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‘Hands Free Mama’ message: Parents, put down that cellphone

working mother

working mother

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Updated: February 5, 2013 8:51PM

There’s an app for parenting.

In fact, there are 491 apps if you search “parenting” in Apple’s online store.

Rachel Macy Stafford isn’t interested in any of them. Or the camera on her phone for documenting her two daughter’s milestones. Or texting her husband the latest funny thing one of the girls said. Or posting her daughter’s photos on Facebook, then checking back again and again for the comments and the “likes.”

Stafford, 41, calls herself the “Hands Free Mama” after she broke free from what she described as “almost an addiction” to social media and the personal devices to use it on. She still uses a laptop, though, to blog about the parenting life without computerized distractions, a message that’s received more than 25,000 “likes” on Facebook and several offers for book deals.

“I was the person everyone could go to get something done,” said Stafford, 41, who lives in Alabama with her husband and their two daughters, ages 9 and 6. “In the process of all my electronic devices and overflowing to-do list and schedule, I felt I was missing something.”

Out for a run one day in 2010, she asked herself the question: How do you do it all?

“Finally I answered the question with honesty and said I do it all because I miss out on life,” she said. “The playing, the memory making, the laughing — these are the things I miss out on.”

She took small steps to living “hands free,” putting her BlackBerry and cellphones into a drawer at 10-minute increments, leaving the phone in her car if she was going to a park with her children and not texting or emailing at stoplights. Her children, who had never mentioned her frequent cellphone use, responded positively.

“That was so reinforcing that I would make the time increments longer and more frequent during the day,” she said.

The constant photography slowed down as well.

“When I was getting out the phone to take pictures, I was also missing a moment,” she said. “Yes, you’re capturing that, but as you’re filming your recital with your phone you’re putting that screen between you and that moment.”

Stafford’s blog ( has a particularly strong following in the Chicago area, where Karin O’Brien, an engineer and mother of two from Morton Grove, is a devoted reader.

“It really struck home, just that constant struggle [of] we have to be better and more scheduled and more organized and do everything everyone else is doing, and how much more simple we can make our lives by letting go,” she said.

When she read Stafford’s blog for the first time, “I started crying as I was sitting at work,” she said.

O’Brien said the blog has helped her find a sense of peace with her parenting.

“I just appreciate those little details that aren’t going to be around for very long,” she said.

Dave Lukas, a Crystal Lake father, said he now is making a conscious effort to stash his iPhone when he’s playing with his two children.

“Even those times I pop on it for five minutes or something, I’ll think critically about that if I’m playing with my kids,” he said. “It’s a reminder to connect with my kids on a different level in a way that’s more meaningful for them.”

Stafford said she doesn’t find it hypocritical to blog as the Hands Free Mama and then promote her blog through Facebook, something that has helped her gain readers.

“I’m not excluding all technology,” she said. “That’s not reasonable in this day and age. That’s the neat thing about the Hands Free journey. It really never ends. The distraction is always going to be here, and so are the challenges that we face.”

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