Focus on the Family Broadcast   >>   All Episodes

Overcoming Distractions to Connect With Your Family (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 02/01/2016

Get Social and Listen

Blogger and author Rachel Macy Stafford offers encouragement from her bestselling 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! (Part 1 of 2)

Listen here, watch recent episodes on our YouTube channel, or download our app.

Episode Transcript


Promotion: Daily Broadcast App

John Fuller: Busy moms and dads don't have a lot of extra time, but you can all the help you need to raise healthy, thriving children right on your phone. Learn more about the "Focus on the Family" daily broadcast app at iTunes or Google Play.

End of Promotion


Rachel Macy Stafford: And we walked outside and my friend said to my kids, "All moms need a moment and your mommy just needs a moment."

Jim Daly: Wow.

Rachel: And it was very hard for me, 'cause I saw myself in that moment. I thought, I am coming apart at the seams, because I am so stretched. And this is not how I want to live and this is not the mom I want to be.

End of Teaser

John: Rachel Macy Stafford, describing a day in her life when she was so overwhelmed by her endless "to-do" list and all the responsibilities, that she wasn't enjoying her kids or her life. And you'll hear more from her on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Rachel is going to talk about how you can let go of distraction to really intentionally focus on your children. Thanks for joining us today for "Focus on the Family."

Jim: Life feels like it's going too fast doesn't it?

John: I keep waiting for the moment when it's going to slow down and I keep thinking tomorrow or next week or next year and it hasn't happened yet.

Jim: I know. It's always, I'll get there. I'll do it them. Hey, we are consumed with work stuff and shuttling our kids all around. Boy, I can relate to that. Jean can relate to that.

John: I'm doing miles a day sometimes.

Jim: (Laughing) That's for sure. It's that never-ending to-do list and hopefully, being accessible to our kids, not being overrun by the telephone and all the other gadgets that we work with every day. Most of us want to live a simpler life, but it can feel impossible to get there.

And we are told in Proverbs 12:25 that anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. And today we want to be that provider of a good word. We want to alleviate some of that anxiety you feel and the crushing pace that you're keeping and we're gonna do that with our guest today.

John: And let me introduce her again. Her name is Rachel Macy Stafford and she's a popular blogger, speaker and has written a couple of books and one we're discussing today is Hands Free Mama. And Jim, the subtitle so sums up the conversation for today, A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters.


Jim: Okay, I just heard a lot of moms go, "Eeh! What! Burn the to-do list?! How could you …?" My … Jean would be going, "No, everything but that!" Welcome to Focus.

Rachel: Hi, I'm so glad to be here.

Jim: (Laughing) Now Hands Free Mama, what in the world were you thinkin'?

Rachel: Well, at the time I was at the height of my distracted life—too many screens, too many commitments, too many self-induced pressures, too many balls in the air and not enough hands to catch them.

And in the process I found that I was losing my joy. I was missing the moments that really matter. I was missing out on the laughter, the living, the connection.

Jim: In fact, you said you lost two years of your life.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: That grabs me, 'cause—

Rachel: Uh-hm, uh-hm.

Jim: --that … you really think you lost two years of your life?

Rachel: Well, when you are consumed by your distractions, your to-do list, always thinking ahead to the next thing, you are missing what's going on right in front of you. And my children were quite small at the time and I do feel like I missed ages 3 to 5 with my youngest child.

Jim: Rachel, so many moms, they hear what you're saying and maybe they haven't had that alert yet. Describe in more detail what was distracting you? I know we've rapid-fired those things, but I'm sure some moms are saying, "Oh, that's okay. I can multitask. I can look at my phone. I can look at my to-do list. I can feed my 2-year-old. I can do it actually."

Rachel: Yes, well, at the time, my big compliment that I got was, "How do you do it all, Rachel? How do you do it all?" Because I did look like it was effortless for me to, you know, manage all these volunteer activities. I was taking classes for my Master's degree. I was involved in the church, involved in the school. If there was something that needed to be done, Rachel was the go-to person, because she didn't say no.

Jim: How did it make you feel when people would say that?

Rachel: Well--

Jim: You're doin' such a good job; you're such a great multitasker.

Rachel: --it was affirming to me.

Jim: So, you liked it.

Rachel: I liked it, but at the same time, there was this gnawing feeling. You know, I think God starts speaking to you in whispers and He starts being louder when you don't listen to Him. And I had this feeling, is this how I want to live out my life? Because I would wake up feeling the same way I went to bed, which was irritable, grouchy, angry, impatient and my life was full of all kinds of blessings, but I couldn't see them because they were buried beneath the distractions.

Jim: I think moms have perhaps the best human stories, 'cause they see, you know, they see kids at their worst (Laughing) and they see so much. What would be a story from those early days when you were out of control, I guess, if I could say it that way?

Rachel: Sure.

Jim: What was something when you look back on, you go, "Yeah, that should've been a red flag for me?"

Rachel: Well, I vividly remember walking into a Christmas program with my girls and I had just discovered one of them had lice for like the third time in a short span of time. My husband was out of town. The youngest one was complaining 'cause her feet had blisters, but they were so excited to be going to this Christmas program at our church. But I completely lost it when I got in the door. I started yelling at my child, who was complaining about her blisters. Her sister had lice and I was maxed out. You know, when you're staying up too late to get everything done and--

Jim: Did it sound like, "Don't tell me about your blister?"

Rachel: --you know, it was like—

Jim: What were you saying? (Laughing)

Rachel: --I said, "Are you serious?" You know, We're going into this Christmas program and we're supposed to be thankful and you're complaining about these new shoes that you begged me to get." You know, and my friend came over and she put her hand on my arm and said, "Do you want me to take the girls?"

Jim: Oh.

Rachel: It makes me get teary. And I said, "I don't know what's happening." And we walked outside and my friend said to my kids, "All moms need a moment and your mommy just needs a moment."

Jim: Wow.

Rachel: And it was very hard for me, 'cause I saw myself in that moment. I thought, I am coming apart at the seams, because I am so stretched. And this is not how I want to live and this is not the mom I want to be.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, that is beautifully expressed and so many moms just leaned in to give you a hug, 'cause they've been there, too, dads, too. I mean, I've had those times—

Rachel: Right.

Jim: --when I've gone to my kids to say, "I'm sorry I yelled." I mean, it is part of parenting, 'cause you do come to the end of your rope, but you don't want to be stuck in that cycle.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jim: So, then you heard that on that day.

Rachel: Yeah.

Jim: It obviously caught your attention.

Rachel: It did.

Jim: How did you turn that into practical change, because so often and I'm guilty of this, I may have stayed there for five or six years, 'cause it was effective. My kids were now doing what I told them to do (Laughing)

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: Or maybe it's not effective.

Rachel: Well, it … I mean, I could see on my children's faces and that was not the only time that my life of "overwhelm" was taken out on them. And there was a look of fear in my child's, my older daughter's eyes, because I did get to the point where I was not a positive person. I was … became a yeller and that was not me.

But actually, that was not the pivotal moment that caused me to think about how do I need to change, but it did happen. I was out for a run and that question that we talked about--How do you do it all, Rachel?--was going through my mind on this run. And I thought, you know, what is the real answer to that question? How do I do it all? And the answer brought me just to tears. It was, I do it all because I miss out on life. I miss out on the laughing, the living, the prayer, the memory making, the connection to God—

Jim: The joy.

Rachel: --the joy, because I'm so stretched. And I actually had to stop running, because I was just sobbing and I knew I could not do this by myself. I wanted to change, but I thought, I can't do this. I'm just me and I prayed. I said, "God, please help me. I know I can't change overnight, but give me one small step." And within two hours, I had that small step that I needed to take.

Jim: And it was that moment.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: But it sounds like and I don't want to reduce this to simplistic formulas, you know, lose 10 pounds in the next three days.

