Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

January 6, 2014

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.


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.


  • 51.
    Lisa said…


  • 52.
    Linda said…

    Love this post! In early November… I did something really radical…I quit posting on instagram and I made the conscious decision to limit the number of photos I take. I found myself at concerts, weddings, family gatherings, spending so much energy snapping “spontaneous” photos that I was missing the moment. Life got significantly better when I replaced my iphone with a Nokia… my apps were all gone…and ya know I didn’t miss them!

    I like your guy… I like that he’s willing to say the hardest thing anyone can ever say to a parent… “I think your child was mean to you.” THAT took courage! What I know now that I wish I’d know when my 26 year old was 4 is… when I said, he’s behaving poorly because he’s exhausted… I was in fact creating a pattern of behavior and the excuse for the same that would be a lot harder to break at 10 than it would have been at 4. Our nine year old twins are a lot easier to live with because of those tough early interventions.

  • 53.
    Kelley said…

    Good for you. Thanks for sharing, and reminding us to put our kids first.

  • 54.
    Hands Free Mama said…

    Thank you for stepping into the light of realness with me, Ali. It is so empowering to share this journey with others. Thank you for being real, courageous, honest, & open. By sharing your first steps with others, you have helped someone else take her/his first step. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and your willingness to walk beside me. We will stumble, but that’s okay. We are trying. We are trying. And there are some very precious people in our lives who are noticing.

  • 55.

    Ali, thank you so much for your candor! I had the self revelation last night that I too have become a distracted parent. I have called it multi-tasking but the truth is my kids are taking a backseat to too many things that are not nearly as important as they are. Thank you for sharing. Knowing you are dealing with a similar situation makes me feel less alone in my own journey.

  • 56.
    Jackie Bremer said…

    Thanks for being honest. That’s why I chose the word GRACE after Gratitude last year – I learned so much and realized if were truly grateful I had a lot to learn – hens I need to give grace to others AND myself.

  • 57.
    becky h said…

    Ali, I had this same discussion with myself last year but for a different reason. I would come home from work tired and my kids 23,18 and 12 would be on the television downstairs so I would eat and the go up to our bedroom and watch tv. This went on for months and one day I had the realization that I didn’t want my children to talk about how I was always up in my room and they were left alone. I made the effort to be present for them and now we sit together and great family discussions have come up that I would not have been apart of if I hadn’t decided to reengage with my family.

  • 58.
    cinback said…

    Such a good move to read chapter books/novels aloud with your kids. Being a teacher, I love to read aloud and implemented this practice in my home as well. I have 2 girls and they would crawl up in my bed with me and I would read to them. After we developed this practice, they craved it. They actually begged me to read to them.

    Reading to them gave me the opportunity to not only connect with my girls, but to mentor them through the issues, life lessons and themes of the various books that we read together. It gave me the opportunity to make a point about the character of the character in the book without it being directly about them. While reading, we would discuss things that were happening in the story and by getting their feedback I could see where their thinking / beliefs / judgements / misconceptions were and guide them from there.

    And there were plenty of times where it was just about reading – no big deep life lesson. In those moments, we enjoyed the development of language and curiosity and imagination. And we banked away many shared experiences that we drew upon for years and years later.

    My girls are both post high school and will still mention excerpts from books that we read together. And if it weren’t for their busy work and university schedules I am positive that they would still crawl up in my bed and let me read to them…

  • 59.
    Katie said…

    This is beautiful. All of it. The openness, the acknowledging, the blended parenting. Such an inspiration to me for the season I am in. I have been making a conscious effort to make eye contact with my children and the people closest to me so that they know I that I am really listening and genuinely care about what they have to say. I too have a constant running of things in my head so I am easily distracted. Plus my son is a bit of a story teller and could seriously talk for hours ;) But I’m trying to remember that one day he might tire of talking with me (especially if I don’t pay attention when he does) and I will be the lonely one. I will be looking into that book and blog by your friend. Thank you so much for sharing her and you with us!

  • 60.
    annie samuels said…

    You continue to be an inspiration, Ali.Thank you for this post.
    Sometimes, I am afraid of what the future holds as we all depend so much upon our electronic gadgets (guilty).I think, as adults who knew life before electronics, it’s easier to see this and want to make changes just as you have. I worry more about kids and teens who’ve been “raised” on electronics and don’t know any better.

  • 61.
    Suzy said…

    I can so relate to your insights about battling with your daughter. I’ve felt the same way & recently came to the same realization. Nearly every single time I lost my temper or was impatient, it’s because I was distracted. I was trying to do my thing and not giving her the attention she desperately needed. I’ve found that if I can give her 15 dedicated minutes of truly playing and interacting, she’ll give me a good chunk of time to tackle those dishes or answer those emails. Thanks for sharing!

  • 62.
    Patti L said…

    Yes. It’s hard. Its much easier to say this is what we should be doing versus actually doing it. I think this is a concept that needs to be fully mandated thru society. I am almost to the point of sickness at seeing children/teenagers/young adults so glued to the screen and the social media attached to it. I feel bad that young ppl validate themselves with numbers of tweets and likes. I know its always something, but it just seems so unhealthy.
    good luck in your journey

  • 63.
    Andrea said…

    I love when others love us so much they bring up things they know may hurt us, to make us aware. Over NYE my brother & girlfriend came into town to celebrate. I got them passes to celebrate at a special party. When they were getting ready to go out my 5 year old asked me why I wasn’t going with them. I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, I didn’t want to. He asked again and said but mom, you need to go out and have fun, you need to go out and not stay at home with me all the time! It really made me look at my single-mother lifestyle and know it’s ok to enjoy myself without the kids sometimes! Thanks for this post. I love that you expose yourself to all of us and let me know….it’s not just me!

  • 64.
    Tiffany M. said…

    Distraction is one of the reasons I chose PRESENT to be my word this year. I almost chose HANDS-FREE but wanted to be more broad and incorporate a few other goals to my year. I love the hands free mama blog and find it very inspiring! Thanks for sharing your similar struggle with this.

  • 65.
    Liz said…

    Totally jealous you got advanced copy… Can’t wait to order my copy today! Follow her blog and it’s very challenging dynamic in a culture centered around technology to find & keep boundaries. The way we connect is different than when we were kids. But at the root of all connections is being present… Maybe just maybe when we are present more in facd to face, then we will be more present when online too? Rather than always thinking of the next thing or some other “I should be..” statement.

  • 66.
    Jennifer said…

    First of all, you are NOT alone! I, too, am struggling with the distracting BUSYness of life. My OLW last year was participate and now simplify. Both of these words have screamed at me as I began to feel the frustrations of my busy life and trying to realize what steps I need to take to break out of this cycle. I have 3 girls, ages 2, 4, and 6. The hardest realization was that I was giving everyone 100% of me, at work. The most precious people in my life were getting the leftovers. OLW (and you!) are helping me on this journey to become the mom they deserve, not the mom I am able to squeak out at the end of the day. Thank you for this post. It hit home.

  • 67.
    Shannon said…

    This is like a post about my life!! We even started reading Charlotte’s Web over the Winter break! Thank you for putting into words all the same thoughts and feelings I have about trying to unplug.
    My word for 2014 is Progress. A little at a time, a few steps forward and eventually I’ll be a mom I’m proud to be.

  • 68.
    kelly libby said…

    whoa. tear jerker!! I’m totally inspired by your honesty. Talk about being vulnerable, Ali! Vulnerablity. That’s a toughie. How much easier it is to be distracted, right!!

    I’ve been working on living my “word” and was brave enough in sharing my “word” with my sister. She thought this was a wonderful idea and chose her OWN word. It’s great to have a community of women to go on this journey of life together with. Bravo, ALi!

  • 69.
    Brianna said…

    Part of my word (patient) is to be more present and this means leaving the phone in my purse when I’m with other people or doing something I enjoy. I won’t go so far as to leave the phone at home, simply because I’m on my own in a relatively new to me city and that’s not okay, but I don’t need it in my hand 24/7. I’m off to check out this hands-free stuff.

    P.S. Charlotte’s Web is a great book.

  • 70.
    Kathy P. said…


    We could all be a little more hands free. There is something so special about reading a book aloud to a child. Enjoy this special time with them.

  • 71.
    Hannah L said…

    So well and honestly said. Telling the true story is why we all love you. I have similar conversations and interactions with my kids, and I can’t even say my distraction is work related.
    As for the step forward and then step back- don’t forget you can call that a Cha Cha, and who doesn’t need more dancing in their life? Hugs.

  • 72.
    Brenda said…

    Thanks so much for this post. My OWL for this year is ‘connect’ and part of that is to reduce the time I spend reading blogs, but I’m so glad I couldn’t resist the pull of your blog so I took the time to read your post and to read a few entries on Rachel’s Hands Free Mama blog. I’ll definitely be getting a copy of this book myself. I am often very distracted – I’m sure I’ll find some more tips to better connect with the people that matter the most to me.

  • 73.
    Jenny B. said…

    I need to do this too. I’ve found that I get the most frustrated with my kids when they’re “interrupting” something I was doing (usually on my phone or computer). If I’m not occupied by those things, I have the patience and ability to focus on their needs without things escalating into whiny fits. It’s a challenge for sure. I hope you have great success!

