Today is my birthday. It is the big 4-0. A month ago, I began writing a post in anticipation of this day. It was going to be the most open, authentic, and inspiring post I had written in my life. I couldn’t wait to post it. But then something happened. A message fell right into my lap … no, actually, it slapped me painfully across the face. And I knew THIS, THIS was meant to be my 40th birthday post.
“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.” –Carl Sandburg
It is my 40th birthday, and this is not the post I had planned for today. But this message is far more important than anything I could ever say about my own life.
Trust me on this.
Recently I have had the opportunity to speak to various groups of children about becoming an author and setting life goals. However, the minute I explain what my prospective book is about, the topic at hand goes right out the window and a bleak reality overwhelms 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.
And they are not pretty.
As I look into these children’s hopeful eyes and listen to their painful truths, the mother in me yearns to pull them to my chest and assure them I am listening. Although it is not possible for me to comfort them, I can make sure their voices are heard.
These are direct quotes from children living in the 21st century in January 2012 …
“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.”
And had I not directed the discussion back to the original topic of being an author, I am certain the children’s testimonies of excessive parental phone use would have gone on and on.
Although my “Hands Free” journey is not about deciding if other people’s behavior is right or wrong, bad or good, the children’s remarks indicate there is a disturbing problem in our society.
And 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.
And regardless if your phone usage is rarely or never, it is worth it to consider if 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. Less than two years ago, my own children would have been waving both of their arms in the air desperately wanting to share their own stories of distraction neglect about ME.
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. (I painfully disclosed those difficult truths in the post entitled, “Missing More Than Life.”)
But once I began my “Hands Free” journey and realized living distracted is NOT truly living, I have attempted to share this message in every way possible.
After listening to their testimonies, I realized my writings hadn’t even scratched the surface. While I strived to keep a positive and encouraging slant on the cost of distraction in my messages, the children didn’t mince words.
They didn’t sugar coat it.
They were not worried about “offending” anyone.
So they told it like it is.
To be that young vulnerable person ignored behind the electronic device held in a parent’s hand is far worse than I had ever described.
And as small hands rose faster than I could call on them, all I could think was this: If my child were here, would she be waving her hand desperate to share her own personal experience of phone neglect that I have been too distracted to see?
I knew what I had to do.
I needed to know if I had made progress over my distraction … not just in my own head, but also in the eyes of the people who mattered most.
I knew my eight-year-old would tell me it to me straight. Through our “talk time” nightly ritual over the past five years, we have developed an open system of sharing where no topic is off limits.
What I was about to hear from my daughter could be a potential turning point in my children’s lives that would greatly determine who they are today and the people they would eventually become.
As talk time came to a close that evening, I nervously I 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?”
As I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants I added, “And please be honest. I won’t be upset no matter what you say.”
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 exactly five times. I counted, thanking God each and every time.
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 I couldn’t stop. I laughed so hard, I fell over in a relieved heap upon the pillows that lined her bed.
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.
And in my mind were these three words: There IS hope.
There is hope.
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 above all there is hope because …
The woman, who now RARELY uses her phone, is the same person who at the height of her distracted life, inadvertently blew through a red light and almost left her children motherless.
If there is hope for me, friends, there is hope for anyone.
Even the minorly distracted.
Even the majorly distracted.
And even the ones in between.
The children have spoken.
Are we listening?
Because if we are … there is hope.
What would your child (teenager, grandchild, significant other, friend) say if you asked, “Do you think I use my phone (Blackberry, iPad, laptop) too much?”
If you really want to know the truth, ask them. Assure your family members and friends you want to know the truth so you can begin to live more presently and more connected to them.
And then make change to let go of that damaging distraction – even small changes can make a big difference. I will be posting specific ideas for small changes you can make on “The Hands Free Revolution” this week. Simply “like” my page on Facebook to receive daily inspiration to grasp what really matters in your news feed.
And if you wish to make my 40th birthday the best one yet, please click “share” below. I would be thrilled if the stats on this post surpass anything I have ever written. For then I would know: The children have been heard. And with that comes hope.