a kiss

Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak to various groups of children about becoming an author. However, the minute I explain what my prospective book is about, the topic at hand goes right out the window and a bleak reality envelops me like rising floodwater.

When I tell the children, “My book helps people think about putting down their electronic devices to interact with the people they love,” something happens. Small hands shoot straight up in the air and eager voices beg to share their own stories …

“My mom is on the phone all the time. She never gets off.”

“My dad has a problem putting down his phone.”

“My mom texts and drives.”

“My mom talks on the phone the whole time she is driving. She doesn’t even say ‘goodbye’ when I get out of the car.”

“Sometimes I say something, and my dad doesn’t hear me because he is typing on his phone.”

“My parents are so busy with their phones that they forget to feed me and put me to bed. I am forgotten a lot of the time.”

The Distracting Disturbance

The children’s remarks indicate there is a disturbing problem in our society. No matter how important your occupation, no matter how valuable your clients, and no matter how critical your online communications are to your life, no one wants to think his or her child feels forgotten and neglected because of a phone. Or perhaps there is another type of distraction in the modern age that keeps you from being fully present and connecting with your loved ones.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals—and I speak from experience. I am not immune to this world that the children speak about; I know it all too well. In fact, my distraction almost cost me everything I hold dear. But once I began my “Hands Free” journey two years ago and realized living distracted is not truly living, I have attempted to share this message in every way possible.

But as I sat in the classroom listening to the children describe how technology has impacted their lives, I wondered what my child might say.  If she were sitting on the rug in front of me, would she be waving her hand desperate to share her own personal experience of neglect that I have been too distracted to see?

Young Family Riding Bikes In Park

There Is Hope

I needed to know if I had made progress over my distraction … in the eyes of the people who mattered most. I knew my 9-year-old would tell me it to me straight. I nervously spit the critical questions out:  “Do you think I use my phone too much? Do I have a problem putting the phone away either when we are at home or in the car?”

And then I waited. Her eyes rolled upward as if she was thinking back to every single day of her life. She was giving it real thought, not just telling me what I wanted to hear. After sitting there for what seemed like agonizing hours, she opened her mouth and said, “You talking on the phone is rare. RARE, RARE, RARE, RARE.”

She said rare five times. I counted, feeling grateful for every syllable. Then she added, “In the past year, I can only remember you using the phone one time in the car. You called Daddy and said, ‘We need lice killing shampoo! Please stop at Walgreens and get some!’ But that was pretty much an emergency.”

I began laughing at her incredible memory! And suddenly I realized I was not just laughing, I was also crying. Tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks as I grabbed my child and pulled her into my arms.

DSC_0051And in my mind were these three words: There is hope. Why? Because the woman who now “rarely” uses the phone in the presence of her family was the woman who once thought nothing of having a phone glued to her ear she drove her children, and thought nothing of checking emails while stopped at stoplights, and thought nothing about the ramifications of the constant dinging and ringing on the peaceful well-being of her family life, and inadvertently blew through a red light and almost left her children motherless.

If there is hope for me, there is hope for anyone. Even the minorly distracted. Even the majorly distracted. And even the ones in between.

The children have spoken.

Are you listening?

Because if you are … there is hope.

Unplug and Engage

How can families unplug from electronic devices and truly engage with one another? Consider these practical tips.

  • Go to places with no electronic distractions—and leave the devices at home! Visit the local library or go on family hikes and picnics. Look at your local paper and visit new places on the weekends, such as museums, farmer’s markets, inexpensive sporting events, or unfamiliar parks. There may be resistance from the kids, but go anyway. Once there, your distractions become the last thing on your minds and lasting memories and meaningful connections are made.

  • Invite your family members to engage in an activity at home that does not involve electronic distraction. You might go outside at night and look at the stars. Or play board games together on a regular basis. Make homemade pizzas together, complete with ice cream sundaes. Be creative!

  • Step into your child’s world. If he loves to play video games, ask him to teach you how to play one. By stepping into his world, listening to him, and engaging with him, he might be more willing to try something in your world—something that is not tied to electronics.

  • Be an example of what it means to live presently. Let it be known when you make the choice to put away distraction. For example, declare to the family that you are not taking your phone to the restaurant or that you are driving with your phone in the glove compartment so that you can connect to the people around you. Point out interesting things you notice while driving or while outdoors. Express how good something tastes when you actually focus on the food and not on electronics while eating. Share your gratitude out loud for simple moments in life that you would have missed if you were distracted.

  • Develop “talk time” with your children. This is a daily or weekly time that is just the two of you together, talking about everything—nothing is off limits. Perhaps it’s lying in bed right before bedtime, or as you’re walking the dog, or even a date to get ice cream together. Give each child his or her one-on-one time with no interruptions, only your full attention. Encourage your child to ask questions about your childhood; in turn, ask what her favorite things are or what she wants to be when she grows up. Giggle, laugh, and learn about each other!

  • Implement a “5 to 9” rule. Between the hours of 5pm and 9pm, do not use the computer to work, surf the Internet, read Facebook, or catch up on your blogs, games, or news, so that you can fully engage with your family in the evenings.

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 11.00.02 AMMeet Rachel Macy Stafford

Rachel’s mission is to provide individuals with the inspiration, motivation, and tools to let go of daily distractions so they can grasp the moments in life that matter. Join her on her journey to a more meaningful life at www.handsfreemama.com and by visiting “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, will be available in January from Zondervan publishers.