Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meet Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama

VeegMama interview with Hands Free Mama author, Rachel Macy Stafford

Hands Free Mama is a blog that has come to be very special to me.  A grad school friend (thank you Jen Med!), introduced me to it via a Facebook share many months ago.  I identified so strongly with the "lessons" and insights that the author, Rachel Macy Stafford, was sharing that I kept reading.  This was a mom trying to do it all and be the perfect mother/wife/daughter/etc., but discovered that in her madness to achieve that (im)perfect ideal, she was living a very distracted life.  I admired her vulnerability and appreciated her honesty - especially, as someone who could very closely relate at the time (and still struggles to live in the moment).  Hands Free Mama  became a sort of lifeline for me at a time when I was feeling very overwhelmed and not so joyful in the life I was so desperately trying to make perfect.  Reading her blog has motivated me to stop striving for perfect, and has brought me encouragement (and support) on those tough days.  Hands Free Mama is one of those gifts that the Universe delivered to me just when I needed it.   Rachel and her blog are a constant source of inspiration.

I am so thrilled that she has agreed to let me interview her on VeegMama as she launches her new book, Hands Free Mama, (debuted yesterday on book shelves).

VM: Can you quickly summarize how you ended up on this mission of being hands-free?

RS: A little over three years ago, I experienced what I call my “breakdown-breakthrough.” For the first time in my life, I honestly answered the complimentary question I received on a daily basis: “How do you do it all?”

I painfully admitted that I was able to “do it all” because I missed out on life – the playing, connecting, memory-making parts of life.  Tragically, I knew every precious moment I had missed could never be retrieved.  With clarity, I saw the damage that daily distraction was having on my relationships, my health, and my life.

Once I acknowledged that living distracted is not really living at all, I vowed to change. From that day forth, I began taking small steps to let go of distraction and created designated times of the day to be FULLY present with the people I love.

The impact of my “Hands Free” tactics were so immediate and so profound, I knew I must share them with as many people as possible. So three months into my journey to grasp what matters, I published my first post on “Hands Free Mama.”  The responses I receive on a daily basis confirm that my journey is meant to be shared publicly.

VM: It is so hard to put our phones away and turn our email off. How do you stay awake as a mother/parent especially while trying to maintain a blog and Facebook page?

RS: There was a time in my life when I thought it was “hard” to put my phone and computer away in the presence of my family, but now it is a way of life.

The day I experienced my painful awakening about the cost of my distraction, I committed to being “Hands Free” in the presence of my family. I knew with certainty that I did not want my children’s childhood memories to consist of a mom who was always on her computer or looking at the screen of a phone. I also realized that in the moments I was consumed by technology, I was missing valuable opportunities to connect with my family.

I have approximately seven hours each day when my family is not home. Those are the hours I write and work online. I also utilize time in the evening to work once my family goes to bed. I will be honest, I seldom “get done” everything I want to do in a day, but that is a pressure I have learned to let go of – the pressure to “do it all,” which almost cost me everything I hold dear.

My productivity level is not as high as it was when I was constantly tied to technology, but the connection to my family and my personal happiness have never been better. Living “Hands Free” is actually living life, not “managing” life, and I will never go back to the way it was before.

VM: I love learning about other family's traditions and rituals. Can you share a specific family tradition or ritual that your family enjoys doing? Tell us about how it started and why it's so important to your family now.
RS: My children and I love to bake together and do so on a regular basis. This tradition started when my oldest child was two-years-old and she helped make her own birthday cake. I was amazed at how much she could do to help, and before we knew it, she was even cracking eggs!

Our baking tradition has evolved into our family’s favorite way to express kindness and appreciation to people in our lives. Every holiday, we make goodies to package up and give to others as a way of saying “thank you.” We include people inside our inner circle of family and friends, but we also strive to include people who provide services in our lives like the trash collectors and mail carrier. 

I see this as an important tradition because it provides a way of expressing gratitude at a concrete level that my kids can easily grasp and have a part in creating.  In addition, they have witnessed the profound impact simple acts of kindness can have on someone’s life. I believe my daughters will continue such practices throughout their lives.

VM: I feel that making parenting fun is my No. 1 job as a working mom -- for many reasons, not just in order to maintain sanity and good mind-body-soul connections. Tell us a little 

about your favorite fun thing to do together that evokes laughter and silliness?

RS: Part of being “Hands Free” is not just letting go of distraction, but grasping the moments that matter. I realized that if I was going spend time “undistracted” with my kids, I might as well be there FULLY. This notion got me off the sidelines. I have gone from watching them play to being part of the action. In the past eighteen-months, I have done things that I haven’t done in decades. My kids delight in seeing me ride a scooter, slide down a grassy hill on a cardboard box, do a cannon ball into the pool with goggles on, climb a mountain of dirt, and pet a snake. I have never seen my kids laugh and smile as much as they do when I step into their world – completely hands free!

VM: What do you find to be the most valuable way to stay connected and engaged with your children, even after a really busy day?

RS: When my oldest daughter was three, she asked for “talk time” at the conclusion of her bedtime routine one night.  We have continued “talk time” nightly for the last five years.

During this sacred ten-minute period, I get to hear what is on my child’s heart and mind. She shares everything from what happened at school to what she wants to be when she grows up. She asks questions about everything from what she was like as a baby to what would happen if I die.

My youngest child has really taken to her “talk time” journal where she and I sit together at bedtime while she draws and writes what is on her mind.  As a means of improving my pursuit to be “Hands Free,” I invited her to share her thoughts about how I might be an even better parent in her journal. The journal has been enlightening for me and liberating for her.

Our “Talk time” ritual is single-handedly the most connective activity I do with my children. I am convinced that the reason they share with me as much as they do is because of this established routine each night. Regardless of how chaotic or fragmented our day was, this peaceful feeling of unity that occurs when we cuddle side by side ALWAYS brings us back together as one before the day ends.  

VM: What has been your favorite activity to do with your children?

RS: In an effort to be more “Hands Free” one summer, I conducted simple science experiments with my kids. We ended up inviting a few neighbors over for the weekly science lesson, and it became quickly became the highlight of each week.

I used a book I discovered on clearance in the back of a craft store entitled, The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions. The ingredients were often things I had around the house and the steps were easy.  

What I most enjoyed was hearing the children “hypothesize” about the expected outcome of the experiment and then watching their faces as the results unfolded – pure excitement, wonder, and delight!

Who knew creating foamy paint, peanutty play dough, fruity lip gloss, and a crystal rock garden would lead to laughter, connection, memory making, and learning?

VM: What do you do as a family to help others?
RS: Our family is passionate about helping children in poverty situations. For the past five years, my family has helped me conduct a community-wide event where children in our neighborhood learn about what it means to live in poverty and fill empty shoeboxes with needed items. The shoeboxes are sent to children in impoverished countries through an organization called Operation Christmas Child.

This was the first year that my older daughter created the PowerPoint presentation about poverty and taught the children about the living conditions of children in need. It was uplifting to see her take over something I had done for five years. To me it was a confirmation that our children lead by our example.

VM: I am on a mission to live the "good life" in every sense of the word.  What does the "good life" mean to you?
RS: Before I started my Hands Free journey, I put off living. I banked on vacations and holidays to make up for the lack of time spent connecting with the people I love. The other days of the year I was too busy, too distracted, and too productive to slow down, enjoy life, and simply be with the people I love.

Now I don’t wait for holidays to slow down, laugh, and play. I don’t count on family vacations to create my children’s fondest memory recollections. I’ve discovered that the most meaningful experiences in life happen when I take pause in the ordinary, mundane moments of a busy day.  

It’s hopping on our bikes after dinner for a quick ride and pointing to a "cotton candy" sky. 
It’s staying just five extra minutes at bedtime just to hear things on her heart that only come out in the darkness. 
It’s holding her hand as we walk into swim team practice and thinking how good it feels. 
It’s expressing gratitude for life’s simple joys like fresh air, belly laughs, and worn-out treads on running shoes.

I’ve learned that there are some things that can wait and some things that can't. I am trying to stop putting off the things that matter most. Taking a few minutes each day to savor the joy in the ordinary is making my heart fuller, my inner doubts quieter, and my human connections stronger. To me, this is living “the good life,” and it is available to anyone who chooses to grasp it.

VM: Do you have a favorite quote you could share?
RS: "You never know who might be using your love and light to grow. So keep sharing your love and never stop shining your light." ~ Nasim Hassan ~

Thank you, Rachel!  Read more about Rachel below and click here to get your copy of Hands Free Mama now!

Photo of Rachel Macy Stafford aka Hands Free Mama
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel's work has been featured in USA Today,, The Huffington Post, and Reader's Digest. Her blog currently averages 1 million visitors a month. Her first book, Hands Free Mama, is now available.