Rachel Macy Stafford is the author of Handsfreemama.com and the originator of the Hands Free Revolution. She recently gave me the opportunity to review her first book in advance, and provided time to answer questions about her decisions, her faith, and her writing process.
Thank you for taking some time to answer these questions! I have to admit that your book has really challenged me to evaluate how I spend time, especially in regards to my children and my wife. Thank you for your openness and vulnerability.
–Tell us about your background in the years leading up to your Hands Free decision.
When my younger daughter was two-years-old, her older sister went to kindergarten. I’d spent the previous five years taking care of my family and moving to several new cities in a short time period. So when my older child went to kindergarten and my younger child was no longer a baby, I dove into activities that stimulated my mind, allowed for use of my God-given talents, and engaged me in conversations with other adults—activities I had been desperately missing. With each successful event I chaired, I felt validated. I discovered an identity other than “Mom.” I was filling a five-year void.
But I took it too far.
And while I was doing good for so many, my family got lost. The pace of my life became a constant mad dash to a finish line that couldn’t be reached. I began gripping my devices tighter than the hands of my loved ones. I was yes to everything outside the home and no to the most important activities inside the home—like playing, laughing, and making memories. I was buried beneath the weight of my distractions. I wasn’t living anymore—I was barely existing.
-For those who haven’t read the book or blog yet, what prompted the Hands Free Mama movement?
The impact of the small changes I was making in my life to overcome my distracted and perfectionistic ways were so immediate and so profound that I knew I must share them. As an educator, writer, and encourager, I felt certain this was my purpose in life. I knew the people who would most likely benefit from my Hands Free messages were people who read blogs and engaged in social media so I chose those mediums to share my message.
Within the first week of debuting my blog, the messages came pouring in. People were thanking me for being open and honest about my struggles. People revealed that they needed this message—that they longed to hear this message—and joined me on my journey. Now there are over a million people who visit my blog each month, showing up to be encouraged and offer encouragement to those wanting to live and love more each day.
-What was the hardest thing for you to give up when it came to the Hands Free model?
Well, I can tell you it was not the phone. And it was not the packed social calendar or affirmations for successful achievements. It was the façade of having it all together—that everything in my life was perfect. Living truly Hands Free meant embracing (and revealing) my imperfections, my missteps, and my humanness.
But when I freed the painful truths locked in my soul, I offered someone else the chance to say, “Me too.” And meeting another person in the light of realness means you are not alone and change comes more easily. Our inner scars may be created from different experiences and circumstances, but yet they look comfortingly familiar when we speak them out loud.
-What has been the greatest blessing in changing your habits?
By far my favorite aspect of living Hands Free is getting to know my family. Because I am not blinded by my distractions, I can truly SEE them. And when you see your loved ones as they are and hear their words, you begin to know them as individuals. Because you are available, they begin to confide in you; they trust you. Having a very close bond with the members of my family is the most rewarding aspect of living with open hands, open eyes, and open hearts.
-You reference your small group and your church in the book. What role did those communities play in your decision to change your habits?
Individual relationships with people in my small group and church family were vital to becoming more authentic and open about my struggles with distraction. When I shared my desire to scale back and invest in what truly mattered to me, many friends joined me. It helped me stay accountability to share this journey with people who shared similar goals. When I began sharing my journey on handsfreemama.com, members of my church family were some of the first people who responded, “I am joining you on this journey.” My church family went on to share my blog posts and encourage me in countless ways on my pursuit to become a published author.
-Inspiration doesn’t seem to follow a schedule, so what guidelines have you put in place to help you write AND maintain your Hands Free lifestyle? What advice would you give others?
I strive to maintain boundaries between writing and family time, which can be challenging due to my active “writer’s brain” and the accessibility/lure of technology. However, I have found that I feel rejuvenated when I step back from writing to spend time with my loved ones. I also get inspired. Many of my stories come from the moments I spend living Hands Free. I keep a small notebook handy wherever I go. I jot one or two word ideas down and then go back to them when it is my designated work time. I regularly unplug for a week at a time when we take family vacations. I always come away feeling uplifted after being “off the grid.” I definitely think taking time to relax and be alone with my own thoughts makes me more productive as a writer.
-How do you decide what’s “ok” to share about your family in a public, unfiltered setting? Do you see that changing as your daughters get older?
I ask permission of anyone whose story I share in my blog and this includes my children. I do not share things that would embarrass them now or later in life. I stick to the inspiring lessons they teach me. Thus far, my children are very proud to be included in my blog and book. I always share the results/positive comments that result when something they taught me is shared on my blog. For example, my older daughter sent a dollar bill to a former babysitter so she could adopt her Ugandan son. I wrote a story about it and it inspired thousands of people to send a dollar. My sitter recently brought her son home. This has brought great joy to my daughter and reminded my family how small efforts can inspire big results.
If my children were ever to say, “I don’t want to be in your blog anymore,” I would respect that. I would find other ways to share the things I am learning on my Hands Free journey.
-What advice would you give to a writer or blogger about writing that you wish you would’ve learned earlier on?
*Don’t second-guess yourself based on what the “experts” say. You know what is best for your audience—even if it is an audience of one. Don’t feel like you have to follow any blog “rules” – just do something you can stick with and feel good about.
*Write from your heart. If you are not being honest, it will show in your writing. People gravitate toward authenticity and honesty.
*Find your own measure of success that is not tied to stats or “going viral.” Mine was to touch ONE life. If I touched one life by sharing my story that is what brought me great joy at the end of the day.
-What’s the next step for you at Hands Free Mama? I am currently on chapter 6 of my second book. Because distraction will always be a part of my life, I continue to learn new ways to be present and meaningfully connected. Writing about my experiences helps me stay true to my Hands Free commitment, and I just love sharing my discoveries with others.