  • 74.
    Debbie S. said…

    What an awesome habit, reading to your kids. We do it with our kids, and we really believe in it. It’s really great/fun/real to share book-reading experiences with your kids. (I’m reading The Book Thief with my older one, and Inkheart with my younger.) I hope you enjoy it over time as much as we have. Just getting that in will go a long way to pushing distractions out, I bet! Cheers and Happy New Year, Ali!

  • 75.
    Sara said…

    I don’t have kids yet, but this is something I’m trying to work on in my marriage. I had a big ah-ha this week that I just needed to look at my husband more. Actually see him and make sure he feels like I’m paying attention to him enough, even when I’d rather be distracted. That means putting down the phone or getting off the laptop.

  • 76.

    Love this, Ali. Praying for you during this season and appreciate your vulnerability.

    I wanted to suggest a new series that we have been enjoying – Growly. I think you and your kids will really like them. xo

  • 77.
    Phaedra said…

    A wonderful post on something that hits close to my heart. I’ve already made a commitment to be less distracted myself after following Hands Free Mama (so inspiring!) and I wish you success in making the changes. Baby steps, one at a time! Good Luck!

  • 78.
    Sara Grafton said…

    Thank you for sharing! I have a son around Anna’s age and oh can I relate to the battles. I find myself more distracted again. I took work email off my phone and iPad before the holidays, and I just deleted Facebook from my phone after reading your post. It is a process, but I also want to work on being less distracted.

  • 79.
    Tere said…

    I hear you mama, loud and clear. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • 80.
    pam said…

    love you. you and your constant personal push for positive growth always inspires me to do better, try harder. also, love that “tech guy” sounds like he’s tech balanced ;) . happy thriving ali!

  • 81.
    June said…

    Beautiful and real. Thank you Ali. On a funny note, you know this book is now going to fly out of shelves now. There are already many holds on this in our public library too.

  • 82.
    laura said…

    this sounds like something i could have written. i’m trying, too.

    my word this year is focus. focus on the good, focus on the meaningful. focus on my family and friends and cultivating those relationships so i don’t let them slip through my fingers. focus on what has real, true meaning and not staring at my phone/tv.

  • 83.
    Peggy said…

    So here we all are responding when we should be doing something SO MUCH MORE then this. Reading a book to our children, playing a game, going out for a walk or sledding or ice skating. I am a mom of 3 adult children, just became a grandparent for the first time to twin boys who live WAY TO FAR AWAY and only get to see them once a month if I am lucky. I too, was an at-home-mom without all this technology, a graduate at high school level and married way to young to my best friend and high school sweetheart. This past September married for 35 years! Just from experience, once your children become teenagers, don’t write them off as independent. That is when they will need you the most. By that I mean IN THE MOMENT!! You have to be ready at any time of day to listen to them and be there for them. I was, but when I look back at those days, was I really? I now want to be their friend and that just isn’t happening for me fast enough. They now live in other states and have their own lives. WOW!! Did that time go way to fast and got away from me!!! LIVING IN THE NOW is the only way to stay connected to the ones that you love and that LOVE YOU!!! STAY CONNECETED OUT THERE FOLKS!!! Best to all of us!

  • 84.
    Kerrie said…

    Rachel’s post in December, The Bully Too Close to Home, was so touching and honest and raw. I’m not a parent, but it still resonated with me. Loving ourselves and being the person we want and expect ourselves to be will do wonders for ourselves and our children.

  • 85.
    Kristina said…


    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now – and also signed up for your OLW class. Up until a few months ago, I was a single mom (divorced) of a 6 year old – named Anna. She and I have been struggling lately. After reading your post about the blogs you read, I discovered the Hands Free Mama blog. Between it, and some discussion with friends, I’ve decided to focus on being much more focused on my daughter and the other people in my life (including myself) and to distract myself less with other “stuff” (my word is Present).

    I’m sure it’s worth it, but boy is it hard. There is a reason that I distract myself so much, and it’s because there are things there, under the surface, that are painful. I know that dealing with them is a requirement if I want to move forward, but I also suspect things will get pretty rough before they get better. No one said it was easy, though, right? It helps to know we’re not the only ones struggling with this.

  • 86.
    Monnah said…

    One of my friends just recently linked to the blog you’re referring to in this post. Thank you for sharing your reality and your thoughts. I think a lot of mothers listen to you and I know for a fact that there are way too many of us that need to reconnect to a reality that has nothing to do with screens. It’s hard though, especially when you need your computer or phone for work. Good luck with your thriving and your relationships!

  • 87.
    Shannon said…

    Just…lovely. Especially the way you choose to remain open to words from loved ones that can have a sting even though they are so kindly said. It’s hard to be shown ourselves sometimes, isn’t it? And yet you choose to see the gift. May you be blessed by it in the end.

  • 88.
    Beth Holmes said…

    I’m glad there were no smart phones when my 14 year old was little. In fact I didn’t even have a cell phone until she was in first grade, and no smart phone until she was in 6th grade. As a consequence I was hands free without knowing it and got to spend lots of quality time with her. That said, she still needs me at 14 and I understand all to well the call of my iPhone — and now the call of her iPhone (she just got one at the beginning of 8th grade). Great post Ali and best wishes for a hands free year in which you thrive.

  • 89.
    Laurel said…

    Love this! Coincidentally, I just started reading Charlotte’s Web to my two kids a few nights ago. My son is 2 and doesn’t really get it, but my daughter is 5 and loving the story. She always has lots of questions at the end of the chapter. :)

  • 90.
    Ayesha said…

    Thank you.
    Thank you for being so honest.
    Thank you for being real.
    Thank you for taking this path.

  • 91.
    Nicky from Okotoks said…

    Wonderful way to start your change – best book ever

  • 92.
    Michellejeanne said…

    beautiful and loving all the supportive comments.

    I too am easily distracted. Look, I am here on a snow day, and I am trying to enforce certain times when the phones and DS and ipods are in a basket for family time, etc. just as much so it is difficult for ME to “just check” my email when they are setting up a movie, a game, getting the bedtime book as it is for them.

    Although, my excuse is that I read this this morning when they were all still sleeping in and I came back here specifically to post to this, it really isn’t an excuse, is it? You have plenty of people saying what I am saying. But I am here…

    I learned to do a LOT of things WITH my kids – like that sink of dishes. It gave them something to do, they learned to do chores, I wasn’t rushing through, they weren’t waiting or whining… One of my favorite memories of each as a toddler is having someone next to me playing in the bubbles while I washed. It took twice as much time and then I needed to mop up the wet floor, but we had a blast. then we’d dry up and go do something else.

    Now my girls are 8, 13, and 16, and THEY do the dishes. Hey, I drove them around after school, I cooked dinner, I have laundry going and I want to SIT with quiet – those car rides get noisy! But I keep trying to get one of them into the kitchen with me to cook, and I have started helping them with the dishes again. It’s good talking time. Or quiet time. Or look at the goofy squirrels outside time. I can sit after the dishes :) . (and I LOVE the driving around, even though sometimes I literally drive in circles, dropping one at the house while another climbs in for the next activity. They talk about a LOT of stuff in the car, which is one reason the 16 year doesn’t have one yet.).

    We all have our moments, but as long as we keep learning from them… we’re doing ok.

    And Michelle from way up there – I’ve been there, disabled. It might not be what we want for our kids, but I try to remember we aren’t the first, the only. From your post it sounds as if you are doing your best, and your kids will be very compassionate and empathetic people. Focus on the positives. I hope you come through this well and whole so you can enjoy your children and their children.

    • ….
      Michelle t. said…

      Thank you so much. I feel a little less alone. I wish good health for you. Sounds like you”re on the right track. Michelle t.

  • 93.

    This is BY FAR my favorite post of yours. Ever. Thank you for your authenticity and vulnerability. I know it’s scary to reveal your imperfections…but Ali, it makes me love you even more.

    I struggle with this often. I think so so many mamas do.

    Thank you.

  • 94.
    Catharine said…

    Beautiful and timely post. It takes effort to focus in our plugged-in society. Love Hands Free…so timely for all of us. It is part of the reason that my word this year is ‘ease’. I have huge respect for your choice to behave differently. You and your children will be better for it!

    PS we read charlotte’s web as a family this summer-we all love it!

  • 95.
    Carole Hepburn said…

    I totally get what you are saying – love it and your honesty !!

  • 96.
    Alicia said…

    Good post. Love your honesty and poignancy. A lot of us moms need to do the same, and this type of change is part of my intention with my OLW EMBRACE this this year.

  • 97.
    Carmel said…

    Thanks Ali – a great post. I have a very precious 15 year old with whom I have a great relationship – lately though she has been calling me out on the fact that I am “glued” to Facebook or something else on my I-Pad when she is trying to speak to me. I really need to put it down and listen. It was easier when she was younger as I didn’t have a phone; facebook; ipad; Instagram etc.etc. We talked and we read books a lot – these are precious memories to the two of us and the substance from where our relationship flourished…..but I can’t stop now – or ever. Thanks for the push to consciously do something about it.

  • 98.
    Cara S said…

    Well said Ali – that’s why my word is focus this year!!! And what am I doing online right now?!!!!!

  • 99.
    Ana Frazee said…

    Great chapter book choice. Although I don’t have kids at home anymore, I feel I’m distracted, too. I’m going to check into your new ‘read’, find some suggestions that work for me. Good luck with yoours.

  • 100.
    Cal said…

    A wonderful post Ali. Thank you for sharing.

Post a comment