Pregnancy & Newborn’s Book Club is starting the New Year with a new perspective, thanks to one mama’s wake up call.
A few years ago, Rachel Macy Stafford was like a lot of mothers; her planner was packed and her to-do lists never ended. She began to realize she held her phone more and her children less, and that wasn’t the life she wanted. Slowly but surely, Stafford refocused her priorities to live what she’s dubbed the hands-free life, and now she’s sharing her story (and plenty of how-to advice) in her book Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do Lists, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!
Here’s our chat with the author:
Pregnancy & Newborn: What was the ah-ha moment that made you realize you’d been living a distracted life and missing out on so much?
Rachel Macy Stafford: I was out for a run when the same question kept repeating in my head. The question was this: How do you do it all? For the first time in my life, I honestly answered the complimentary question I received from those who admired my perceived ability to “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 realized every precious moment I had missed could never be retrieved.
On the hot tarmac of a secluded Alabama road, I had to stop running. With tears streaming down my face, I saw the damage that my daily distractions were having on my relationships, my health and my life. That was the painful, yet hopeful, start to my Hands Free journey.
P&N: After years of endless lists and schedules, how difficult was it to let go? How did you stick with it without making it into another to-do list?
RMS: I knew that letting go of my excessive phone use, my perfectionist tendencies and my over-scheduled agenda was not going to be easy; I had lived that way for so long. Therefore, I took small steps. I put forth small efforts to let go of distraction in 10 minutes increments to connect to my family. I began by telling myself that when I saw a chance to connect to my child or my spouse, I would stop what I was doing and be fully present—even if it was in the middle of making dinner or sending a text message. This small, but powerful, letting go action allowed me to be available to my family. My availability immediately changed the atmosphere in our home because loving connection brings happiness and peace that distraction cannot.
Letting go of my immediate distractions, like the phone, was the easiest. It took time to reduce the number of outside commitments in my life and curb my perfectionist ways, but in time, I was able to transform those areas of my life too.
P&N: How has living hands free changed you and your day-to-day experiences?
RMS: My whole perspective of life has changed. I no longer see my life through the veil of distraction. This means I can see the positives in my life clearly. This means I can see opportunities to connect to what matters throughout my day. This means I can see and love myself and my children “as is”—flaws and all. I can see what matters in the grand scheme of life and that has slowed my pace down considerably. I am not trying to live for the approval of others. I have created my own standards of success and they are not based on accomplishments or appearance anymore.
Distracted habits that I used to do, like talk on the phone in the car, are not even an option. I don’t even think about using the phone while I drive. Car time is now connection time. Furthermore, I no longer check my phone constantly. What is important is what I am doing in the moment. I no longer concern myself with what the world is doing or what I am missing on social media. I invest my time and attention in one place or one person. It is so much more peaceful to live this way.
P&N: What do you think your daughters would say about how you’ve changed? What about your husband?
RMS: My older daughter recently wrote a poem for me in honor of Mother’s Day. Several lines said, “You are always there for me, even when I am in trouble.” This was a confirmation for me that I had changed. When I lived distracted, I was always feeling annoyed, pressured and stressed. I tended to expect things to be perfect and blew up if they were not. My older daughter took the brunt of this. So to receive this poem from her, three years into my Hands Free journey, I felt like she was affirming the changes I have made.
My husband and I often talk about the way it “used to be” and how my distracted way of life prevented me from being present and remaining calm. I think the thing my husband would say is that I am happy again. I lost my smile during those distracted years, and he told me so one painful day. But now, my smile is back. I am loving life again because I am actually living it not merely surviving it.
P&N: What prompted you to share your new outlook on life by writing a blog and then the book?
RMS: After three months of making small Hands Free efforts and experiencing profound results, I realized this initiative was something I needed to share with the world. I felt the best way to get this important message into the hands of those who most needed it would be an online blog. Therefore, I used my skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager to start my blog and Facebook page. Within a week of its debut, I heard from other distracted individuals who wanted to join me on my journey to a more meaningfully connected life. Now hundreds of thousands come to my blog each day to read my Hands Free stories and share their own. It is quite amazing!
P&N: What’s been the hardest part about embracing the hands-free life?
RMS: A Hands Free life requires taking a good hard look inward to realize what needs to change. It requires being honest with oneself. My distractions enabled me to cover up some painful truths that I did not want to face. But having that awareness is freeing. In my stories, I often write, “The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me closer to the person I want to be.” I try to live those words daily.
P&N: What is one simple tip we could all use to become more hands free?
RMS: For people who are tied to their phone, I would suggest giving their phone a home when they are trying to be fully present with their loved ones. I saw a cute idea the other day where people keep a fish bowl by the door. When they come home, they turn off the notifications and place their phone in the fish bowl until morning. This resonated with me because I had to place my phone in a drawer when I first began my journey. Just seeing my phone made me want to check it. Keeping my device out of sight helped me curb its use tremendously.
P&N: Are you officially, completely hands free now? Where do you see yourself going from here?
RMS: Living Hands Free means making it a daily practice to temporarily let go of external and internal distraction (phone, computer, unrealistic standards, perfection) to be fully present with someone or something meaningful in one’s life. The frequency and duration of these Hands Free periods are entirely up to the individual. As for myself, I am completely sold on living Hands Free. Each day I make time to laugh, be spontaneous, connect and make memories. I allow myself to let go of time and schedule and just BE with the people I love at some point each day. I am living in today not waiting to live “someday.” Now that my eyes and hands have been opened, I will never go back. My current passion is centered on protecting this new-found freedom from the distractions of the 21st century and helping others do the same through writing and speaking.
Celebrity: Mat Kearney
Indulgence: anything coconut
Beauty product: MAC LipGlass in Viva Glam V
Weeknight dinner: salmon, basmati rice and veggies