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

Air Date 02/02/2016

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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 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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Rachel Macy Stafford: 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.

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John: That's Rachel Macy Stafford on the last "Focus on the Family" broadcast, sharing about the moment she realized she was just stretched too thin. She wasn't making time for the things and the people that mattered to her most. And you'll hear more from her about letting go of distractions and really concentrating on the important things of life. And our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: You know, I love Rachel's transparency. I think we can all relate to life just feeling really busy. We want to live a bit simpler, less distracted lives. But it can feel impossible to get there. And Rachel shared last time how she started with making small daily choices, reaching for her Bible first thing instead of her phone, sitting with her child and playing with them for a few minutes instead of being consumed by the stack of bills on the counter. I did that the other morning. I was on the computer paying bills, rather than snugglin' with one of the boys. We need to make that important time with those around us, especially our spouses, for a few minutes before moving on with the day's activities.

So, today we want to encourage you that regardless of how busy you may feel, you can make healthier choices to live a less distracted life and be more intentional with the people you love.

John: And Rachel's book really captures the content of the upcoming conversation here today. It's called 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. And if you missed any of the conversation last time, it really does set the stage for today's discussion. Get the CD or instant download at .


Jim: Rachel, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."

Rachel: Thank you.

Jim: We talked last time about how your husband, Scott helped with a little good word about the loss of your happiness and where have you gone?

Rachel: Uh-hm.

Jim: And then you were joggin' down the road and it just hit you as you were thinkin' about that and you began to cry, that you were missing those scared moments with your two girls. And it's a beautiful picture of maintain[ing] the important things and let some of the other stuff go.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: And that's so hard to do. You know, in fact, you did something that I thought was funny. You burnt [sic] your to-do list. That was bold. (Laughter)

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: How did that happen and what was the environment like—

Rachel: Well, let me—

Jim: --when you did it?

Rachel: -- just give you a little description about that to-do list. It was typed, two pages.

Jim: (Laughing) Oh, man.

Rachel: Like so, just know--

Jim: That was a good thing to burn that thing.

Rachel: --I have always lived by a to-do list. I'm extremely Type A, you know, perfectionist by heart, so I—

Jim: Oh, man.

Rachel: --keep this to-do list and when I began, I was just a few weeks into my journey and I thought, what is something really dramatic that I can do that is gonna free me from just being so tied to a list? I had stopped living my life because if it wasn't on the list, it had no value.

John: Uh-hm.

Rachel: So, I decided what would happen if I burned that to-do list and my hand was shaking, of course.

Jim: Seriously, it was shaking?

Rachel: Oh, oh, yeah, because I thought, but what am I gonna do if I fail to do these things that I need to do? So, what I did; I burnt it; I watched the flames come up and I for that whole day, I did what my heart wanted me to do.

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

Rachel: It felt completely freeing.

Jim: Really, so you weren't missing it.

Rachel: I was not missing it. I could breathe. It felt like a weight had been lifted.

Jim: You were smiling again.

Rachel: Because honest[ly], I mean, God gave me that idea to burn that to-do list. That didn't come, you know, naturally. So, I knew this is what God wants me to do. He's teaching me something from this experience. And lo and behold, I did what my heart wanted to do, which was write. I wrote some beautiful words that I would've never had time to do, that I ended up sharing on my blog. I played with my kids and had no time limits. I heard what my husband was saying when he got home from work and watched him take his tie off and I wasn't running around doing a million things.

And then the next day I thought, oh, I've got all those things I was supposed to. What I did was, I remembered the most important things and I let go of the things I couldn't remember. 'Cause I thought, if it was really important, someone will call me. They'll let me know I forgot. And you know what? The world did not end.

Jim: I mean, it seems so obvious the way you describe it and the freeing sensation. Why are we not moving there more quickly? Why are we staying in the rut? It could be 10 years, 15, 20, 30 years that some moms have stayed in this rut.

Rachel: I'll tell you, I think it is because we are so afraid of letting down other people, for me, when I said that prayer on my morning run, I thought, but everybody expects me to be the go-to person. I'm the one who can do it all.

But I thought, do I want to be this person and sacrifice my joy for the rest of my life? And so, I had to let go of worrying about what other people think and had to be true to what God was calling me to do. I would not be hands-free mama, writing several books and inspiring millions of people if I had not listened to God's calling on my life and let go of what other people wanted me to be.

And I needed God to say, at the end of your life, do you want people to remember how many text messages you returned and how fast you did it? Or do you want them to remember that you made a lasting impression on the lives of your children and the lives of people who are feeling a little bit lost right now? And I knew God had given me a gift to write and I had not used it and God was saying, make time to write and I will help you with what to say.

Jim: You know, it sounds like you heard some very specific things and sometimes our hearing spiritually may not be that clear. So, one of the things I'm hearing you say is, you've got to be in tune with the Lord--

Rachel: Well, yes.

Jim: --and in the midst of all that chaos and tryin' to get organized and tryin' to not be organized (Laughing).

Rachel: Well, and that's one of the first things I started doing. Instead of picking up my phone in the morning, that was my God time. That was and I hear God when I'm walking. That's my time of hearing God the most. Other people might find God in a devotional or going to the Bible. But my time of hearing Him the most was quietly outside in nature.

And one of the most profound things God called me to do and I learned this through a book that I had read by Patti Digh called Life is a Verb and I hadn't thought about this in a long time, but God put it back into my memory. Patti recommended that you sit down and think about what is it that you must do before you die?

And I thought I'd have this big long list of things I wanted to do before I died, but God said, "Sit down. Write down what do you want to do before you die." And it was two things. I want to be a present and joyful participant in my children's and my husband's life. No. 2, I want to write words that God gives me to inspire people to live better and love more.

And so, when I got the calls, because people were like, "Rachel can do that." "Rachel's really good at this. She's a great organizer." I got those calls coming in and I'm trying to be hands free and I thought, okay, does heading up the book fair align with my goals of being a present and active participant in my children's life, in writing the words that God's called me to write? The answer was no.

So, that led me to believe the Book Fair was for someone else. That was not for me and I got the courage to say, "I'm so sorry: I cannot do that." And they said, "No problem; we'll call someone else." And I thought, "Oh, has it really been this easy the whole time?"

Jim: So, let me press you on this a little—

Rachel: Yeah.

Jim: --'cause even for Jean and I, our own experience, I mean, she is the super mama in the homeroom. And she's the one that gets the call, because they know it'll be done well and—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --she'll do it and you know, even though you may be in a school where everybody's supposed to participate, it usually—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --ends up being three or four moms in—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --that class, 8th grade, 7th grade, whatever it might be, ending up doing a majority of the work. And my point there is, is it as simple as saying no? Or you know, how do these things get done if no one actually does step up to do 'em--

Rachel: Well—

Jim: --and the party doesn't get done?

Rachel:--I decided that I didn't have to do everything that came my way, that I could choose two or three things at my child's school, at my church that I felt God had called me to do, gave me the skills and one of those things was to organize an Operation Christmas Child event, where hundreds of kids from the neighborhood would come and my family worked together to create this event. I was not saying, "Oh, I'm giving up all my responsibilities, all my volunteer activities. I'm choosing to be selective."

Jim: You're gonna limit them.

Rachel: You feel like, well, they can't do it without me. Guess what? They can do it without you. You do what you are called to do and honestly, I think, you know, these people who are saying, "Well, I have to do, you know, 50 things at the school," but in that time when I refused to do 50 things at the school, I'm using that time now to write words that 2 million people come to every month on the blog. And I think, you know, God wanted me to do this to help more people.

And there's nothing wrong with helping, you know, a classroom of children if that's what you're called to do. But sometimes God's calling you to do something else and you need to listen and you have to let go of some other stuff to be able to do that.

Jim: Well, again, it sounds so self-evident, but it's hard to execute for whatever reason. You talked in your book about recognizing the cost of your distractions and we touched a little bit on that last time, but you had a swimming pool story that I think illustrates this so well. Tell us about that.

Rachel: I was just like a month into my journey and I was being very mindful about what choices I was making, 'cause it really honestly comes down to the choices that you make, with how you spend your time, how you spend your focus. And I was going for the pile of work and things that I could get accomplished while my older daughter swam and my younger daughter could just sit there and play.

But I stopped myself and I thought, this might be one of those moments that I'm supposed to just be available. I came to the swim meet and I had a book that I could read to Avery and a snack. She was almost 4 at the time and my lap was free for once in her life and she plopped down on my lap and for two hours literally, as my legs were growing numb, she sat on my lap. And we just … I just held her. And towards the end of the meet, she put her hand on my face and said, "This is the kind of mom I always wanted."

Jim: Oh, man.

Rachel: And I thought, oh, thank You, God again, that You allowed me to make this choice to be available. So often we think we think we have to jump through hoops for our children and we have to do grand occasions and big birthday parties and spend a lot of money. Be available. That is the greatest gift you can give your children. That is the mom they always wanted—

Jim: Well—

Rachel: --and the dad they always wanted.

Jim: --and the question is, were your girls that sensitive or were you that bad?

Rachel: I think it was probably a little of both. I was extremely distracted and like I said in our first conversation, my attitude had gotten so critical and so negative because I was constantly stressed out, that they didn't even want to be around me.

Jim: Wow.

Rachel: And so, when I became available, you know, I told them; that was the other thing. I didn't tell 'em right away, 'cause I didn't know if I could do it, but a few months into my journey, when so many joyful things were happening because I was taking small steps to let go of distraction, I did, I call it "going public." I think it's very effective if you are wanting to be held accountable for what you're trying to change.

And I told the girls when we got in the car one day, I said, "Mommy does not want to talk on her phone anymore when I'm driving you. It's not safe and I want to talk to you." And I'm not kidding; the atmosphere of the whole entire car changed immediately. My [daughter], Avery was 4 at the time and she began singing more than she ever had. "Mom, listen to this song." And then Natalie was pointing things out as we were driving and one of my favorite things she said one day, we pulled up to a stoplight. There was a graveyard and she said, "Oh, I bet 80 percent of those people died while texting." And I was about to laugh and then she said, "I'm sure glad you don't do that anymore, mom."

Jim: Yeah.

Rachel: And I thought, she's been watching.

Jim: Yeah.

Rachel: She may have not said anything—

Jim: Not that old.

Rachel: --but I mean, she was like 6 at the time.

Jim: Yeah.

Rachel: She knew that I had been texting while we were sitting at stoplights and I had stopped that and I'd gone public and asked for them to help me stay accountable.

Jim: Good challenge.

John: That's a great story and very, very convicting. (Laughter)--

Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)

John: --to a lot of us.

Jim: You had to say that part.

John: This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and thanks for joining us. Our guest is Rachel Macy Stafford and she's captured a lot of this journey from distraction to hands free as a mom in her book, Hands Free Mama and the subtitle is, A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do-List (we've heard about that), and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. And you can get the book and a CD or a download of this conversation and our mobile app, as well at Or call and we can tell you more; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: We mentioned last time we'd want to talk about getting involved in your children's interests as a way of saying, I care about you. How did that happen in your home? How did you stop blowing by those things that they did and is there a story that illustrated that?

Rachel: Yes, so when I was challenging myself to really come out of my comfort zone and stop just thinking about my agenda and really get involved with what made my family happy, so on Mother's Day, my husband said, "I'm gonna take the girls to the indoor pool," 'cause they just love to swim there. And he said, "You can relax. It's Mother's Day." And I thought, this is one of those times, the hands-free inner voice is saying, you should go. You should participate.

So, we got to the pool and I was sitting on the side like I usually do and I was going to watch and you know, cheer them on and I thought, I think I need to get in. (Laughter) I think that would be the best gift of all.

Jim: But your hair looked so nice.

Rachel: It looked so nice, exactly and I never got my hair wet. I mean, I couldn't remember the last time I got my hair wet. Well, I did something unusual. I jumped into the pool, got my hair wet and it felt so good I thought, why haven't I done this before?

Jim: (Laughing)

Rachel: But I ended up swimming with the girls and Scott was throwing them around and we were laughing and so, I thought, you know, sometimes stepping into their world and what they love and you know, our kids love Minecraft and things like that. There's nothing wrong with saying, "You know, I see you really like Minecraft. Can you show me your world? Oh, my little girl lights up when I say, "Show me your Minecraft world," which I'm like, oh (Laughter), so boring.

Jim: The most exciting part of your day.

Rachel: And you know, my other daughter's 12. She loves to go to Starbucks and I don't drink coffee. But we go to Starbucks, because she likes to do that and we sit there and talk. And so, sometimes in order to know our children like you were saying, if you know, we want to know our children, we have to sacrifice our own interests.

Jim: Well, and Rachel, that was the word I was gonna use. As I hear you talking and I'm thinking of marriage counseling that we do here at Focus on the Family, as well as parenting counseling. There is a sacrificial aspect to this and the most self-centered we are, doing our own thing, doing our e-mails or you know, whatever it is, our phones and texting and all that we do, to stay connected to the professional world or the friendship world, it does take away. You have to sacrifice those things in order to go for the greater good. And that's what I've heard you talking about throughout the program this time and last time.

Hey, let me flip this whole thing on its end for a minute, because I'm thinkin' of the mom that may be doin' a lot of this really well. You know, she's giving them focused time. The problem is, the kids want more and she's not able to get to her things, kind of the other end of the continuum. You know, she's engaging 'em, but maybe so much so that she's not able to get responsibilities—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --taken care of.

Rachel: Well—

Jim: Is that a mistake or how does she balance it?

Rachel: --we absolutely want our children to be capable and independent. I mean, that's the whole point of this. We want them to be able to go to their apartment one day and say, "I can fix this toilet." Or "I can make my own [whatever]." We don't want them to be so dependent on us for entertainment or to have things accomplished that we leave them helpless.

So, what I tell parents, a lot of times people write to me that work from home. They say, "You know, I give them their time. They have their special time with me in the morning and then I need to get my work done. Should I feel guilty about that?"

And I say, absolutely not. And what I like to tell parents to say is, "This is your job right now. Your job is to read these books or color this picture or whatever. My job is to go on my computer, because I have responsibilities. I have bills I need to pay. This is my work time and this is your work time. We had our play time and at noon," you know, or whatever, "we'll come back around and have some more play time, but right now, it's work time."

Setting the boundaries and the expectations, you can do this. You can play by yourself, you know. I've seen you do that before and I want to see what you've done when I come out of my office. There's nothing wrong with setting limits and expectations for what they can accomplish on their own.

Jim: And I think it's critical that children need to feel like they are achieving something in your eyes as a parent—

Rachel: Oh, yes.

Jim: --as a mom. So often I think in that authoritarian parenting style, which Dr. Kevin Leman has been on this program and has talked about so often, that it's destructive to the spirit of the child, 'cause they never feel like they can please you—

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: --that they're always falling short, because they're never good enough. And that's very destructive to a 16-, 17-year-old and as Kevin would say, "You're gonna reap the whirlwind if you're not careful in that kind of style.

And I'm so grateful that that's what you're kind of deconstructing here is, don't be that way. You had a story also in your book that pointed to this, this idea of perfectionism. I think it was your daughter who was playing the ukulele, which is funny.

Rachel: Yes.

Jim: I'd like to know why she chose the ukulele, but how did that play out and how did that get to the core of perfectionism and maybe easing up on that?

Rachel: Yes, well, I was definitely the manager in my home.

Jim: (Laughing)

Rachel: And that was not a good thing. I wanted to manage everyone. I wanted to control all the situations. And I managed her ukulele practice and she had begged, I mean, she was 3½ when she begged to start playing the ukulele.

And it required me to sit there with her, because sometimes she had trouble with the fingering. But I would basically stand over her and complain about, you know, oh, well, that didn't sound good. Or oh, you know, can you stop making that clicking sounds? You know, everything was, you know, critical.