Rachel: Right.

Jim: Something deep and profound took place in your heart. Speak to the mom who is not at that checkpoint yet. She's tryin' to balance it all. She's, you know, she's not aware that this is a better way to go, to relax and to enjoy life. That sounds like I'm just gonna have more laundry at the end of the week.

Rachel: Right.

Jim: Or I'm gonna have more dishes. Or I'm gonna have more at work. You know, I can't relax. If I relax, it just overwhelms me.

Rachel: Yes. Well, I got home from my run and I had, you know, I was in full Type-A productivity driven mode, as I usually was. My computer was open. My phone was beeping. I was thinking about the, you know, 10 items I needed to accomplish. And suddenly, a little voice in me, God was speaking and said, "Go to your child."

And she was sitting on the couch, watching The Lion King. And I thought, well, I'm in the middle of this sandwich. I'm in the middle of … right now, God, seriously? (Laughter) And I thought, I just prayed for a first step and I think this is it. I went and I sat next to Avery. She instantly drew next to me like a magnet, because when do I ever sit on the couch? She picked up my hand and kissed my palm.

And I thought, okay, God. I hear You. That was my confirmation that if I don't stop, my child cannot kiss a moving target. My husband can't embrace a moving target. My child doesn't want to talk to the back of my head. So, what I tell that mom who's thinking, well, how is everything gonna get done if I stop and take pause? That was a lesson, five minute moment of connection with my child.

But in that moment I felt a peace that I never have when I'm going 110 miles an hour and I was like, you know what? All that stuff that I thought I had to do, it really put it in perspective. It doesn't have to be done right now. That text does not have to be answered right now. My people that love me need me. They need me right now.

Jim: And the beauty of that is, they need you, they don't need—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --you to do.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jim: And I think often all of us as parents, but I think moms particularly are sensitive to this, that you know, there's so much to take care of.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: And there is a sense of self-worth from doing that, but your kids need you. We say that all the time to dads who are workaholics.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: You know, try to get home so the kids can spend time with you and I try to do that. And … but it's that same kind of feeling. You've gotta be intentional.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: And here's the equation. You've got to value that more than the to-do-list—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: And that's hard.

Rachel: Well, and you have to change your perspective about what is important, because my thought process for so long was, if I cannot check it off, it has no value. But yet, these moments of connection with your spouse and your child, they're priceless.

Jim: And they're not easily checked as a box.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jim: Yeah, complete.

Rachel: What I tell my readers who say, you know, I can't just stop in the middle of everything and do this, but if you do take the time, even if it's five minutes, you are going to experience something profound. It's either something that your child will say that means a lot or something that makes you laugh or makes you feel peaceful. So, you are rewarded for taking that pause in your day.

John: Well, we're hearing from the heart of Rachel Macy Stafford and this is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. You can find out more about Rachel's book, Hands Free Mama and a CD or a download of this conversation at or call us, 800-A-FAMILY.

And Rachel, as you take that first step, I mean, there's not a promise that my child is gonna lean in and just embrace the new me.

Jim: Kiss your palm.

Rachel: Right, right.

John: So, what do you do then?

Rachel: Well, I think it's very important to create a new sense of, you know, I'm available, because you have not been available for so long or you've gotten into bad habits of yelling and being negative. But if you don't start a process of trying to change, you're going to stay in that same rut.

So, what I say to most parents is, our children are so forgiving and you show up and say, "I've got 10 minutes and they are all yours. I'm putting away my phone. I'm putting away my list. Mommy is here." Or "Daddy is here." You will watch as your child just [is] like you just gave them the best gift.

Jim: Well, I think because they feel valued.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: And you know, I don't … that was my boys with my travel schedule, 'cause I really go pretty hard September through May. But during the summer, I don't travel much out of town, maybe one or two nights in three months.

Rachel: That's wonderful.

Jim: And they even said when I get into a really busy time, they'll say, "That's okay, dad, 'cause we know summer's coming."

Rachel: Right.

Jim: So, they're applauding it. I mean, they're like cheering me on, understanding the environment I work in—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --but knowing that they've got me in the summertime. We're gonna go fishin'. We're gonna go camping and hiking and that's good for them.

Rachel: Well, and I love to tell readers, if you do nothing else to change your distracted life, do this. Create one daily ritual that is distraction free.

Jim: What would that look like?

Rachel: That would look like, so maybe it's your morning snuggle time. Maybe it's (Laughter) your nightly—

Jim: I love that.

Rachel: --talk time. Maybe it's walking the dog every day, but you do that every single day, your child knows this is my time. Mommy, you know, pushes everything away. Or dad pushes it away and I … that's our time together and my older daughter, Natalie and I have been doing it for seven years, talk time and she knows even when my … I'm right in the midst of writing a book that's due the next day, she knows mama always comes. She told my mom that one night when my mom said, "You know, mom's got a lot to do. She's gotta finish her book." And she said, "Grandma, mama always comes. Talk time is our time."

Jim: What an amazing thing.

Rachel: And so, those rituals of distraction free, even if there are 10 minutes a day, those can build such a foundation of trust and connection and communication that our children need.

Jim: And memories.

Rachel: And memories; good point.

Jim: You know, you're teaching them what's important in your life.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Jim: Let me continue to talk about where you were, because again, my concern is that many of us live there and we haven't had the awakening yet.

Rachel: Sure.

Jim: We're still living with the to-do list. Talk about your relationship with your husband, Scott—

Rachel: Okay.

Jim: --because we've talked a lot about the kids, but Hands Free Mama, there's a spousal element to that, as well. How did your relationship look like with Scott at the time and how has that improved?

Rachel: Well, I did not want to hear what Scott was observing about me, which was that I was consumed by all these other things going on in, you know, outside the home—the volunteering, the extra school work that I was taking on, all the obligations. And he would say to me, "You are burning yourself out. You're not giving time to the rest of us." I did not want to hear it.

Jim: Yeah, how did you respond to that?

Rachel: Oh, I got angry and defensive, until one day we were leaving for vacation. We pulled out of the driveway. We were, you know, going on a family vacation. We had everything in the world to be thankful for, but I was complaining.

Well, we didn't get the dishes loaded. Oh, the garage door is acting up. We're not on the road when we should be. He turned to me and said, "You're never happy anymore." And I could not deny it. I could not justify it. I thought, oh, my goodness; he's right. Where did that happy woman that I used to be, where did she go?

Jim: You know, it's important to pause for a second, because that discussion can go in so many different directions and I applaud you for hearing him. I think some spouses will garner the courage to say something and it will be rebuked. You know, how could you say that to me? I work so hard.

Rachel: Right.

Jim: Look at what I do in the home. Look what I do outside. Everything I'm doing is for us. How could you say that about me? It can be met with kind of hostility.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: So, you had this self-awareness. How does a person obtain that, who may not see the log in their own eye?

Rachel: Uh-hm, well,I began paying attention to some of the red flag behaviors, I guess you could call them. I could not walk by my phone without picking it up. It was just an obsession for me to see, you know, what am I missing out there in the Internet world? Or who do I need to respond to? Also, texting my phone in very dangerous situations like say a stoplight. I one time started to turn left when it wasn't my turn and I almost killed myself because I was taking this stupid risk to check my phone.

When I became angry at my children because they were bothering me while I was sending a text message, those things brought awareness to me. And I thought, okay, why am I doing these things that are not only damaging, but dangerous just to check my phone or just to stay on top of things? And I'm sacrificing what I love the most. So, red flag behaviors like those are what kind of began to wake me up.

Jim: Did you use some kind of a system to say, okay, I'm gonna give myself five minutes in an hour to check the phone? Every hour I give myself five minutes to respond to messages or—

Rachel: Yeah, it—

Jim: --take care of things.

