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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. Lisa says…
    01/06/2014

    Bravo.

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

    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.

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

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

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Hands Free Mama says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Stephanie Herbert says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Jackie Bremer says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. becky h says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. cinback says…
    01/06/2014

    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...

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

    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!

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. annie samuels says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

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

    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!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Patti L says…
    01/06/2014

    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

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Andrea says…
    01/06/2014

    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!

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Tiffany M. says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Liz says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Jennifer says…
    01/06/2014

    Ali,
    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.

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

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. kelly libby says…
    01/06/2014

    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!

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Brianna says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Kathy P. says…
    01/06/2014

    Ali,

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Hannah L says…
    01/06/2014

    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.

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

    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.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Jenny B. says…
    01/06/2014

    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!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Debbie S. says…
    01/06/2014

    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!

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

    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.

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