Several months ago, I received an email from Rachel Macy Stafford asking if I would be willing to read an advance copy of her new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. I was honored! I have been a long-time reader of Hands Free Mama, and admirer of the work that Rachel does to help parents and families live intentionally, free of technological distractions. Her first book, Hands Free Mama, became an instant best-seller, striking a chord with mothers who desire to live more simply.
I found Hands Free Life to be a superbly readable and practical book, full of simple take-aways that empower families to engage with each other in intentional ways. Always hopeful, the book challenges readers to make new choices without binding them in guilt to the choices they made in the past.
Today, I am excited today to bring you this interview with Rachel, along with a chance to win her new book before you can buy it! As you read, you will find my questions in bold. At the end of the Q&A are instructions for how to enter to win!
As a writer myself, I am curious about how you remain “Hands-Free” while writing a book and running a powerful and interactive Facebook page (Hands Free Revolution). Can you tell me about how you find time to invest in your pursuits and remain present and focused with your children?
The day I experienced my breakdown-breakthrough moment over the cost of my distracted life, it occurred to me that work, technology, and life were all bleeding into each other to the point that there were no longer any protected areas. Daily distraction was being invited into the sacred spaces of my life. It didn’t matter if it was a moving vehicle, the bedroom, Saturday mornings, family vacations, or even the middle of the night—these times and places were all open to distraction’s overpowering and damaging presence.
The first step I took to live a less distracted life was to designate “Hands Free” times of day. This meant temporarily pushing aside the phone, the computer, the to-do list, the regret, the resentment, the impatience, the guilt, and the pressure to be ALL THERE with someone or something meaningful in my life.
The times that were most conducive for me to be Hands Free were right afterschool, at dinnertime, and at bedtime. It helped tremendously to turn off all notifications on my phone so there was no temptation to check. At first, it was difficult not to be tethered to my devices or checking something off the to-do list. That is why I began with small time increments. However, the time I spent being Hands Free was so fulfilling that I was encouraged to lengthen the time increments. Interestingly, I found myself being more productive in the seven hours my family were gone each day. I also found that having these meaningful pockets of connection planned within my day brought me a sense of peace that I’d been missing. My creativity flourished when I allowed myself to simply be rather than constantly do.
As my readership and writing responsibilities have grown, I have faithfully stuck to my designated “Hands Free” times. I vowed to be the real deal when I began writing so I feel it is important to live the message that I write. My productivity level is not as high as it used to be. I do not respond to all the email messages I receive. I do not accept all the opportunities I am offered to spread the Hands Free message, but my connection to family and personal wellbeing have never been better. That is what matters most to me now.
Important note: You will notice that I never tell people when they should have their Hands Free time because each family’s needs, schedules, and life situations are different. I like to stress that the ability to live Hands Free is not dependent on how much time you have with your loved ones, but rather how you use the time that you do have. By choosing to be fully present in your moments of togetherness, you are giving yourself and someone else a true gift.
Can you share about how your faith impacts your commitment to being Hands Free?
Five years prior to my breakdown-breakthrough moment, I began praying about finding my life’s purpose. I’d known since I was eight years old that I’d been blessed with a gift of touching people’s hearts through writing. I felt very strongly that I was supposed to write a book, but it seemed like everyone who got published either had a major life story or experienced a momentous event.
On the day of my breakdown-breakthrough, a question began going through my mind while I was out for a run. How do you do it all? How do you do it all? For the first time in my life, I saw that question not as compliment but as a problem, a very serious problem. And it was time to answer it honestly. With no justifications, no excuses, only painful truth, I admitted: I miss out on life; that is how I do it all. I miss out on what truly matters and what I miss, I cannot get back.
I looked to God in that moment and prayed for direction and strength. A few hours later, I got my first taste of what it meant to live Hands Free.
I was in the middle of making school lunches and my daughter Avery was watching the Lion King on the sofa. My computer was open, the phone was buzzing, and I was thinking about all the things I needed to do that day. But for some reason, I looked up and noticed, really noticed, my child. A little voice inside me said, “There is nothing more important than being with her right now.”
Without closing the bag of bread or looking at the clock, I left that half-made sandwich on the counter to hold my child.
What happened next was something no one had ever done to me in my whole life: My daughter brought my hand to her lips and gently kissed the inside of my palm. Not only did that loving gesture confirm the first step to a less distracted life, but it was also confirmed my life’s purpose: to share my Hands Free journey with others.
I began writing and publishing blog posts about my struggles and triumphs to live a more present and joy-filled life. The Hands Free message immediately resonated with mothers, but it also struck a chord with fathers, singles, retirees, even teens. Seeing the way people from all walks of life embraced the message inspired me to continue sharing my difficult truths even when my hand shook over the ‘publish’ button. Each month two million people from all over the world come to my blog hungry to live better and love more because knowing how does not come instinctively nor easily in this culture of overwhelm. I feel incredibly blessed to be the messenger.
Your chapter on establishing boundaries was particularly challenging for me, especially a story you wrote about turning down an interview with NPR because it could only happen during your Hands Free family time. I struggle with this. I whole-heartedly agree that those who are most important to us deserve to have undivided time with us, and at the same time, if the boundaries you establish remain fixed 99% of the time, I would think that some extraordinary opportunities might warrant flexible boundaries. Can you tell me about your experience setting and holding these boundaries? Are there ever times when you bend these boundaries?
In question #1 I described the designated ‘Hands Free’ times I set early in my journey and have strived to uphold them. This has been particularly beneficial due to my perfectionist, Type A, task driven nature. My dad admits that he was a workaholic, and I sense I could easily fall into that same harmful pattern. Therefore, having set boundaries on when I work and when I live are critical for my well-being as well as my ability to bond with my family. Such strident boundaries between tech and life may not be necessary for others, but having Hands Free daily rituals is very helpful to me. Naturally, I have missed opportunities to write and speak about my work because of my commitment. Yet, I’ve never felt as though I missed out on what’s important by declining an opportunity.
My goal when I started my blog was to touch one life with every story I wrote. That is still my goal today. And in way, this takes a lot of pressure off. My goal is not to make a certain amount of money, be famous, or earn prestigious awards. A meaningful measure of success allows me the freedom and security to pass up opportunities if they will negatively impact my family time or my well-being.
I feel that it important to point out that there are certain times in my life when my work load increases, such as during a book release. I make a point to fall back on the connective actions that initially got me started on the Hands Free journey when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. I make a point to see what I am doing right and give myself grace when I slip up. Thankfully, perfection is not required on this journey. Above all, I make a point each day to turn off the world and turn toward my family. This especially important when the circumstances of life are challenging.
I was particularly touched by your chapter on leaving a legacy modeled through self-kindness. I think social media has the ability to complicate our personal quests for being kind to ourselves; there are so many images of friends and family living social-media-sanitized-perfect-lives. Do you find that there is a link between your time away from social media and your ability to be kinder to yourself?
Absolutely. In fact, I had quite an epiphany on this topic one Saturday that I would love to share …
My family and I decided to go completely off the grid and spent the day hiking and having a picnic. As we enjoyed being outside and each other’s company, I remember hearing myself say: This is perfect.
It struck me as odd—this particular choice of words for a recovering perfectionist. As I considered the state of my disheveled family, our pretty pathetic looking picnic, and other not-so-ideal details of the day, I laughed out loud. I thought, “Perfect sure isn’t what it used to be!”
That day ‘perfect’ had nothing to do with portraying a certain image or reaching an expected standard. It had nothing to do with an Instagram-worthy picnic spread, coordinated hiking outfits, toned legs, or shiny, happy children. The words, “This is perfect,” came to mind because in those particular moments everything felt perfect in my own little world.
I firmly believe I was able to experience that freedom and contentment because I was off the grid. Had I not been unplugged on this particular Saturday, I guarantee my mantra would not have been, “This is perfect”.
When I get online, whether it is to peruse social media, check email, or read articles, not only do I lose time, but I also lose perspective. Suddenly the glorious moments in my world are harder – if not impossible – to feel because suddenly I’m thrust into someone else’s world. Whether I like it or not, being online causes me to lay my life next to the life of someone else and compare. And then like an outfit that looked perfect standing in the coziness of my closet, it suddenly lacks luster when held against the fashions of everyone else at the party.
I definitely try to encourage people to go offline, not only to strengthen their relationships, but also to give themselves a clear view of all the beautiful details in their lives without interference from the outside world.
One of my favorite quotes from your book was in the last chapter. “I would stop worrying about what could happen to my children and instead focus on what they could make happen.” What a perspective shift. At the start of the school year, as we are all sending our young ones into the great unknown, I know many parents harbor fears about what the year will bring for their children. Do you have words of encouragement to offer that might help parents make this shift in thinking, from worrying for their children to excitement at what powerful people their children could be?
I spent much of my child’s earlier years worrying. Would she ever be ready to take those training wheels off her bike? Would she ever learn to swim without protest? Would she ever learn to read like her classmates? And in my state of worry, I lost precious moments—moments to enjoy my child exactly “as is.”
When my child turned six and began reading, riding her bike, and swimming, I had an epiphany. Much of what I worried about had a way of working out in time—in my child’s own time. And by living in a state of worry, I was robbing myself of the gifts of today.
With clarity, I realized these painful truths about living with worry and perhaps they will help someone else today …
Worry can remove us from the most beautiful moments of our life … as if we aren’t even there.
Worry can steal meaningful experiences right from our memory banks … as if they didn’t even happen.
Worry can prevent us from experiencing happiness, passion, and joy … as if we merely existed, rather than truly lived.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I begin to go down the path of worry, I stop myself by saying one word: Trust
Trust that worrying will do nothing to change the outcome.
Trust that my child will be where she needs to be in her own time.
Trust that things will work out as they should.
Replacing worry with trust has allowed me to live more and love more in the precious day at hand.
Let us choose to live the precious time we are given instead of worrying the moments away.
Do you want to win a copy of Hands Free Life? Simply leave me a comment below and tell me what city you are writing from, and you will be entered to win. The drawing will take place next Wednesday, September 2.
Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is the New York Times bestselling author of HANDS FREE MAMA. Her highly anticipated book, HANDS FREE LIFE, releases on September 8! It is a book about living life, not managing, stressing, screaming, or barely getting through life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace.
Those who pre-order HANDS FREE LIFE from now until September 7 receive the FREE e-book of HANDS FREE MAMA. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.