I’m honored that Rachel Macy Stafford, author of the blog and book titled Hands Free Mama as well as the soon-to-be released Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More, found some time to speak with us about her books.
I love Rachel’s writing—partly because she is a gifted storyteller using everyday life to make salient points. Partly because Rachel’s thinking about raising children parallels mine—that noticing and paying attention and conversation all make a difference. And partly because Rachel is writing about what we all know but rarely act upon—that a chaotic, distracted, technology-filled life isn’t going to be fulfilling.
Changing this is as simple as having one or both of Rachel’s books on your night stand and taking a few minutes each evening to remind yourself of what matters and how to go about making it matter.
Rachel’s first bestseller, Hands Free Mama, asked a wonderfully simple question: “What do you want your children to remember you having in your hands.” So I thought we’d start with her first book.
Paul: Rachel, I’m sure you have hundreds of stories about the impact of your first book on parents and children. What three or four ideas could parents embrace and experience wonderful results?
Rachel: Here are four ideas I advocate in the first book:
1. Give an undistracted goodbye. The day I realized my family’s loving goodbyes were getting lost in the morning rush was painful, but I knew I had the power to bring them back. My daughter made a sign for the door that said: “XOXO Before You Go.” Those ten seconds have become the most important minutes of our day, even as my children age. Before you part ways today, hold your loved ones for at least ten seconds. Hug them tightly. Inhale their scents. Tell them you love them no matter what happened in the frustrating or hurried minutes before that goodbye.
2. Greet them with a “Sun Delay.” When you greet someone with happiness, excitement, interest, and love, the message you are sending is: You are loved. A few years ago, I decided that showing my family I was happy to see them was very important to me. I made a vow to let go of my distractions long enough to cause a “Sun Delay,” which means: No matter what I am in the middle of doing … no matter how inconvenient it is to look up … no matter how ‘busy’ I think I am, when my loved ones walk into the room or return after a separation, the world is going to stop for a moment so I can shine love into their eyes and hearts. Today, let your loved ones see AND feel how much you love them when you are united.
3. Establish a sacred daily ritual. Cherishing every moment in life is simply not possible. There are jobs to do, bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and obligations to fulfill. But there are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred. Meals at the kitchen table, caring for pets, walks around the block, morning snuggles, afterschool chats, and nightly tuck ins are daily rituals that all hold the potential to be all there—no distractions, no interruptions, just love. In those sacred minutes, relationships can be strengthened, lifelong memories can be made, and peace can come to your frenzied soul.
4. Go public. To increase accountability, announce to family members or a trusted friend your aspiration to live a less-distracted life. A public declaration might sound like this:
I am making an effort to refrain from using the phone while I am driving. I may need your gentle reminders. Would you help me?
I am making an effort to put away my devices from six o’clock to nine o’clock each night. Would you like to do this together?
I am making an effort to use a peaceful response in times of stress and overwhelm. Can you put your hand on your heart when I am hurting you with my words or tone as a reminder of my promise?
Paul: A recent study concluded that a critical part of raising successful children was giving them the ability to converse. How can parents do this?
Rachel: Within just a few weeks of starting my Hands Free journey, I was able to identify several red flag behaviors that prevented me from meaningfully loving, living, and listening. When I found myself doing these particular actions, I said to myself, “Whoa. This is not a behavior I want to see my child imitate. This is not how I want to be remembered when I’m gone.” Part of the vow was this line:
Today I want you to remember my listening face—not my fake listening face, the one that nods robotically and looks right through you. Today I want to love you by listening, really listening.
Out of all the behaviors listed in the vow, the most important one to me is The Listening Face. My dad gave me the gift of The Listening Face throughout my childhood and tumultuous teen years. Looking back now, I am quite certain it saved my life. The fact that my dad valued what I had to say—no matter how unimportant or trivial—gave me the confidence to speak up even in the most intimidating and dangerous situations. It gave me the ability to speak up for my beliefs, my dreams, and for those who could not speak up for themselves. My dad’s listening face gave me a voice.
Here are five practical ways parents can encourage children to converse and demonstrate that their words hold value:
1. Make conditions right: Push aside distractions. Stop doing anything else. Be still. Look into their eyes.
2. Preface the moment with, “I’ve been looking forward to this time together.”
3. Decide there is nothing more important than hearing their words. Decide listening is the most important thing you could be doing right now.
4. If home is too distracting, step outside … walk the dog … grab a quiet table at the coffee shop … go to the library … wash the car. Find quiet spaces where distraction cannot sabotage your moment.
5. Ask a follow-up question about something he or she said in an earlier conversation. This will build trust—trust that you listen, remember, and value what he or she says.
Paul: What is it that you would like every mother and father to be aware of when interacting with their children? And perhaps the answer is different for fathers and mothers.
Rachel: I would like every parent to be aware of the power of the three-second pause. In the midst of a challenging moment with a loved one, I find it helpful to do a three-second preview of what might result from a hostile reaction. Although I may feel like yelling, controlling the situation, or sighing in exasperation, I have done it enough times to know the result of that choice will not be positive. I will hurt someone. I will not bring reconciliation to the issue. I will create fear. I will experience regret that could last for minutes, days, and even years. I will shut down future communications with my child so that she learns to confide in someone who is less reactive and judgmental. Or worse, she will not tell anyone when she’s in trouble and try to go it alone.
Taking a three-second pause enables us to choose love over anger, hurry, condemnation, shame, or sarcasm. And when love speaks, we are all better heard. And when love looks, we are all better seen.
Paul: What are your best ideas for breaking free of technology?
Rachel: I once wrote, “When you live life distracted, you’re missing more than life.” So celebrate the fact you’ve decided you don’t want to miss the moments in life that matter, and then use these strategies to curb tech use and engage in real-life moments:
1. At least one day of the weekend, give yourself a break and relish the downtime with your family. If your pull to work and ties to technology is too strong to resist at home, go places where there is no electronic distraction and leave the devices at home—the library, a hike, a picnic, museums, farmer’s markets. Not only will you will end up making memories and meaningful connections, you will also find you are rejuvenated and more productive when you return to your work duties.
2. During the workweek, get outside. There is just something about being outside that causes me to abandon my technology and just enjoy nature. Even if it is only for fifteen minutes, go outside and watch your children investigate their surroundings. My children are the best “Hands Free” role models I know. Being outside creates mindfulness that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and our day-to-day problems. Being outside is like a slap in the face to cherish the moments that matter.
3. Refrain from using your phone when driving your children or family members. Use this time to talk to them or play their favorite music and sing together. Ask open-ended questions. Talk about what you are grateful for. Point out picturesque views along the drive. Let your minds wander. It’s okay to not be “doing something” every minute of the day. The car is a good place to think and simply be.
4. When you are with your children/family in “waiting” situations like the doctor’s office, restaurants, events, or activities, resist the urge to look at your phone. This wait time is ideal connection time. If necessary, bring paper, crayons, books, or anything they might enjoy doing with you while you wait. You might be the only person in the waiting room not looking at your phone, and your children will love you for it.
5. Create at least one daily ritual where time with your loved one is sacred, meaning void of distraction. Whether that be tucking them in bed at night, having dinner together, or enjoying morning snuggles, do it every day so that no matter how the rest of the day goes, your child (or significant other) can always count on that one period of connection.
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 Mama from now until September 7 will receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.