And she was practicing for a recital and I kept making her play it again and again. And she laid down that instrument on the floor at almost like a surrendering a battle and she said, "I just want to be good, mama." And I thought, now where could she have gotten the idea that she's not good? Oh, could it be from the unsmiling lady standing over her, you know, telling her she wasn't good?

Jim: She just better do that.

Rachel: Yeah and so, that is the moment I fired the manager, the critical manager and I hired the loving encourager, because I thought, our kids are gonna have a lot of critics in their life. It doesn't have to be us. We don't have to be their critic. It's not going to soften them if we don't, you know, berate them for the mistakes they make. Mistakes are part of learning and growing and if we want our kids to take risks, we have to say, you know what? You tried. You messed up. It's okay. Try again. And that was the big lesson of the ukulele.

Jim: Right, which is, you know, I'm sitting here thinking in my context of Trent and football or Troy in something and it's convicting, because you know, I'm a pretty optimistic person and yet, at the same time as a parent, I can be critical, because I know they could do better.

Rachel: Well, and you're trying to help them.

Jim: Right. just making them better.

Jim: Do you ever think of it almost like a recipe for every one lump of criticism, make sure you give three lumps of positive reinforcement?

Rachel: I call it "notice the good." I like to look for the flowers before the weeds.

Jim: That's good.

Rachel: So, if I walk into my older daughter's room, she is the most creative person, but the messiest. And for a while, she'd work on these extravagant projects like running a little camp for our neighborhood kids. And I would criticize the mess she was making (Laughter) or how many copies she was making or, you know, I would criticize and then I would be like, I'm missing the flowers here. She is doing these beautiful lesson plans as a[n] 8-year-old and that's what I need to recognize.

And you know, so our deal was, by Friday, your room needs to be cleaned up, but I'm not gonna tell you how to do it or when to do it. I usually would say, you know, if you want to go to that sleepover or whatever that she wanted to do, you need to have this done. And I would not micromanage, because then again, you're taking that problem away from the child to solve. You want them to be able to know how to clean their room or take care of a problem.

Jim: Those are all good thoughts and we have run out of time.

Rachel: Oh. (Laughing)

Jim: I know, it's crazy, but people can pick up your book, Hands Free Mama and discover some of these great truths that you have shared with us the last couple of days.

And I know when I walk away and I've, you know, I've been married a while and I've got two teenagers, I know when something has made an impact in me and you have definitely done that. Thanks for bein' with us.

Rachel: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.


John: We hope that you've enjoyed the discussion and that you've been inspired by Rachel's story and also, that you'll want a copy of Hands Free Mama, which we have here at Focus on the Family. It's full of insightful stories and ideas about simplifying life and cultivating gratitude in yourself and then to do that in your family, as well. Look for a copy at

And when you get in touch, let me ask you to consider making a financial gift to Focus. We're a not-for-profit ministry and we're only able to reach out to families around the world because of your prayers and your generous support. Now that global impact was reflected in the comment that one mom shared with us recently. She said, "We're currently overseas in missions. Your podcast ministry is a lifeline for our family and me personally, as we raise our boys while pouring into our local community to share Christ. You'll never know how many times I've needed to hear specific words of encouragement or challenge for growth and the wisdom that you've provided. You also help us stay on top of issues in the U.S. that we want to have a voice in, but might miss otherwise." And then in all caps, she said, "THANK YOU."

Well, thank you for supporting this outreach and allowing us to help families worldwide with the hope of Christ. We welcome your donation of any amount today and you can contribute to the work here when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or go to the website, or just hit the "Donate" button on our mobile app. And when you contribute a gift of any amount today, we'll say thanks by sending a copy, a complimentary copy of Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford.

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 tomorrow. We'll hear from popular guest, Pastor Andy Stanley about safeguarding your marriage from infidelity.


Pastor Any Stanley: What could be any clearer than this, because we know the implications of steppin' over certain lines sexually. So, we would say to the people we love, "Flee sexual immorality." But when it comes to you, when it comes to me, we don't flee. We flirt, don't we?

End of Excerpt

John: Directly addressing the warning signs and offering ways to avoid infidelity, that's next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Rachel Macy Stafford

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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: