Sunday, 6 April 2014

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

Book Description from Barnes and Noble
This is a book for parents who spend more time texting than chatting with their children and for college-age kids who substitute Snapshot and tweets for real-life encounters. Author/mom Rachel Macy Stafford learned the hard way that the things that really matter often get gradually elbowed out of lives unless we stop, think, and prioritize. Her Hands Free Mama describes how she replaced her digital imperatives with simple ways to grasp simple joys. This trade paperback and NOOK Book original belongs in the purse or knapsack of every American who has ever felt that he or she is a captive of their to-do list.

I couldn't wait to get this book. My kids keep complaining often about how I'm always on the computer, my phone, or just otherwise distracted. I needed this book, so I must start by saying my expectations were very high.

The premise of this book is great. It is full of useful suggestions and ideas about how to be a more engaged mother in everyday situations. There is some great advice in this book about different ways you can interact with your younger children (I explain why I say younger in a bit), ideas for creating more quality family time in moments where we usually are disengaged, how to slow down and enjoy life more.

The book isn't just about how to be a good mother but to be an engaged mother. Much of what is written goes along with attachment theory so I found a lot of it relevant too my own parenting philosophy.

The three "weekly interventions" in each chapter were great and the part I found the most helpful but sometimes they weren't even related even though they were in the same chapter. Sometimes the book needed better organization. The useful advice was peppered among family anecdotes and it felt more like a memoir than a how to book at times.

The plus side is that each section really stands alone so if one part doesn't apply to you (for me it was the section on connecting with your spouse) you can skip it.

But here's where I felt a book based on brilliant idea goes horribly wrong. I feel bad being so critical of this book because I want to truly love it. 

She writes as though she just had this revelation and within only a few weeks time became a completely different parent. No one changes that quickly. No one. Addictions don't work that way. If you are truly addicted to something it takes real work to wean yourself from it. Even if you go cold turkey there are withdrawals. Rachel writes as if all of this happened effortlessly in an extremely short time.

On page 131 she finally writes about a bad day. She writes about how everything she had scheduled ended up being the same day that her family got the stomach flu and a host of other things went wrong. Everything she lists was beyond her control.

But then she does the most unhealthy, disturbing thing she could possibly do. She blames herself! She beats herself up for not being Hands Free (even though everything that happened really had nothing to do with her.) She claims the reason everything fell apart was because of her overcommitment. The stomach flu and toilet overflowing happened because of overcommitment? She says she thought "Why do you do this to yourself? How did you allow this to happen?" Instead of letting a bad day just be a bad day she uses it to tear herself down and blames herself for things that are in no way her fault. Pretty ironic considering the subtitle of the book includes the phrase "letting go of perfection."

But it gets even more ironic. The next chapter is about Silencing the Inner Critic. I wish I was joking.

In one part she tells how she gives her children journals so they can write about how she can improve being a mother which I think is a great idea. Some of the journal entries by her daughter do talk about ways she can improve but some are positive and say how much she loves her mother. What I want to know is why didn't she write anything herself in this journal to her daughter? She never writes anything back. Not I love you too or compliments about her daughter. The journal is just all about her.

The part where her daughter is willing to help with the laundry and dishes was sweet. My 9 year old daughter is the same way. All kids usually are...when they are little. Then they become adolescents and are only willing to do chores if they get paid. The only connection is fighting with them about getting whatever needs done.

Overall the book is rather repetitive. It almost feels like a Hallmark card sometimes because it's so sweet and sentimental. Each story ends up being a picture perfect memory. The books tone was far too saccharine for me. Her kids just seem a little too...perfect. They never argue, are in cranky moods, act out, and break the rules. Again wasn't this book about "letting go of perfection?"

This mother is so devoted to her children it sometimes seems to border on co-dependency. She explains that the reason she was so disengaged as a parent was because she was committed to so many volunteer activities. She was unable to say no. But it seems as if her inability to say no to volunteer activities has turned into being unable to say no to her children. In fact, Rachel says she justified her many commitments by arguing that her involvement was needed. I'm sorry to say, but it seems like she's doing the exact same thing with her kids. It's like she feel this need to make every minute of the day with them special. She feels a need to constantly be involved.

The way the book reads she is engaged with them from morning to bedtime. Does she ever take time for herself? I worry that she is so into being their playmate and companion that she no longer has interests of her own. I wonder how much the kids do on their own.

What will happen when they are older and they don't want mommy around playing with them constantly? What will she do then? Preteens and teenagers don't want in your face connection. They want their parents to be interested and care but at an arm's length. Their favorite thing to do is be alone in their room or spend time with friends. And they don't want mom hanging around in either of those situations. The advice in this book simply won't work as well with older children.

Rachel's Life List consists of only two things. How she wants to be a constant presence and source of love and support in her family's lives and how she wants to use her talents to help people grasp what really matters in life. She explains that she scaled her big projects down to only one or two yearly projects that directly involved her family.

Where are Rachel's goals for herself? Why is every moment about what she wants to do for other people? She wrote that the reason she did the volunteer activities was because she wanted an identity that was more than just a mom. There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel like more than just a mom. Rachel never outright says this but it seems almost like she feels guilty for ever wanting to have any other kind of role.

The book has some great advice that I will use with my children and for using technology less in my life, but overall her suggested approach just isn't balanced. It's just not healthy to give and give and give like that. It's not healthy to blame yourself when a bad day is just a bad day. It's not healthy to feel guilty about sometimes wanting to be more than just a mom.

I feel bad about writing this somewhat scathing review. I really truly do. There is some great advice in the book but everything in moderation is not it. My rating  PhotobucketFollow my blog with Bloglovin

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