thinking about my word for 2014. The first that came to my mind was "Patience". But then, another one was repeating in my mind on top of patience: "Time". And I stopped. That was so true... Time is my word for 2014. Why? Because I have a two year old baby boy that needs my time. I am so busy at work (8:30 to 5:30)... I have to leave him at day care at 8:00. And I only go pick him up at 6:00. I have a big house that needs constant cleaning. The dinner has to be done... Clothes that never end are to wash and dry and iron. And I don't spend time with him. Because I want to read the news. I want to check my e-mail. I have to check facebook... I need to do my errands and I can't because he is screaming and I don't have the patience to calm him down! This last few weeks I understood why... Don't know how, but I really have to find more time. I have to stop and define priorities

    Reply 3 Replies
    1. Sandra says…
      01/07/2014

      Thanks Christa!! I wish you and your family the best!!

    2. Lisa Barton @ vintage celebrations says…
      01/12/2014

      I have 4 young daughters and my word is today - similato yours as I'm trying to focus more on what's happening now ie really living the moment, looking at my girls when they talk to me, getting into their games, noticing the sunshine & shadows rather than always thinking ahead, rushing into the next thing - I am acutely aware I can't make more time - just wisely use what I to have with them :)

    3. Christa says…
      01/06/2014

      I had also chosen patience as my word mainly for interacting with my three year old son. I also have a 3 month old and like you mentioned work, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and things that I want to do. I realized that I needed to slow down and truly live my days instead of them just flying by. I changed my word to pause. Best of luck on your journey.

  13. Nora says…
    01/06/2014

    My one little word this year is "CHANGE"...it will take a lot of work on my part and I'll admit I'm scared but it is so needed. This post helped to make me think...thank you for your words.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Michelle t. says…
    01/06/2014

    Thank you for sharing this. You are a brave and awesome person. My situation's a little different. I'm a stay at home mom. I've beennlucky and blessed. My twin boys are 14 and my daughter's 9. My challenge is that I'm fairly seriously ill and have been for a few years now. There are big distractions with that. The days I'm stuck in bed or in the bathroom. The guilt for what they've seen is terrible and how I've tried to shield them. But I try and remember that they're caring, empathetic people. And I love that. Far removed though from loving myself or even accepting the situation. Some days are just too hard for that.

    We all do our best with what we are handed. You do too. Thanks again for sharing. Michelle t.

    Reply 6 Replies
    1. sharon says…
      01/06/2014

      I am so sorry Michelle to read of your ordeal. Coping day by day is often so much harder than people realize. I was diagnosed with a neurological disease 18 years ago and have vacillated between anger and acceptance over the years as my health deteriorated. Luckily, two of my children are grown adults with children of their own. Unfortunately, my only son has Down Syndrome and my husband is suffering from Alzheimer's and I am becoming less and less able to meet their needs. I often try to pretend nothing is wrong, especially around my grandchildren. Every now & then I allow a pity party to emerge, usually late at night while in bed. And then another day dawns and we just move on. One day at a time. Heartfelt Blessings to you as you maneuver through your world.

    2. nancy faith says…
      01/16/2014

      Wishing you healthier days!! Everyone has a struggle in their life, whether obvious or not. Some people are dealt a harder hand to deal and I believe your children will see that you are a brave soul in a sometimes unfair world. blessings to you..

    3. Michelle t. says…
      01/06/2014

      Thank you. You are a very kind person. I appreciate that. I've run into amazing kindness in the couple weeks I've been coming here. Thanks Trish. Michelle t.

    4. Trish says…
      01/06/2014

      I am sending you healing thoughts and prayers Michelle. i am so sorry for your challenge of illness

    5. Michelle t. says…
      01/08/2014

      Thank you. You're right. We all have our low points, and then pick ourselves up come morning. I wish you well. Michelle t.

    6. Tonya says…
      01/15/2014

      Praying for you, Michelle.

  15. Mel says…
    01/06/2014

    Great post. Honest and open and so beautifully written.

    From the heart, your heart.

    Thanks for sharing. x

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. orange gearle says…
    01/06/2014

    OMGoodness. You are talking about me. I think I probably better read that book. Ugh.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Julierose says…
    01/06/2014

    Wonderful posting, Ali. And so true...my word for this year is "Listen"--and I mean by that to remove all other distractions and really hear what the other person is saying. Pay attention (as our parents so often said to us!) Sometimes after you have lived so many years with the same person, their words kind of melt away into your over-occupied mind. I want to really "LISTEN". After all, I want someone to listen to me when I speak...and so often you can see that faraway look in their eyes...anyway; that's my take for this year. Thank you for sharing...after 70 yrs I am still learning...hugs, Julierose

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Sue P, says…
    01/06/2014

    Ahhhh, now if Charlotte and Wilbur can find a balance I know you can too to thrive. So proud of you Ali for always exploring and taking the risk to make changes. My word will be Risk as I am not that type of person and it holds me back from really living!! Thanks for the honesty and the "push""!
    p.s. My ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK!!
    (You may want to try the original Boxcar Children next)

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. nancy faith says…
      01/16/2014

      I agree on Boxcar Children. I did that series with both of my boys...

  19. Tina says…
    01/06/2014

    I spend way too much time on my phone since a I got a smartphone a year ago. It is so bad even I notice it! My word this year is "cultivate." I am really excited to find out what that will mean in my life.

    I will be starting an online Bible study called "Intentionally Focused" in a week and a half. It will be 8 weeks long and cover different areas like- marriage, children, friendships, health, etc. I knew I was going to participate in this group study before topic was announced. Sounds like I am supposed to be getting a hint.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Mary Bartolotta says…
      01/06/2014

      Tina, where did you find the online Bible study? I'd love to do something like that. Thank you!

  20. Julia says…
    01/06/2014

    I'm inspired! Even though I don't have kids. I would love to read more about how you really do it, not updating your "onlineworld" on the phone...because I want to have it with me, to take photos and notes about the memory made that day. :) thank you for starting this :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Jan G. says…
    01/06/2014

    Wow. I read about myself in your words. An eye opener to say the least. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Mel says…
    01/06/2014

    Wow- spoke to me LOUDLY- thank you.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Fanny says…
    01/06/2014

    Thanks for your honesty and authenticity Ali. I always admire that on you.
    We read aloud Charlotte's web with my kids this past summer and they (we) totally loved it!
    Go!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Lu says…
    01/06/2014

    Oh, woman, I feel you on being a distracted parent. I have let go of a lot of things that took away from my time of being the kind of parent I want to be for my kids. I also had to come to terms with why I was using online living to satisfy what I was not getting in real life. It took a minute, but I can honestly say the internet does not miss us as much as we think. And, my relationship with my children is better than ever because I made the decision to deal with what was going on inside of me, leaving the internet right where it was and living my real life fully.

    Blessings to you and yours. I know things will improve with your girl the way you want very soon. Don't become discouraged, you can do this.

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. Marge says…
    01/06/2014

    aahhh, speaking to my heart! "Distraction….a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something/someone else" This is my battle EVERYDAY! "Multi-tasking"…we're expected to be so good at this, when in fact, it's a form of distraction! My word this year is FOCUS -- on individuals, on individual task, on goals, etc. It's hard to accomplish anything when you are trying to do everything!!
    Love your post Ali and I thank you for driving home what's been on my heart for months!!
    Blessings dear one!!

    Reply 0 Replies

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