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Hands-Free Mama

January 8, 2014
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 “The time you invest in the people you love will always add up to something that matters.” – Rachel Macy Stafford

Rachel Macy Stafford is the author of Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. Rachel is a beautiful writer, and she writes on topics dear to the Family and Home Network community: time and relationships.

Rachel tells her own story—about being buried in busy-ness—until finally she recognized the negative effects of her distractedness, her perfectionism and hurry-up habits. She started blogging about her struggles to change, and she heard from many others—mothers, fathers, grandparents, teens—all struggling with similar challenges. Rachel explains the strategies she used to "let go of my daily distractions and grasp moments of loving connection."

Not being a perfectionist myself, I wondered whether that aspect of Rachel’s story would have meaning for me. I was surprised to recognize myself in some of the scenarios Rachel recounts. I’ve certainly overcommitted to a volunteer project, obsessed with worry over things I was powerless to change, been distracted by technology.

If you’ve ever wondered “am I too busy, too distracted?” then Hands Free Mama can be an excellent guide to examining your patterns of behavior. And you can feel great about the things you're already doing to connect with loved ones. I enjoyed being reminded of the value of some things I do with my grandsons: conversations in the car, cuddling, "do nothing" time--and I found some new things to try. The stories Rachel tells, from her own life and from her blogging community, illustrate how emotional connectedness happens--in all it's messy, patched-together imperfection.

A few of the chapter titles illustrate Rachel’s journey to a less distracted life: 1. Acknowledge the cost of your distraction – Awareness; 2. Make purposeful connection – Connectedness; 3. Choose what matters – Deliberateness. There are twelve chapters, each examining a concept that Rachel dug into as she changed. She recounts powerful wake-up moments, acknowledges daily struggles, lists ideas and strategies for changing behavior and outlook, and offers suggested weekly intentions and reflections. Rachel’s belief in God was an important part of her journey, but it’s part of her personal story—I never got the sense that she expected readers to share her beliefs.

There are going to be times for most of us when circumstances conspire to drive us away from our ideals about time and connectedness. No matter how mindful we are about time, things happen. Most of us will experience periods when we are too distracted, too busy. Some families face extraordinary challenges that exhaust them and leave little leeway for deciding how to spend time. Many cultural forces push us away from a focus on investing time in the people we love.

Decades ago, when my children were young, there were books, newspapers, magazines, phones, radio and television. But when we went to the park, I couldn’t make a phone call or check my email (there was no email!). Today there are so many new ways to get distracted! But it's not only the external sources of distraction that matter, as Rachel explores in Chapter 8: Silence the Inner Critic - Acceptance. Hands Free Mama is rich in ideas and inspiration for thinking deeply about the day by day choices I make that add up to the essence of who I am.

I’m grateful for Rachel’s honesty in telling the story of her journey and for her wisdom in forgiving herself for those distracted years. Forgiveness of oneself is an all-too-rare theme in parenting books and it was especially welcome to find it througout Hands Free Mama. Change is hard, and it takes time. Rachel acknowledges this right up front and has structured her book so it can be read and put into practice one-chapter-a-month for a year. I'll be re-reading this book and recommending it to parents for years to come. I know it will inspire introspection, conversations, and best of all, more connectedness in families and communities.

- reviewed by Catherine Myers, Executive Director of Family and Home Network

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