Rachel: --what worked the best for me was to establish hands-free daily time increments. So, every morning when I woke up, instead of reaching for the phone, which I always would start my day with reaching for the phone, which then puts you on everyone else's agenda. Then you're worried about what everyone else is doing, rather than what's going on in your home, in your heart.

So, I began having my hands-free daily rituals. First thing in the morning, when my girls got home from school, I was distraction free. I'd put it all away. Sometimes it was 30 minutes. Sometimes it was an hour. Dinnertime, that was no phones, no distractions, you know, being all there and then nighttime.

So, I had work time, you know, and I think that's important, 'cause a lot of people do work from home and we have responsibilities and I'm not saying, well, we need to abandon all that. But create times in your life that are sacred, that are free from distraction and protected from the outside world.

John: Well, this is hard, because Jim and you and I have experienced this, as well as anybody else, the personal [and] work world blending together.

Rachel: Oh, yes.

John: So, even though I'm not at work, I'm thinking about work.

Rachel: Yes.

John: I mean, I care deeply about what goes on here and what we do, so how, Rachel, can you separate that out? I mean, I'm guessing you're still kinda multitasking back there, even though it's "hands-free" time?

Rachel: Yes, well, I have a strategy that has worked wonders for me and I call it "taking off the ticking clock," because I am a very productivity driven person. I'm a checklist maker and I want to cross it off. But when I realized how much I was missing by always thinking about something else while I was with my people, I began visualizing a heavy ticking clock weighing down my soul, because that is in reality, that is what we're putting ourselves on this crazy time schedule, you know, that we can't just pause and be still and hear God and hear what our children are saying, what our spouse is saying. So, I physically, you know, imagine taking off this ticking clock and I give myself permission to be where I am now.

Jim: Do you still do that as a—

Rachel: Oh—

Jim: --as a trigger?

Rachel: --oh, absolutely.

Jim: Like just use your hands to imagine taking that clock—

Rachel: Absolutely.

Jim: --off.

Rachel: When my daughter is picking out the clothes that she wants to wear and she wants me to be a part of [it]; oh, I might wear this tomorrow, I literally sit on the floor and I know; I gotta take off that ticking clock. I'm not gonna do her any justice or myself any justice if I sit here and just nod and think about, okay, when I get done here, I'm gonna do this and this and this.

Because if you allow yourself to be fully there, they know and they can sense it. And we end up having usually a beautiful conversation or I'll hear something about school that I didn't know or she'll say something about a friend. And I'll be … I'll say, "Thank You, God. Thank You, God that You let me take that ticking clock off, so I could hear this special child tell me what's on her heart."

Jim: Yeah, it's about the relationship; that's the key.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Jim: I'm thinking of the mom who is more on the disorganized spectrum. You know, you talk about yourself being goal-oriented—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --and task-driven, but speak to us about that mom, different from you, who she's in chaos because her whole world's in chaos and she doesn't know how to start getting that organized. And she just doesn't have that gift maybe.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: How do you, in that personality type, how do you begin to get out of the chaos? You may have this desire and maybe—

Rachel: Yeah.

Jim: --you're able to spend a few minutes with your child, but everything's crazy—the closets, the dishes, the job. It's like it's overwhelming.

Rachel: Yes, well, what I tell people that write to me with that exact question is, I say, you must start small. If you think about all that you need to do and accomplish and how … what a mess your life is, you will never start.

So, this one woman that wrote to me recently, she said, "My car is just a complete mess and it's making me feel crazy, you know, with my kids. And it's just …" And I said, "Set your timer for 30 minutes. Do what you can in that 30 minutes to clean your car out. Invite your kids to help you if you want to make it a moment of connection."

Jim: Yahoo!

Rachel: But (Laughter) I think it's so important to break down monumental tasks. If those closets are making you be, you know, a maniac in the mornings, say okay, "I'm gonna … on Tuesday," write it down, "I'm going to clean this closet out." Break it down.

And if your problem is that you feel like you're not talking to your kids enough, say, "You know what? When I drive them to soccer practice, I'm gonna put my phone in my purse. I'm gonna zip it up and I'm not gonna touch it."

There are time increments that in our life, you know, when they're eating their cereal at the kitchen table, you can stop for that five or 10 minute increment. Sit next to them and that moment that you could have easily covered up with all your to-do's—

Jim: Right.

Rachel: --can be a sacred moment. We can create sacred moments in our life just by doing what we do every day, except stopping and really just soaking up that moment.

Jim: Rachel Macy Stafford, author of the book, Hands Free Mama, I want to come back next time, if you're willing, to talk about those practical tools we can use to engage our kids at their point of interest. I think that's a very important message for parents.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Jim: 'Cause again, we're movin' so fast, we won't even know what their bent is, like the Scripture says.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: We'll just blow right by 18 years and really never know our children.

Rachel: Oh.

Jim: So, let's do it.

Rachel: Okay, I would love it. Thank you.


John: Well, we look forward to hearing more from our guest and if you've resonated with her story and some of the things she shared today, then get a copy of Rachel's book, Hands Free Mama, which is really insightful and has so much more than we could cover in today's program and certainly, we won't cover it all next time either. Find a copy and a CD or instant download of this conversation at

And then let me share a comment that we received. We always love hearing from you. This is from a new listener who told us, "I'm 34-years-old and the happily married mother of two. My routine has been to listen to talk radio on my morning commute to work, usually some sort of edgy shock jock program, because it would make me laugh. But I began to recognize that God wanted me to listen to something else. One day I switched stations and there you were. I was entertained by and interested in everything you were talking about. I tuned in every day for three months now and I love your guests and topics. When I get out of the car in the morning and walk into work, I feel like a new person. I've told many friends about your program and they love it, too. Thanks for changing my life for the better." What an encouraging comment to hear and we're so glad that we could make a difference in her life and frankly, we're grateful that she's telling so many people about these programs. Please do the same.

And then if you believe in what we're doing to help families, if we've made a difference in your family, consider financially supporting Focus on the Family. Every dollar you give will help us help others and you can make that donation at or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And today, when you donate a gift of any amount, we'll send a copy of Hands Free Mama to say thank you and to make sure that you've got a copy of this great resource.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we hear more from Rachel, a time when she got so fed up with her endless to-do list, that she took some pretty drastic measures.


Rachel Macy Stafford: So what I did, I burnt it. I watched the flames come up and for that whole day, I did what my heart wanted me to do.

Jim Daly: What did that feel like that day, the difference?

Rachel: It felt completely freeing.

End of Excerpt

John: You'll hear why burning her to-do list was such a freeing act, when you tune in tomorrow and we once again, help you and your family thrive.

  • Featured Book

    Hands Free Life

    Rachel Macy Stafford

    Rachel Macy Stafford reveals the daily habits and practices that can help us all to live more fulfilled lives and protect our relationships with those we love.

    Buy Now
  • Featured Audience Input

    Daily Radio Broadcast Listener Survey

    To help us provide the best possible programming for you, we need your honest feedback on how we're doing and how we can get better.

    Read more
  • Featured Episode

    Model Good Technology Use

    Don’t let your cell phone interrupt family time! Dr. Kathy Koch shares how parents can model good technology use. Listen to the full program here.

  • Featured Episode

    Helping Kids Relate in a Screen-Driven World (Part 1 of 2)

    Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane explain the dangers of overusing digital gadgets and media, and offer parents practical advice on establishing healthy boundaries and teaching their kids the importance of face-to-face relational skills. (Part 1 of 2)

More Episode Resources


Rachel Macy Stafford

View Bio

Rachel Macy Stafford is a popular blogger who enjoys encouraging others to put aside distractions and focus on life's most important priorities. She is also a certified special education teacher and the author of two books, the New York Times bestseller, Hands Free Mama, and Hands Free Life. Rachel and her husband have two daughters. Learn more about Rachel by visiting her blog: