Hands Free Mama update: Social media free zones and embracing chaos

(Courtesy of Rachel Macy Stafford) - Stafford’s book, published in January of 2014, provides strategies for parents to be less distracted.
(Courtesy of Rachel Macy Stafford) – Stafford’s book, published in January of 2014, provides strategies for parents to be less distracted.

“Is this when I tell you to put down that phone?,” came the e-mail from my coworker, on a day off.

Busted. Again.

It was the Monday after Easter, and I had taken the day off to travel with my family. Yet there I was, in the middle of an UNO game, responding to an e-mail about work. Hands Free Mama fail? I’m not so sure.

Four months into this journey, I’m realizing that I need to find the best middle ground that will work for my job, my family and my sanity. I kind of have to check my e-mail when I’m not at work. It’s just how my job is structured. So I need to allow myself to do that, and I can’t feel guilty about it. E-mail wasn’t so much of a problem for me anyway, because I glance at it, quickly answer anything that is urgent, and leave the rest for later. It doesn’t absorb me or distract me beyond that few minutes every couple of hours when I check in.

Social media, on the other hand, is a problem. At some point late last year I realized I was spending so much time Instagramming and Facebooking about what my kids were doing or saying, and checking up on my online friends that I wasn’t fully present in my life. That I had almost become more interested in sharing my life than living it.

How sad. And how fortunate that I realized it before my kids are grown and gone.

For me, becoming hands free has been about curbing that habit more than a literal put-the-phone-away vow. So I’ve stopped checking the sites on the weekends. During the week, I only look at them after the kids go to bed. Interestingly, the less I look at them, the less I find myself wanting to look at them.

I’m happier, less distracted and have more time to take on the project from chapter four of Rachel Macy Stafford’s book: Do at least one memorable thing each weekend. Carving out a chunk of time for nothing but fun each weekend has meant letting go not only of social media but of some of the (minimal) order and cleanliness in my house.

We used to have someone come in to clean the house every few weeks, but don’t anymore. In addition to the constant churn of laundry and dishes and cooking, we’ve been cramming all the regular maintenance cleaning into the weekend as well. Yes, I know. Talk about first-world problems. But it’s time we once had, and don’t have anymore.

I tried to keep up with the toothpaste smeared all over the sink in the bathroom, the smashed crackers in the corner of the couch and the pile of papers a mile high on the kitchen counter. I tried hard. Except it occurred to me one day, why?

So I cut this deal with myself and my kids: Every weekend we all pitch in for an hour or so to get as much picking up and basic, necessary stuff done as we can. Some weekends we have to do more (those weekends usually coincide with having company).

But most of the time, we leave it at that and try to play. A few weeks ago, that meant a day trip to James Madison’s house. One weekend it was just a bike ride (it doesn’t have to be an odyssey to be memorable). This weekend, we hope to visit an awesome new-to-us playground in the District.

Sure, the house often looks like a small explosive went off, and that bothers me a little. But not nearly as much as it would bother me to devote an entire weekend to cleaning while my kids beg us to just play with them. Only to have to do it again next weekend, and the next, because we all know it never stays clean. That messiness will still be there when I get around to tackling it. But those little freckle-kissed faces are fleeting, and I have to soak them up right now. They won’t wait.

I’m going to put this one down in the win column.

What do you let go of to carve out time for fun on the weekends?

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Mari-Jane Williams covers parenting and family issues for Local Living and schools for the Prince William and Loudoun Extras.
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