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.


  • 101.
    Kristina said…

    Beautiful post Ali. I love Hands Free Mama. So much of what you said has been my life and over the last year I made a conscious effort to be more connected. I know my children loved it. I did too. Sometimes though I couldn’t slow down because of returning to work full time but they had a new understanding that somethings have to get done. It worked and I see the positive outcomes from it. BUT it exhausted me. By the end of last year I was spent. I was happy but I was spent. I had given so much to everything else trying to connect I felt silently exhausted mentally and physically. I know a balance needs to happen now to still connect but to give my self something back. I also need to learn not to feel guilty about giving back to me either. I know you’ll THRIVE Ali because what matters most always presents itself and you’ll be there Thank you for your raw honesty. I loved reading it cause it still resonated so much in me.

  • 102.
    MK Hennigan said…

    Thank you for your honesty Ali, I believe this is why you resinate with me and so many other woman of all ages. I too am a Type A personality, trying to juggle my family of two daughters and a spouse and work for a Fortune 5 company. I am always seeking a balance that just never seems to be exist. I am participating in One Little Word and have chosen the word Commit. I want to commit to the activity or person that is in front of me at the moment. I too am distracted by technology and have to remember that that iPhone will not give me value as a person. Those on the other end understand if an email is not resounded too within 8.5 seconds of receiving, their expectation of me is far more reasonable than mine is of myself. Thanks for sharing. Keep being the awesome Mom, friend, partner, sister, daughter that you are. Have a great week. Believe in yourself.

  • 103.
    Karen F said…

    Thank you for being so real. I have been reflecting on this as well over the last while… again I have been finding excuses / reasons why this is happening. I need to find the strength and make many decisions to start, just start.
    I need to snap out of this way and intentionally live, but it is hard.

  • 104.
    Deb said…

    Oh, wow! You could be talking about me and that makes me feel so sad. I need to stop being so distracted and start being present before it is too late! Thanks for sharing

  • 105.
    Petra said…

    Thank you so much for sharing this Ali. I too am guilty of this and it is s constant battle. One of the strategies I want to put into place is to switch the phone off from when I get home from work till the kids go to bed. I’m ashamed to admit that even this is a battle. Reading your article reminded me that I must do it. So, tonight it begins. Thank you Ali. Always an inspiration. x

  • 106.
    Kirsten said…

    Thank you for your honest words. I cannot wait to download this book as soon as it is released!!! I struggle with this very issue and it is at the top of my list of things to work on this year as I say “Yes” to the things I want more of in my life. Connected time with my girls and my man sits right up there at the top. Here’s to diving in and offering ourselves grace when we slip up.

  • 107.
    Nancy Gill said…

    Your open and loving spirit shines through this post. You
    a great story to share with your kids:)

  • 108.
    Carrie K said…

    Great post Ali! My favorite part: You chose Charlotte’s web to read first :) Such a cozy picture in my head of your kids enjoying time with you and one of the best books ever :) you’re a good mama…

  • 109.
    Brenda said…

    I have always loved to read your post but this one especially. I love how honest you are about your life and include the positive and the negative.

  • 110.
    Queen Mary said…

    Ali, can I just say, FINALLY!! Seeing parents on their phones while walking with their kids makes me SO SAD! Sometimes walking down the streets in DC I see parents walking so far ahead of their kids I seriously consider stopping the kids and talking to them and waiting to see how long it takes the parents to notice. YOU WILL NOT REGRET THIS! Nobody puts on their tombstone, “I wish I spent more time on the phone/computer/ipad.”

  • 111.
    Kim Borcoman said…

    Oh, Ali…just when I thought I couldn’t love you more?! What a great post.

  • 112.
    Lisa A. A. said…

    Thank you for your honesty. You have a LOT of company, myself included. I really know I need to be present, and I could cry every time I think about how fast my kids are growing up. I started reading “The Hobbit” with my kids last week. It helps to have something planned so we don’t default to screens. Thanks again.

  • 113.
    Kathy said…

    You know Ali you are not alone in your habits or your quest. I am guilty of this as well and I know what I should be doing but sometimes I just don’t want to change. This has been on my mind a lot over the past couple of weeks and I know that when I devote time and energy into my kids (rather than just being in the same house as the kids) they respond better, they behave better, they are happy, I’m happier and life is better. It’s just a matter of having to “snap out of the bad habits” that we have let slip. Being a full time single parent for the past 6+ years I get tired and there is never any down time for me like when there are two parents in the house so sometimes it’s hard to be all things to everyone every minute of the day. At the moment we are 5 weeks into 8 weeks of school holidays and with finishing school and the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas things are hectic and busy so I never catch my breath so I find in the beginning of January I’m exhausted, snappy and tired of the house being a mess when I really want to feel refreshed and happier at the start of the new year. I do know with particularly with my eldest son (10) that when I spend more time one on one things immediately improve so it’s a must for this family. Thankfully I do not have facebook and have no desire for facebook but I do read my blogs and Instagram but outside of that the computer should be turned off. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

  • 114.
    Karen Thomas said…

    Great post Ali. I had to laugh at the irony of reading it in bed this morning, my twins lying next to me playing their DS’s. I think as parents we are all distracted; distracted with life. I try to be present with my boys when they are in my presence, sometimes I’m more successful with this than others. My word for the year is Perspective, and the reality is that we are all doing the best we can at that given moment. Yes we can try and improve each moment, but beating ourselves up about it doesn’t help us become less distracted and more present, it merely makes us resentful.

    I resonate with you on the iPhone, it’s become an appendage that I need to let go of. I read somewhere that the online world is making us all a bit attention deficient, because we get so much information that our brains simply cannot process it. Add to this the FOMO (Fear of missing out) component and it can be hard to be offline for any length of time.

    We are having a lazy summer school holiday day today, one son is alternating between playing with his lego, riding his bike and playing his DS, the other comes in and out of the house after riding his bike, playing cricket, basketball or football, role-playing with his bat cave and action figures and watching a dvd. I worry that we are not ‘doing’ something everyday of our school holidays, that they are not being entertained, but my husband reminded me today that they are creating their own play and thankfully not all of that play involves a screen.

    Thanks for making me think and for sharing yourself with us.

  • 115.
    Kirstie MacGowan said…

    Good on you, Ali. I think that unplugging is such a conscious action and it’s so hard to do. It’s awesome that you are aware of it now and make the changes that you need. Good luck!

  • 116.
    Becky M said…

    Well said…….you are so spot on! One day, Ali, you will look back and realize what an awesome Person you are. You so inspire all of us!

  • 117.
    Krista said…

    Love this. And, I love the idea of nourishing relationships with kids – I need more of that.

    We’ve been focusing on non-electronic family time. So far, we are really liking for silly family time (my kids are 11 & 7) and for fun dinner time conversations.

  • 118.
    Pilbara Pink said…

    Distraction, my friend :( When our kids were small I was (foolishly) proud they didn’t get parked in front of the TV (they were born 1983 and 86). No, they were parked in front of Disney movie DVDs and Sesame Street. No ads for my girls – but let’s be honest that just made my life easier! I feel so sad when I hear/read of mothers stressing because they work long hours, their huge house takes so much caring for and they need their expensive cars and holidays to recharge and get so quickly from one place to another. Been there, done that. Did nothing for me or the children. I so wish we had done then what we have for our retirement – sat down and talked about what REALLY matters TO US, no one else. A massive house, nope. A garden to potter about it, absolutely. Fancy cars, nope. Time to sit and read, you better believe it. Consequently we are purposely designing a home and life that supports our true desires, not a lifestyle devoted to maintaining material things that may impress others or fit their idea of acceptable but do not fulfill us. Please do not think I am criticising those who must work for their families basic needs. I did that too and know the difficulty in balancing all those demands and needs. Bless you all. But then, for me, the needs grew larger and were influenced by other people and ideals and “keeping up”. Constant reflection on wants vs needs and genuine desire is essential for me to ensure my life is serving me and I am not a servant to endless consumption. Some may have heard of the slow food movement – I advocate the slow life movement!

  • 119.
    Heidi A said…

    Just wanted to say that in my 23 years of parenting, reading chapter books aloud has been one of the very best investments of time I have ever made with my kids. You will be surprised how those characters become part of your personal family narrative. Enjoy the books Ali, that was an excellent move!

  • 120.
    Andrea Williams said…

    Ali, I can’t believe I read what I just did…it was as though you took the words right out of my mouth. right before I read this post I had gotten distracted by my daughter while I was trying to read my emails..and I thought to myself, “what are you doing? She needs you. put your phone down and read that later.”. I too am a “don’t procrastinate, do it NOW…”! but sometimes our kids need us now and everything else must wait. Reading at night to my kids has changed since they both are proficient readers…but I missed OUR time reading. we brought it back in December, and it has brought us much closer together. And Dance wii!! I love it when my 9 yo son says, “mom, verse me in wii, I bet I dance better than you!”. I love it. I am committing to leaving my phone on the charger from after school till they are in bed so my kids have all of me. Ali, a perfectly timed post for me, my tears have dried and I have clarity now. Thanks. I think it will help me with my OLW, SOAR!

  • 121.
    Melanie said…

    When we started chapter books last year, Charlotte’s Web was our first book and probably still my favorite. We just started James and The Giant Peach last night.

    And I’m thinking I could’ve written this post verbatim…

  • 122.
    Jenni Hufford said…

    i SO appreciate your incredibly honest and raw feelings you shared here. so much of it i can relate to!!! We are in the middle of a snow storm and lost power and i can’t tell you how detached i felt feeling like my phone was going to loose power— seriously! aren’t there more important things to take care of?

    i think you are awesome and look up to you in so many ways! thanks for always sharing your heart!

  • 123.
    Judi church said…

    Wow, Ali, you are just as much an inspiration to me in real life as you are in the scrap booking world. I think we can all relate to your “true confessions” in one way or another. I blame some of my issues on procrastination, but you are right about getting distracted. I wish you success in your venture…being type A will actually help you!!!

  • 124.
    kim smart said…

    thank you for your honesty ali! a lot of what you wrote here rings true with me. i know i need to do something about it! thank you for mentioning the book, it sounds like something i could really use right now!!

  • 125.
    Silvia said…

    Hi Ali … i tried to skim through all the comments in case someone else mentioned this. Sorry if i’m repeating but a few weeks ago i went to a talk by the author of a new book called ‘The Big Disconnect’ (link included here). She was an amazing speaker – and it was all about how we parent our children and live our lives as family in the digital age. I know this isn’t the only thing you’re referring to in this lovely post of yours today but i wanted to pass the title on. I can relate to this as well, also follow Hands Free Mama’s blog and started reading Harry Potter to my 9 yr old a few months ago for the same reasons.

  • 126.
    Katie said…

    This is really hard. One thing I think we can all do, even though we are struggling to implement the ideals ourselves, is support each other in the culture out there about what is expected.

    Today at work a woman who also works part-time mom asked me in a meeting (aka called me out) about whether “you check email at home or, when you’re home, you’re home.” Among the commenters here I would say I try…and that means I try to just be home. But that is not what she meant was the professional, even the respectable answer. (She got my real answer, stumbling though it was :)

    I can definitely feel (negative) shift in how I am perceived at work since letting go of my workaholic habits, and that self-worth thing runs deep! And the women are way tougher on it than the men! I hope we can all speak up for each other to make it easier to live this way in the work we need to do.

    Thank you for telling your story!

    • ….
      Pilbara Pink said…

      Contratulations for being home when you are home. We need more people to stand up and say when I am here I am working but when I am at home I am doing that, far more important, job. When I talk to older people, and at 51 reflect on my life so far, at NO point do I ever wish I had spent more time on work issues! I DO regret time spent away from my husband and children though. I know work is essential for many families and keeping your job is important. However, I have often found when one person has the courage to speak up in a group and say something that goes against the perceived belief many others will follow and speak up too. It takes one brave soul to encourage all the others less confident. And why is it that women as so hard on each other? I work with mostly men (two full-time and one part-time women in a 25+ team) and the men as no way as hard on themselves or each other than women can be. Curious….

  • 127.
    Laura A in OR said…

    Like so many others Ali, this post struck me. I too, am a distracted parent. Not only by my electronics, but my my work, my to do list, and all the million things I plan or organize and feel that I need to accomplish. I was thinking about your post and my one little word came to me:”present.”
    I want to be present in the moments of my life. Mono- tasking. Not multi tasking.
    Thanks, Ali

    • ….
      Anna L said…

      Mono-tasking! What a great word. I will borrow it (for keeps). Thanks.

  • 128.
    alexandra d. said…

    For your children to thrive, you need to live a less distracted life.

  • 129.
    {leah} said…

    I totally get this. One of my personal goals this year is to unplug more. While my business goals include utilizing better marketing strategies and developing my blog voice. So hard to balance.

  • 130.
    Christy said…

    Some of the best and most memorable times come from reading out loud. It is great for children to read out loud but they learn even more when we read to them. They hear how it should sound, the rhythm, pronunciation, and so much more. Enjoy. Those times will be gone before you know it. My oldest 3 children are married or preparing for marriage, all within 13 months. Again, enjoy. Don’t blink. Don’t turn. Just soak it up.

  • 131.
    Autumn said…

    Damn, Ali. That was powerful stuff. Really, girl. I’ve been feeling the same way — distracted by technology, the need to complete my own projects, checking thing off on my list, etc. And sometimes, when I’m with my boy, I think of all the stuff I should be doing. What the heck? I don’t want to be that parent either. I’ve read some of Rachel’s posts and it makes me re-evaluate my relationship with my son, my husband and people in general. I’m with you, sista. Going hands free.

    I decided to go with thrive too. I want to thrive emotionally (really need to keep my emotions and patience levels in check), relationally (if that makes sense — work on my relationships with folks who matter), physically (so I can do all the active stuff with my boy), financially (finances can strain a relationship so I’m working on simplifying and building up savings), and mentally (reading more books (like Hands Free Mama – ha!) rather than Facebook, etc).

    Here’s to a year of less distractions. Here’s to a year of building relationships that matter. Here’s to living Hands Free.

  • 132.
    Aaron said…

    Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

    If we chiseled away your iPhone, I suspect we’d set free The Thinker (but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an angel).

  • 133.
    Sally Stevenson said…

    You are truly an amazing example for us all.
    Thank you.

  • 134.
    Mary-Anne Olivier said…

    Just remember that we do the best we can with what we have. I am a mom of 1 (4 years old). Married to an amazing man. BUT I WORK FULL TIME! Talk about my guilty conscious everyday when I fetch him from day care and 2 hours later it is bed time…. Ladies you are the best mom to your children no matter what… (Yes some people are in fact really bad parents – drugs alcohol related etc etc…). yesterday I was witnessed someone who would have given their all to keep their child just one more day… I think you all have done a pretty amazing job… and Ali thank you for writing this…

  • 135.
    Rebecca N said…

    This is too coincidental! I just heard about this book several days ago and have been reflecting lately that I too am way too distracted and it’s effecting my relationships with my two younger children. You’re not alone Ali!

  • 136.
    Susanne said…

    Thank you for this post! Everything you wrote about your parenting and Anna so much is true for me and my little girl Emilia too.
    Love to hear more of your journey as I always want to focus more on my children, but I still get distracted far too often.

  • 137.
    Anna L said…

    Wow…! This could have been me described here. I’m not sure I could have put it as well, though.
    I’m not only distracted from my two girls, I’m also distracted from myself. Need to work on better habits… And be even more aware that meditation is not taking time from other things, it is bringing attention into my life.

  • 138.
    dawn said…

    Thank you so much for sharing this Ali, for trusting us and inspiring us. My heart goes out to you, I’ve been there and it’s not fun, girls have so much drama and are stubborn. Be kind to yourself and you’ve made this firs step, way to go! Sending you prayers, hugs and patience and lots of smiles to help you along!

  • 139.
    MonicaB said…

    It’s strange when I read one of your post and I think you are talking about me. My youngest and I are battling it out more often than no t too. It’s interesting to think about being distracted because that’s how I feel most of the time. Thanks for being brave enough to talk about it and work through it with all of us.

    Great choice for a read out loud book. I read this last year to my boys and we really enjoyed the time together.

  • 140.
    Jenny Doh said…

    This post, among other posts and other ways in which you maneuver through this creative universe, Ali, are inspirational to me. Thank you for sharing vulnerably and honestly. You’re a cool cat. A class act.

  • 141.
    amy t schubert said…

    Thank you for your honesty

    being distracted is a constant struggle. I feel like focused attention is a muscle that has to be constantly ‘kept in shape’ or you lose it.
    (we’re reading the focus manifesto for my book club this month:

    I did something similar last year, btw – blogging roughly every Sunday about some small BRAVE thing I did to keep me accountable AND to help celebrate the little things. I think you’ll find this new blogging series helpful.

  • 142.
    Kate Burroughs said…

    Technology will take over your life if you let it. It is an addiction and needs to be treated as such. I am really sad about how people seem to be losing the ability to be present with the people they are with-all looking at their smart phones instead of connecting with each other. Kind of hard to build community when you are NOT present. Why would someone text a message to someone in the same room with them (I actually have seen this happen with teens)?!? Put your cell phone somewhere that is “off limits” for x amount of time. Maybe start off for short periods and extend it. I only check my email at most 2x a day, often only once. It can be done, one day at a time. Claw back to living your life as it is actually happening. You can’t give your loved ones a better gift than being present with them.

  • 143.
    Sarah said…

    Thank You!

  • 144.
    TracyB said…

    I was just thinking about the same thing, and how to make the change to be more fully in the moment. As a SAHM, I feel I need space sometimes, and web-surfing or texting feels like my break. However, it needs to be limited. Seriously limited for a healthy relationship with my daughter. Happily, she is joyful, and well-adjusted. Want to keep her that way!

  • 145.
    Tere said…

    Hi Ali. I replied earlier, but wanted to tell you I thought of you every time I was tempted to pick up my iPhone last night. While cooking dinner, during homework….I didn’t realize how much I did it, until I consciously made myself aware when I was doing it. (Kind of like tracking everything you put in your mouth, my shock and horror of my little snack here and there.) And then I saw this, I though I’d share here…

    Have an amazing day! xoxo

  • 146.
    Stephanie said…

    Add me to the list of people who were touched by your post. I found a quote, Just last week, that I wrote on my kitchen chalkboard…


  • 147.
    Amberca said…

    So hit home with me, Ali! I often tell myself “what’s so darn important that it can’t wait until tomorrow when they are at school?”They grow up so darn fast and I won’t regret not answering an email or checking instagram later in life, but I will regret not playing a board game or watching a movie with them….they are so much more important to me!

  • 148.
    Abigail Shelton said…

    Hi! Thank you. I am the mom of five children, I work full time and find that I hide in my distractions. They make me feel like I’m seeing to myself, like I’m taking care of myself somehow- when in reality I’m really keeping myself separate from my family. I was challenged by a friend this past fall to really engage with my children, that when I did they I might not feel like fleeing all the time. At times it works and is amazing, though I must admit I still feel like running away to … anywhere somedays. :-) And so we read books at the dinner table before we put away our dishes, we try a new park or outdoor area out about once a week and I practice taking deep breaths! Because I want to be the mom that stays with her children, that enjoys them and sees them as people. Thank you for your insights and encouragement!!!

  • 149.
    Amanda Y said…

    This book is on pre-order for me, so hopefully it’s being sent to my house by now. I also have the exact same issues – obsession with being touch at all times, to the expense of my children, of taking care of our house, even of making dinner at times. My daughter and I battle daily about packing her backpack for the next day, taking her nightly shower, having good manners at the dinner table, etc., but that whole time, I have got my iPhone (or sometimes my iPad) in my hand. Something’s gotta change. Good luck with Thrive! I hope you make some progress this year!

  • 150.
    Stephanie George said…

    THANK YOU ALI. I LOVED this post. I always love when you let us into your world. Thank you for sharing. NOW, stop reading my comment and go hug your kids! ;)

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