I bought a copy of Hands Free Mama a while ago, and finished the book within days.
Author Rachel Macy Stafford is a gifted writer (and a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education), with the amazing ability to put deep emotions into words, as well as relate her own story in an intensely personal and inspiring way. Before purchasing her book, I first encountered her blog posts as shared by friends on Facebook, and felt drawn to her honest, no-nonsense, yet lyrically poetic style of writing about mothering her two daughters.
Her book itself has one main thought, which is extremely relevant to our time, and especially in Singapore society. That thought is to be a Mama whose hands are free.
Free from constantly grasping a mobile phone and swiping on it. Free from making our kids take photos and uploading them whilst what they really want is to have a conversation with us. Free instead to hold their little hands, and look full into their little faces, and make a meaningful, long, connection.
[The irony of being inspired to be free of gadgets via Facebook blog posts is not lost on me, but I suppose just like a mobile phone, social media can be a force for good if we use it responsibly and with significant self-control. I’m still a work-in-progress myself, but I must say her contributions make Facebook a much more positive and inspiring platform to me.]
Here are some excerpts from her book:
Every day, that duo of devices (laptop and phone) captured my heart, my focus and my energy.
Someday, I told myself, there will be a healthy amount of white space in my monthly planner. Someday, my daily agenda will be determined by my heart’s desire, not by tweets, beeps, and dings. Someday, I’ll say no to heading up bake sales and book fairs and the quest for spotless counters…… Someday, I’ll say yes to puddle jumping in the rain, disheveled ponytails and extra bedtime stories.
Each time I told my children, “Not now, Mum’s busy,” my chance for a meaningful, joy-filled life edged further away.
A breakthrough moment propelled me into my Hands Free journey. I looked to God for help… With a renewed spirit, I began implementing simple strategies that enabled me to let go of my daily distractions and grasp moments of loving connection.
I created the Hands Free Revolution Facebook page, … which became an entire movement for mindful technology use and grasping the moments that matter.
What I appreciated about this book was also that it contains a “Hands Free Intention” section after each chapter, which asks questions which encourage deep reflection, which I believe is instrumental, to bring about behaviour change.
I want to make memories, not to-do lists.
I want to feel the squeeze of my child’s arms, not the pressure of overcommitment.
I want to get lost in conversation with the people I love, not consumed by a sea of unimportant emails.
I want to be overwhelmed by sunsets that give me hope, not by overloaded agendas that steal my joy.
I want the noise of my life to be a mixture of laughter and gratitude, not the intrusive buzz of cell phones and text messages.
I’m letting go of distraction, disconnection and perfection; to live a life that simply, so very simply, consists of what really matters.
Although guilt might hit you like a ton of bricks, Rachel writes in a way that is never judgmental. Rather, the book reads a bit like a confessional, and sinner to sinner, we grasp together for a way out of the darkness of a distracted life.
There are immensely practical tips in the book too, including:
- Removing phone apps that most capture your time and attention (and diverting it towards reading frivolous information on the Internet)
- Turning off all notifications on your phone (that means Email, Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and Whatsapp, if necessary)
- Wear a watch so you don’t have to look at your phone for the time
- Leave the phone in a drawer when you get home and don’t take it out until you leave the home the next day.
One tip of going Hands Free was especially helpful – which was to declare your new commitment to those who matter most to you. That means telling your children, telling your spouse, so that they can keep you accountable. Rachel relates how it seemed daunting to ‘go public’ to them at first, but how she received such encouraging feedback from her family, in the end. After I told my kids I wanted to talk to them more instead of looking at my phone, I get good reminders from them these days!
Apart from restoring her relationship with her children, Rachel writes about how it protected her marriage from the damage of distraction too.
Zoning out in front of a screen after the children go to bed is a strong temptation. The urge to pull out the phone during waiting situations, even when I’m with my spouse, is intense.
It wasn’t until I honestly assessed how often I reached for my phone in the presence of my spouse that my behaviour changed.
…I started designation small increments of time to be distraction-free with my spouse. Engaging in regular, purposeful connection has made a significant impact on our relationship. We are closer than we’ve been in fifteen years of marriage. We go for entire weekends without looking at our phones.
Try to avoid justifying your behaviour with excuses like “he constantly checks his devices, so I might as well check mine”. Remember: Someone has to start a new way of passing the time whilst waiting. Someone has to start the conversation.
Let it be you. Because every time you engage in a conversation with the person you love, you give your relationship a fighting chance.
There are so many gems from the book, and each page of writing cuts straight to one’s heart, especially for one as attached to gadgets as myself. I spend most of my working day facing a screen, and the fact that I almost exceed my 2GB data allocation every month shows that I am electronically connected pretty often too, and that’s not even counting connection via wifi at home.
Although the theme of being Hands Free recurs through the chapters, the final few are especially inspiring as they describe how her family began to care for others in their community, as well as gift shoeboxes of supplies to those in need further afield.
I suppose the message is clear – we need not go all Luddite and treat the phone, or social media platforms like the devil incarnate. However, it is time to recognise that as adults, we need training in self-control as much as we think our children do. We may be older, but many times, we are none the wiser.
Let’s go forth, and be significantly more conscious about the time we spend facing a screen. May reading this article, and reading her book, be time well-invested in triggering reflection that will propel us towards being more intentional about how we relate to those who matter the most to us.
Have you read this book? What were some of your reflections? Would love to hear from you too!
p.s. I’d strongly recommend reading Hands Free Mama in its entirety, and am happy to loan it to anyone whom I’ll be meeting.
(Note: Non-sponsored, non-affiliated post. :))