By MADOLINE MARKHAM
When Rachel Stafford visits area schools, she tells students she is writing a book about parents putting down the cell phones. Immediately, their hands shoot up in the air to share their thoughts with her.
Stafford’s blog post on their responses, “The children have spoken,” got 20,000 hits in two days.
“Children notice when they are being ignored,” said the Liberty Park mom of two. “We forget that life is going on around us. Many people tell me that they didn’t realize how they were being distracted.”
Her blog, Hands Free Mama, is all about letting go of daily distractions, perfections and control to focus on someone or something meaningful.
In August 2010, Stafford was married to her college love, had two small children and was super busy. But she asked herself, “Am I really happy?”
“I found I was always saying, ‘Not now. Mommy’s busy,’” she said. “People would ask me ‘how I did it all.’ I found that I was missing out on life, the praying, memory making, the laughing.”
It was in that “break through” moment that she made the decision to become what she calls “hands free.” She started implementing “let go” tactics to devote time to be fully present with her children and spouse. Each was small but had a profound impact.
Three months into her hands free journey, she started blogging at www.handsfreemama.com.
As a former special education teacher, lifelong writer and gifted encourager, she wanted to share the concept she was living.
“I want the community to come and be inspired and share their own hands free stories and how their small changes are making a big difference in life,” she said.
“There is a movement of people who want to live hands free.”
Hands Free Mama has attracted 100,000 visitors in the past year and nearly 2,000 Facebook fans.
“I write as a narrative so people can see themselves doing it,” Stafford said. “It’s not hard, you don’t need education; it’s for everyone. Everyone can have a chance to grasp life with both hands.”
She hears feedback on living hands free not just from moms but also dads, grandparents, and even single women who someday want to have a family.
“It resonates with people in all walks of life,” Stafford said. “We all suffer the damage of distraction.”
She speaks to women’s groups and Bible studies on internal distraction as well.
“There is this pressure on women to do it all perfectly,” she said. “It’s okay to be able to say, ‘I can’t do it all.’”
For her, life is about its focus.
“My life mission statement is to be present in my children’s lives and to use my gifts to help others,” she said. “When I am asked to volunteer for something, I ask how it compares to my life mission statement. So, for instance, I now focus on community events that directly involve my children.”
She spends about eight hours a day—while her children are at school or sleeping—writing and blogging and filling notebooks with ideas. The rest of her time, she is living and modeling for her kids how to reach outside themselves to extend grace to other people and put others before themselves. One of her most popular posts is about making Valentines treats with her daughters for the trashmen.
An author in California is currently mentoring Stafford through the book proposal process and connecting her with publishing contacts.
Through this and all of her writing, Stafford notes how supportive her family is. Her children fuel her ideas.
“They know Mom loves to write and has a gift to share,” she said. “They love the hands free version of me.”