Do you feel disconnected from your family, your kids, your life? Is the to-do list of “must-do’s” ringing empty? Life is more. Rachel Macy Stafford, today’s FACE of the South, is leading the charge to embrace a more purposeful life, not only for parents but for people in all walks of life. She spawned the Hands Free movement with her Hands Free Mama blog, and it is resonating with people all over the world.

DSC_0993 copy

Rachel Macy Stafford, “Hands Free Mama”

How did you coin the term Hands Free Mama?

Three and a half years ago, I experienced my breakdown-breakthrough moment. I painfully admitted that I was able to “do it all” because I missed out on life — the playing, laughing, connecting and memory-making parts of life. With clarity, I saw the damage my daily distractions were having on my relationships, my health and my life.

Once I acknowledged that living distracted was not really living at all, I vowed to change. 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. I documented all my letting go strategies and experiences in a journal. Sometimes I wrote in complete sentences, other times I wrote random words. When I decided to start a blog, I flipped through my journal and found the words HANDS FREE written next to the word MAMA from another sentence. Those three words practically jumped off the page. Not only did it become the title of my blog and book, but it has also become a life practice for many.

Were you surprised that your writing struck such a chord with so many people?

I will never forget when I posted my first Hands Free Mama post. Here I was, announcing to the world that I was not perfect, that my life was not perfect and that I had a lot of things I needed to work on. Within five minutes, someone left a comment on the blog saying: “I am joining you on this journey. I need this message desperately. You are not alone.”

As comments and emails arrived from mothers who worked in and out of the home, as well as fathers, grandparents and non-parents, I discovered a common thread: We are all hungry for human connection. We are tired of a frantic pace. We yearn to let go of the constant pressure. We don’t want to miss our life. The Hands Free message resonates with people of differing backgrounds because it offers a realistic way to live a meaningfully connected life in a distracted world.

DSC_0858 copy

Journaling is an important part of Rachel’s day.

DSC_0963 copy

The recently launched book.

If you were on a 10-second elevator ride with a mom spinning out of control, and you knew she would listen to you, what would be your advice?

I believe the most powerful way of helping someone who appears to be overwhelmed by life is to share one’s own struggles and painful truths. Although the woman’s overwhelming circumstances might be different than mine, there is a good chance that our pain looks comfortingly familiar. By speaking my own difficult truths, I can offer someone else the chance to say, “Me, too.” From that common place of love and understanding, hope for change can be found.

2014 seems to be the tipping point. Everyone is noticing that we are out of control and we need to find our way back to life. Do you see that happening, as well?

As technology becomes more invasive in our home and in our lives, we need simple, highly achievable strategies to protect our time, attention and personal relationships. Simple tactics that help us maximize the time we have with loved ones and be more present in our lives are what the Hands Free message offers people.

Society tends to reward those who embrace the distractions, the “busy-ness.” How do you empower people to embrace and enjoy the now, the people who are present?

Awareness is everything on the journey to a less distracted life. Being Hands Free means your hands are open, but your ears and eyes are, too. You soon realize that the best moments in life happen when the devices are turned off and out of reach. I call these moments Sunset Moments. Just like beautiful sunsets in nature happen every single night whether we see them or not, sunset moments happen in our families’ lives, too.

When I am on my digital devices, writing or cleaning and I hear laughing from the other room, I think, “What am I missing?”

The answer is a sunset moment. And I don’t want to miss those moments of my life. The other stuff can wait. My sunsets cannot. This tactic helps me set aside my distractions and grasp the moment that matters. 

DSC_1085 copy

As you embraced being a Hands Free Mama, you had an audience, your blog, that supported you along the way. Did that make it easier?

Having companions on my Hands Free journey was an unexpected blessing. Each time I shared my painful truths, someone responded with, “Me, too.” This support fueled my writing and inspired me to go deep. The more I admitted my difficult truths, the more the post was shared, the more comments I received and the more people joined the journey. From this experience I wrote this: “When we see each others’ scars, we love each other more.”

On your homepage of Hands Free Mama, you state “I want to create memories, not to-do lists.” How are you able to eschew to-do lists but still accomplish blogging and writing a book?

My highly distracted life was all about productivity. If I couldn’t check an activity off on a to-do list, it held no value. But when I started viewing time spent with family as a priceless investment, I was able to make those a priority in my life and put them at the top of the list.

I still use a calendar to keep track of my appointments and commitments. However, my to-do list is no longer as central to my life. I can go for days without looking at it now that I have created a powerful “Life List,” which includes using my God-given gift to write each day and help others connect to their loved ones.

I use one-item reminder notes rather than exhaustive lists to remember important tasks. The quick-and-easy sticky note allows me to be dependable yet Hands Free, because I am not bogged down by an overwhelming list of duties.

DSC_0826 copy

DSC_0932 copy

The Hands Free mission.

Can you share any advice or a poignant quote that you have relied on through the years?

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you, to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’” -Iain Thomas

As you travel around America with your book tour, is the South really different?

The people of the South have a genuine warmth and friendliness that is quite extraordinary. They think nothing of helping a stranger without asking for anything in return. I love the way the people of the South move at a slower pace than the rest of the world. The South relishes the simple things in life, and it shows in their genuine smiles and giving hearts.

What does your ideal Saturday night look like?

I love the Saturday nights when the families in my neighborhood get together for an impromptu gathering. We throw some food together, grab the outdoor chairs, and we relax and laugh while the kids run and play. Nobody dresses up — we just “come as we are.”

What is your favorite indulgence?

Sleeping past 8:00, thick, fuzzy socks, anything made by L’Occitane and anything made with coconut.

DSC_1067 copy

What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

Is there something about you that would surprise our readers?

I am an extremely private person who enjoys being alone.

What are three things, besides God, family and friends, that you can’t live without?

  • A writing journal
  • Running shoes
  • Kisses from my husband, daughters and fluffy cat, Banjo

Thank you, Rachel!

To purchase Rachel’s book, and read the over 100 fabulous reviews, please click here.

To see the blog Hands Free Mama, please click here.

Special thanks to Catherine Mayo for the beautiful photos today:

catherine mayo logo