Two years ago, I was in what I considered to be the best years of my life — a solid marriage to my college love and two beautiful, content young daughters. From an outside perspective, I effortlessly juggled family responsibilities with volunteer activities for my church, community, and my daughters’ schools. I was constantly asked, “How do you do it all?”
That question was definitely a compliment in today’s productivity-equals-success, pressure-filled world. Yet, something began to gnaw at me. I was busier and more electronically “connected” than I had ever been, but was I happy? Wasn’t I supposed to be enjoying this time with my children?
I was constantly running from activity to activity. I often found myself saying to my children, “Not now, Mom is busy.” My phone was either buzzing, ringing, or glued to my ear. I felt like I was addicted to checking my email and texts to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I convinced myself that checking email at stoplights wasn’t a dangerous practice.
I vividly remember one particular night at the height of my distracted life. I had just come home from a community event that I had spent months and hundreds of volunteer hours planning and executing. I should have been celebrating its success, but instead I walked straight into the house and collapsed in my bed. Even though I knew my kids were about to be tucked into bed by my husband, I couldn’t muster the strength to join them.
And that is the moment the “Hands Free” seed was planted.
A short time later, I admitted the honest answer to the question: “How do you do it all?”
I was able to “do it all” because I missed out on life — the playing, connecting, memory-making parts of life. With clarity, I saw the damage that a massive to-do list, a constantly buzzing phone, and an overscheduled calendar were having on my relationships, my health, and my life.
And so, I took my first small step to let go of the daily distraction that had robbed me of so many moments that actually mattered.
I was in the middle of making lunches, and my younger daughter was watching a movie on the sofa. My laptop was open, the phone was ringing, and I was thinking about all the things I needed to do that day. But there she was — my precious daughter, sitting on the sofa sucking her thumb.
I knew I had to stop what I was doing to go cuddle with her. I knew there was nothing more important than being with her at that moment. I actually left the bread on the counter, the peanut butter jar open, and sat down with her on the couch. After holding her peacefully for a few minutes, she unexpectedly picked up my hand and kissed the inside of my palm.
As tears dripped, I knew that gesture was my confirmation to be “hands free.” I realized with clarity that this — stopping to grasp the moments that matter — was living.
Once I realized there was no reason I needed to be distracted every minute of the day, I began creating designated times to be present, fully present, with the people I love.
It started with little things like:
- Putting down my phone in the glove compartment or inside my purse when I drove so I could actually have a conversation with my kids.
- Turning notifications on my phone to off so while I was with the people I love, I wasn’t beckoned to “check” whenever it dinged.
- Placing my to-do list at the bottom of a drawer and telling myself it is OK if I don’t get to any of that until tomorrow — right now I chose to be present with my family.
- Turning my computer off until the kids went to bed so I would not be tempted to check email or Facebook and then get sucked in for an hour — instead I began keeping a small notebook to jot down things that needed to be accomplished online later, including appointments added to my phone.
I immediately discovered that with each small effort to let go of daily distractions, a profoundly transforming reaction occurred. I was able to see how external and internal distractions sabotage my happiness and prevent meaningful connections to the people I love. The addictive grip that distraction had on my life began to loosen with each step in my journey. That is when I realized the power of living “hands free.”
I felt compelled to share my discovery with as many people as possible. I knew that the best way to get this message into the hands of those who would benefit the most was through a blog. So three months into my journey to grasp what matters, I published my first post on my blog, “Hands Free Mama.” The response from the first day on the web was overwhelming, and “The Hands Free Revolution” community has since exploded.
Through thousands of personal messages, readers have expressed the same life-changing results I have experienced on my “hands free” journey. By making living hands-free the practice of my life, I have gained uncountable “moments that matter” — moments that would have been missed had I continued living distracted.
And in these precious moments, I have gained the ability to know my children and my spouse. I know every good and precious thing about each of them because we spend time together talking and interacting.
I have also come to know and accept myself.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and 10 years’ experience working with parents and children. Rachel lives in Alabama with her husband and two children who inspire her daily. You can follow her on Facebook or through the Hands Free Mama blog.