Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 21, 2014

Best seller written by former Batesville teacher

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Rachel Macy Stafford has written a New York Times best selling book.

“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!,” published by Zondervan Jan. 7, landed at No. 8 on the newspaper’s Advice, How-to and Miscellaneous List Jan. 26 and was still ranked No. 13 a week later.

“Making the ... list has been incredibly exciting,” she reports by e-mail. “My family and I all cried happy tears together, knowing this exposure would help the hands free message spread to even more people. However, I didn’t do anything special to celebrate except feel incredibly grateful for this unexpected blessing.”

The full-time author and public speaker, who now lives in Alabama with her husband and their two girls, 7 and 10, is becoming known for her frank advice. Stafford’s writings have been featured in USA Today, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, TIME.com and MSN.com.

Last weekend she was in San Francisco as a presenter at the University of California’s Wisdom 2.0 conference, chatting about “The Mindful Parent: Lessons in not Hurrying” and was also part of a panel of experts that discussed “Conscious Parenting.”

When asked if she is cured from the frantic life she used to lead, Stafford answers, “Although I have made significant progress toward a more present and gratitude-filled life, I am faced with choices every moment of every day on how I spend my time and energy. Daily distractions and societal pressures will always be ready and willing to sabotage my time and my relationships. Living hands free requires constant daily effort and continual honesty, but the payoff is a closer relationship with the people you love.”

Define hands free: Living hands free means making a conscious decision to temporarily push aside daily distractions and give your undivided attention to someone or something meaningful in your life. But it doesn’t mean giving up technology altogether, and it does not mean ignoring your job responsibilities, volunteer obligations or home duties. Instead, living hands free allows you to experience the joy that comes from being fully engaged with others.

Epiphany: Three years ago, I experienced what I call my “breakdown-breakthrough ... I painfully admitted that I was able to “do it all” because I missed out on life – the playing, connecting, memory-making parts of life. Tragically, I knew every precious moment I’d missed could never be retrieved. With clarity, I saw the damage that 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.

Beginning the Hands Free Mama blog in December 2010: The impact of the small changes I was making in my daily life was so immediate and so profound that I knew I must share them with as many people as I could. As an educator, writer and encourager, I felt certain this was my purpose in life. I believed that the people who could most likely benefit from the hands free message were people who read online blogs and used social media.

Writing the book: My husband, two daughters and I sat down and discussed what we would need to do as a family in order for me to meet my publishing deadlines. Much to my surprise, every member was willing to take on more household duties and daily responsibilities in order to help me. I am proud to say that my family came through like rock stars! Although I worked more hours than usual that month, I refused to miss out on the daily rituals of connection I’d established with my family throughout my journey. Those little moments of togetherness are the most meaningful and renewing parts of my day.

Reconnecting: Because I am a Muncie Burris Owl, Hanover Panther, Ball State Cardinal and Batesville Bulldog, coming to Indy for a Jan. 21 book signing was like coming home. Almost 200 people drove on icy roads and in frigid temps to come out and show their support. It was so incredible to see friends and colleagues I had not seen in years. I will never forget the readers of my blog who drove from Ohio and Michigan to be there. One blog reader drove five hours with her two kids to meet me. It was an unforgettable night!

Pressure, then relaxation: Due to the incredible response of my book, I have experienced increased expectations and demands. I have had national and local media interviews, book signing events, additional writing assignments and travels. My media tour wraps up in mid-March after a trip to Canada, where I will be appearing on all the national morning programs there. While these activities are important when promoting a new book, I look forward to going back to my simple, quiet life where I write my stories and experience hands free moments with my family.

Next book: My initial book deal with Zondervan/HarperCollins Christian Publishing was for two books. I have written six of the 12 chapters of my second book, “Hands Free Life,” which is expected to be published in fall 2015.

Education: Grades K-12, Burris Laboratory School, Muncie; bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Hanover College; master’s degree in special education, Ball State University

Local teaching career: Batesville High School and Batesville Primary School, 1994-95 (a half day at each); Batesville Primary 1995-2001

Batesville memories: I think of all the BHS and BPS teachers and administrators who took me under their wings as a new teacher fresh out of college. I think of every student I was blessed to teach – students who taught me so much about being a present and loving mother. I think of the blue roof of the elementary school that housed people who became family to me and where lifelong memories were made.

Best pastimes: I love to read, take long walks, bake with my daughters and go to Hilton Head Island with my family.

Ways to transform a tech-obsessed family into a hands free family • Turn off notifications on the cellphone and place it out of reach while driving. • Allow yourself 60 extra seconds for an unrushed, undivided, loving goodbye. If you only make one small effort to let go of distraction and grasp what matters in a day, do this! • Establish do-nothing moments with no agenda and no itinerary. • Create and maintain one daily ritual where time with your loved one is protected from all other distraction and interruptions. Examples: morning snuggles, nightly tuck-ins, walking the dog together, prayer, afterschool snack time. • Consistently invite your family to engage in activities that do not involve electronic devices. Try cooking, board games, nature walks, bike rides, arts and crafts, sports or science experiments. Info: www.handsfreemama.com or www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution.