Living a Hands-Free Summer with Rachel Macy Stafford - Jen Hatmaker

Living a Hands-Free Summer with Rachel Macy Stafford

Episode 02

Rachel Macy Stafford was missing life. Her planner bulged, her phone buzzed, her calendar constantly full. In a painful moment of realization, Rachel discovered she was choosing distraction over connection with her young family—and she decided enough was enough. In 2010, she started the Hands Free Mama blog, where she documents her journey to slow down and focus on what truly matters. Since then Rachel has become the New York Times bestselling author of three books: Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, and Only Love Today. In our conversation, Rachel tells us what living “hands free” means and gives us practical tools to help us slow down. We talk about how to teach our kids to use technology, how to let go of mom guilt, and what kids really want to do with their parents this summer (spoiler alert: it’s not going to Disney World).

Episode Transcript

Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.

Jen:  Hey, everybody, it’s Jen Hatmaker, your host on the For the Love Podcast. Super glad that you are here today. We are in a really fun series called “For the Love of Summer,” and we’re dipping into all sorts of ideas, all sorts of summer things.

My guest today is Rachel Macy Stafford. A lot of you already know her and love her and follow her. Rachel is a mom, she’s a wife, she’s a writer and a teacher, an encourager. She’s a New York Times bestselling author of three books: Hands Free MamaHands Free Life, and her latest which is called Only Love Today.

Rachel started her career as a Special Ed teacher. She has a Master’s in education. After doing that amazing work for ten years, in 2010—and we’ll talk all about this—Rachel felt compelled to start the Hands Free Mama blog. And she’s going to tell you what that means and why.

But at Hands Free Mama, she documents her journey to let go of all these daily distractions so she can focus on what matters most—which is being very fully present in the lives of her husband and her two daughters, who are 14 and 11 now.

It’s interesting why she felt compelled to start the blog. Honestly, it’s for the most relatable reason imaginable, and it may feel super close to home to you, I know it does to me. And it’s this: her planner was stuffed; her phone buzzed every two seconds with notifications; her to-do list was a mile long; and the pressure to be this perfect mom and wife and career woman and volunteer was suffocating. Right? Does that sound so incredibly familiar?

So she had this tunnel vision for achieving All The Things and she just kind of realized, I am missing life. I am missing the beautiful sights and sounds of ordinary life, and connection with my family, and my kids, and my husband. So she was telling herself she would slow down someday when she realized “someday” is nowhere to live your life. That is a terrible location for your actual life.

So she decided to do something about it. She started living hands free and we’re going to talk all about this.

Here’s also why I wanted to talk to Rachel in the series, you guys. She is the perfect person to show us literally how to carpe diem our summers. I’m serious. She’s like the patron saint of slowing down and capturing and creating beautiful moments and, honestly, summer is the perfect time to do this. So when our jacked-up routines are throwing us off, and the kids are home and running amok, and we just need some tips on how to sort of cull the chaos and even jump in feet first, Rachel is an amazing guide.

You’re going to love this conversation. It is going to hit you right in the feels. It is right where so many of us live. Also it is super practical, it is super doable, it is guilt-free, it is shame-free, and you’re going to love it.

So, you guys, help me welcome to the show Rachel Macy Stafford.

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Rachel, welcome, welcome, welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you on today.

Rachel: Hi, Jen, I’m been just so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jen: I know that probably a lot of my listeners already know who you are and follow you. But I’m already excited for the ones who are going to be new to you today because they are going to be, I think, excited, and energized and relieved, even. When I read your work, I get a deep sense of relief, and we’ll get into all that. But you’re just the perfect person to have on our “For the Love of Summer” series.

I’ve already told our audience a little bit about you, and Hands Free Revolution. So before we get into all these awesome summery themes and ideas, I wonder if you could tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, and about Hands Free Revolution, and what living “hands free” means to you.

Then if you could even take us back to what you called the “breakdown-breakthrough moment” that led to this whole big, huge idea.

Rachel: Yes, I would love to, thank you, Jen.

It was about seven years ago that I came to this very painful truth in my life. You know how God kind of whispers to you that there’s a problem? And you just want to keep ignoring it and just doing what you want to do?

Jen: Totally.

Rachel:  Basically, my husband—God speaks to us through our loved ones, as well, and sometimes we don’t want to hear what they say, either. My husband Scott had been telling me he saw a lot of warning signs with the way that I was living.

We are going on vacation, and you would think we’re getting ready to have fun, but that morning was stressful. I was directing people, yelling orders. I was critical.

Jen: Totally.

Rachel: I was upset, you know how that goes.

Jen: I really do.

Rachel: We’re pulling out of the driveway, and he turns to me and really looks like somebody just died or something. I was like, Gosh, what in the world is he going to say to me?

And he says, “You’re never happy anymore.”

Jen: Wow. Yikes.

Rachel: Yes, exactly. And for somebody who is usually pretty good at coming back with a defense, I was speechless. Because I was like, He’s right. I have lost my joy.

What made it worse is I’ve turned to the backseat to see if my girls has heard this terrible truth come out of my husband’s mouth, and I looked back. And Natalie, who was around six or seven at the time, was picking her lip furiously, like, to the point that it was bleeding. I thought, Oh my gosh. Her face is a direct reflection of my face.

I, in this quest to do it all and manage it well, and have this smile on my face and, “Yes, everything’s great, and I can do all these things,” I was slowly dying inside. And my daughter, I’m just feeding that into her because, you know kids, they think, Mommy’s mad at me. I’ve done something. And I ended up storming in the house, locking myself in the bathroom, squeezing myself between the wall and the toilet and just crying. Because I thought, Is this how it’s going to be? I was just so stressed all the time.

That was a seed that was planted, and it was a few weeks later, I was out on a run. And this question that I had always thought was a big source of pride for me was, How do you do it all, Rachel?

People were always asking me that.

And I thought, You know what? What is the truthful answer to that? And the truth was, I can do it all because I miss out on life. I miss out on what truly matters and what I’m missing, I can’t get back.

I bent down, and I cried—not just tears of sadness for what I’ve missed, but tears of relief because I thought, Okay. I’m ready to face this.

And I prayed because, Lord knows, I could not fix this by myself. I knew I was so distracted, I was so maxed out. I had all these people depending on me, and I’m a people pleaser, so I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this. But God knows. I’m going to surrender, and I’m going to let Him lead me.

And it was that day, I was making lunch. You know when you have the laptop open, the phone’s buzzing, you’re going through all the things you have to do. And I saw Avery, my four-year-old, sitting on the couch, watching The Lion King. And that little voice inside me said, You know what? There is nothing more important than being with her right now. And I put that knife on the top of the jar, I didn’t look at the agenda, the clock. I said, This is what you prayed about, Rachel. You are looking for that step.

And lo, and behold, I sat next to her, she pulled up to me like a magnet, like, This is what I need right now, my mom is here. She picked up my hand and she kissed my palm.

And in that moment, I thought, Okay, God, I hear you. This is my confirmation. Be hands free. Stop trying to juggle All The Things and grasp all these things that really don’t matter in the end, and start to be hands free.

Jen: I love that. One of the things that I super love about your message and your posture here is that you don’t guilt moms into this. Because I know right now there are tons of us listening going, or it’s just like pinging us, “Oooooh.” We’ve all had a million moments like that, where we’re just listening with one ear, not making eye contact, doing ten other things at once. This is so familiar. And so I love that shame is not one of your tools.

In Hands Free Mama, you talk about—this is what you said, I think this sentence is very powerful—you said, “Understanding that you have a choice is vitally important to a hands free life.”

I think that’s really important. To me, that’s right at the ground level of sort of understanding this way to live because, frankly, my suspicion is that with a ton of us who we work and we . . . You know, we actually do have a ton of responsibilities. And life demands plenty of us that a lot of us feel that we don’t have a choice. All this is happening to us, and we’re just victims of circumstances or there’s nothing that we can do about it. And I love how you, in a really simple way, say, “You actually do have a bit of a choice here.”

I wonder if you can talk a little bit about  how do we choose to live a hands free life in the midst of real life? Let’s just assume that nobody listening has 12 spare hours a day to be hands free. How do we choose to live like this in the middle of real life?

Rachel: For me, that awareness that I have a choice, that’s everything. So once you become aware, once your eyes become open to the fact that there are little pockets throughout the day that you can choose to be fully present, that’s a game changer.

For instance, when they come down in the morning and they sit down for breakfast, there is no reason why you have to keep moving. You can stop for 20 seconds, put your arms around that baby of yours, no matter how big your baby is, look them in the eyes and say, “I’m so happy to see you this morning. How did you sleep?” Just stopping and looking and letting them know, “You matter.” It can change the complete environment of that morning, of that day, as that child goes out into the world. And that will cost you 20 seconds. We all have 20 seconds.

Let me tell you, I’m seven years into this journey, and I am a total work in progress. But I am seeing all day long these millions of little choices. Do I choose productivity, efficiency, perfection, or do I choose connection, love, acceptance?

And when I choose, and it’s becoming easier and easier for me, it’s like the tension, the stress, it falls away.

Not just for me, but my girls are going into their teenage years, and, man, I’m so thankful that I have this default choice. It breaks down barriers. It breaks down that wall that they think, “I’ve got to be so tough,” or, “I’ve got to have this attitude,” and “I’ve got to be this certain way, and I can’t show that I need this love right now.” But then when you show up and say, “Guess what? I’m here. And I’m going to stay calm, and I’m not going anywhere, okay?” Man, that is life changing.

It all starts with that little choice, that awareness that you have the power to choose.

Jen: So let me ask you this. By the letter of the law, by the very definition of the word pragmatically, do you and your family, do you have a dedicated time when everybody is completely hands free? No devices, no screens? If so, what does that look like for your family? Has that been something that has evolved through the years, do you have technology rules for your girls and for you and your husband?

Rachel: Yes, that has definitely evolved.

And we had Hands Free Saturdays where we would go places, to farmers’ markets, we’d go hiking, we would purposely plan things as a family and no devices.

We would have these set times. Bedtime, that’s huge, that’s probably the most important hands free time that I have in my life with my daughters who still, to this day, age 14, “Mom, can we have talk time?” Talk time is such an important bonding time for us.

But as my children have grown—because you know I started doing this for me because I was missing life—I had no idea that I would be teaching them how to not miss life.

What’s happening is, Natalie is the one who has a phone, she’s 14, and it’s interesting because she knows what it feels like when she goes with friends that do not put their phone down. She comes back and says, “It was really hard to be with the person.” Because Natalie sees the distinction between technology as a tool and as a barrier. When your children can see it as a tool, they begin to use it at the appropriate times.

I must tell you, as I’m getting more and more research about teens and technology, and it is really, really concerning to me about their mental health and how it is affecting them. One of the things that I continue to read is if you can only do one thing, that is get the phones out of their room at night.

Jen: That’s good.

Rachel: And honestly, Jen, I’m a big advocate for talking to our kids about what happens to our brains when we are on our devices. The people in Silicon Valley, they’re being vocal about, “This is dangerous. Those companies, they want you to be on there as long as possible. And you’re feeding into that.”

So I talked to my daughters. I’ll talk to Avery when she gets her phone more. For Natalie, it’s like I’m empowering her with knowledge about, “This is what’s happening. When you’re trying to even clean your room and you can’t because you keep getting stopped by your notifications, just think about what you’re doing to your life. What other opportunities are you missing out on to do something fulfilling when you’re constantly getting interrupted? And then you check your phone and you’re checked out for 10 minutes to and hour?” It’s like, “Wow, Mom. I didn’t think about that. I didn’t think about what I could be doing with my time.”

Jen: That’s so great. We do something similar in our house, and it’s just raining teens in our house. We’ve got five kids, and all of them are teens. We’ve got one 12-year-old, she’s almost there. We, also, because they use their phones as their alarm clock and two of them listen to music when they go to bed. But we have a whole system where we’re in charge of internet and data. So we turn all their stuff off, so same idea.

Rachel: Oh, good. Yes.

Jen: Their phones basically just become alarm clocks at a certain time at night.
My kids, you just would have thought it was the worst thing we’d ever done to them, like it was torture. Brandon and I laughed so hard, our kids were telling us, “Nobody else’s parents are like this.” There was a lot of drama. “My friends don’t have to do this. You guys overreact.”

I mean, so let me just say that when we also said, “This is not good for your brain, for your sleep, for your health, for your mind, for your relationships, so we’re just going to go ahead and shut it all down for you at a pre-determined time,” it was like anarchy for a minute. But, having said that, anybody listening, you can be prepared for that reaction, maybe, and it’s still the right thing to do.

We saw the effects of it on our kids pretty quickly. In fact, some of them ended up staying with us more. Kind of in the living room at night instead of retreating to their rooms where they’re just going to be on their phones. And they were sleeping more. That’s not a small thing. There’s a lot of research too about the detriment that our kids’ generation is suffering due to lack of sleep. That they’re just up longer. And so I’m completely on board with what you’re saying.

I wish my kids were on this podcast because they would laugh so hard. “We’re eating together, everybody hand me your phone. This is ridiculous, we’re not going to be that family where seven of us are around a table looking at seven different phones. That is absurd.”

It actually feels like some sort of weird future movie. If we would have seen this 20 years ago we would not even understand what was happening. What has happened to the world? Nobody knows how to speak to anybody anymore, it’s the weirdest thing. I love everything you’re saying.

Jen: I want to talk about summer. You mention summer, and so much of what you’re having to say, summer is a wonderful time for this. I heard that summer is your favorite time of year, so I would love for you to tell me why. What did you love about summer when you were a kid? Because our childhood is different. How old are you?

Rachel: I always have to ask my daughter, “How old am I?” Because I forget. I’m 46.

Jen: So you and I are about the same age. I’ll be 44 this summer.

So our childhood . . . I wonder if our summers and childhood are different than our kids? But, anyway, I would just love to hear, first of all, why do you love summer? Why did you love it then, why do you love it now?

Rachel: When I think about summer when I was a girl, I remember mowing the grass in my Tretorns. Did you have Tretorns?

Jen: Sure, yes, oh my gosh. I haven’t thought about that in years.

Rachel: They would turn green and, it was like, I would have my Walkman on listening to the radio. I get fulfilled by nature, so being outside is, that’s my God time, that’s my therapy. I have to be outside every day for at least a brief period of time.

I grew up in Indiana. And I think I love summer because I was outside a lot. I remember mowing the grass, making up dance routines with my best friend outside, and going to the pool with my sister. It was like just  . . . I loved not having to be on a schedule.

I had this blog post that I wrote, it’s one of my most viral blog posts, it was How to Have a Hands Free Summer. That’s when I was just getting into this author life. I’d been a teacher before and I was like, Wow, I had really looked forward to summer because it was so great for me before when I was a teacher. But now I’m working from home and this has challenges that I wasn’t expecting.

It was really great because right when I was grappling with how do I have this meaningful summer and also do what I need to do, I ran across this beautiful list. It was a teacher, her name was Erin Kurt, and for 16 years she asked the same questions to her students: what are the top 10 things you want from your parents? Basically, what do you want from your parents? Seeing what was on that list, oh my goodness.

Jen: I know, I cried when I read it.

Rachel: Oh my gosh, it’s like: Come to my room at night and tuck me in. Tell me stories about when you were little. Give me hugs and kisses. Spend one-on-one time with me. Talk about what we’re going to do on the weekend. Let me play outside. Cuddle with me under the blankets.

Jen: It’s so easy.

Rachel: These are the things our kids want us to do and these are the things that we can do.

Jen: Exactly.

Rachel: We can do this whether  . . . No matter what our job is, whether we work from home or out of the home, whether we have seven kids or one kid. We can do these things. So that list came to me and I thought, You know what? I’m going to think about what kind of summer I want to have.

And basically, I ended up writing this contract. When I say contract, you think it’s all formal and stuff, but literally it was in pencil scratched on a piece of paper. I think it was a lot like a bucket list, like: I want to do more dinners on the porch; I want to do more unconventional forms of exercise, like I don’t have to get my X amount of miles on the treadmill, I can do this with the girls; I want to have less baking perfection and more helping hands; and I want to do less Netflix and more watching the storms roll in.

And then even smaller down at the bottom, because then I was getting really excited about this, and I was like, I’m going to need some things from them. This doesn’t have to be all on me.

You know when it was like, Okay, so in order to do these fun things and have these freedoms and cooperations with each other, I need you to do these things. Like, when I ask you to pick up your dishes, pick them up. When I ask you to do something, follow through.

We started making little lists for them, too, because I found that I don’t want to be nagging at them about, These are the things you need to get done every summer morning. This is before you get on your device. It’s very important that our kids know we can’t do the things that we love to do and enjoy doing until we get our responsibilities done.

So I just think it’s really a lot of cooperation and expectation and communication.

Jen: I like that. I think, I remember when I would start pulling into pre-summer, and I would start to get anxious. There’s just so many hours in the freaking day and all of our structure is gone. All of our structural elements of school and sports and clubs. And I remember this growing  . . . At the risk of sounding dramatic, which is not a deterrent for me at all, I remember feeling a little panicked about it.

What I like about what you’re saying is this: so often we end up letting the tail wag the dog here. All of a sudden it’s late June or early July, and we’re like, “Argh! This is all just slipping away from me. And it’s just a chaotic mess and it’s just like Lord of the Flies up in here.”

The thing is, I think what you’re saying, which is so wise, is with not even a lot, with just a decent amount of intentional planning on the front end, let’s sit down, let’s make lists, let’s make goals, let’s put this in sort of a loose schedule. You’ve put this structure into your day that now runs on its own momentum and it’s not all on you, either.

To that end I think there is sometimes, yes, a lot of pressure put on families, specifically moms, to just jam this impossible schedule of events into summer, which is not only exhausting physically, but financially impossible, too. Who can just do fun expensive things every day of the week?

So I wonder, dialing into your stage of life, where you are right now with your girls at their ages? What are some of the simple and memorable and affordable moments that you have sort of worked into your summer schedule with the girls? And what are some of the things that maybe this year, last, the year before or so, that they really, really loved? And maybe a few things that didn’t work as well.

Rachel: Okay. This was something that requires a lot of control-surrendering for me that has turned out to be an incredible gift in the summers. And it’s not so much that I’m involved in, but what it’s doing for their life is incredible.

When Natalie was seven, she asked me if she could host a summer camp for little kids in her neighborhood. So I’m sitting there thinking, Oh. I’ll have to do all the planning. It’s going to be a mess. And I told her no.

So the next summer came along—and this is at the start of my hands free journey—and she said, “I want to have a summer camp, Mom, at the house.”

I was like, Oh my gosh, she is not going to let this go. So I was like, “Okay.”

And just like what you said: we sat down, I said, “All right. I’m going to let you do this. But listen. I’m not going to plan these lessons for you. Here’s all my teaching supplies that I don’t use anymore. Have at it.”

Lo and behold, that child, she organized a little book corner with reading, she organized books by reading level, she created lesson plans, she made a behavior system. She was eight years old!

Jen: Oh, my gosh.

Rachel: And it was cracking me up, because I sent the email out but Natalie was like, “Can you ask your friends?” And we had this outpouring of, “When can I drop my child off!?”

Jen: Of course you did.

Rachel: My friends were all like, “This is awesome. How many weeks can Natalie do this?”

It was so amazing. Because here she is, this little thing, teaching. And her sister, of course, was in the class, the four-year-old. Avery’s raising her hand, and I’m dying because I’m peeking around the corner and I thought, Wow. I might have taken this opportunity away from her, had I kept in mind my agenda, what I foresee as a good summer. I just want to stress it doesn’t have to be our idea to put that into their hands.

So every summer for the past, she’s 14 now, there was only one summer when we moved and we didn’t know anyone, so I was like, “They’re probably not going to drop their kids off at our house.” So we had to skip a year, but she just did the most amazing camp. She did a secret agent camp last week. And she’s 14 going on 15, she had 10 kids ages first through fifth, they are all in there so actively engaged. She’s planned these amazing top-secret mysteries that you have to break. She did that in the morning. Then Avery, who is my musician, she did a little music camp in the afternoon.

Natalie made over $1,000, Avery made $300, and they both just had such joy in planning it, executing it, getting the feedback from the kids. So our summers, normally Natalie does about four of those, but this summer she does four so she makes a boatload—

Jen: I bet she does.

Rachel: I mean, did you babysit in the summer? How long would it take you to make $1,000?

Jen: Like a hundred years.

Rachel: I know. She’s figured out a way to maximize. This is one of our highlights of the summer. They do camp.

Jen: I love that.

Rachel: Natalie has been doing it, Avery is just getting into it. I think summer camps, them hosting, will be part of our summer. And it’s a gift for me because I’m able to do what I need to do when they’re doing that.

But we, in the summers, we live in a big city, and there are many cultural and things to do in nature. And I will try once a week to, Let’s sit down, let’s go through what’s fun to do in our city, and they’ll pick something.

The other thing that we also love to do in the summer, that we don’t have as much time in the school year, is we all love to cook and bake. We do a lot of meals together, or they love to surprise me and they’ll cook something. But just in the planning, I’ll take them to the store, those are opportunities we can be together and we can have that alone time in the car.

The other thing that we absolutely love to do—we do year-round, but we really pick it up in the summer—is we volunteer at a homeless cat shelter. They used to both go with me, but over time it’s kind of been like now one goes at a time.

And it’s really a beautiful thing because then, again, I’ve got this completely alone time with them. We’re doing something that is good for the animals, but also there’s really lonely people that come in, and I feel like we’re kind of giving them a gift. They come in, they want to talk about a cat that they lost or whatever. It’s like we’re doing an act of service, but we don’t have to go out of the country, we don’t have to pay a lot of money. This was something that we stumbled on to because we were stalking the cats at the PetSmart and the lady’s like, “Wow, you come here a lot.”

And then Avery is obsessed with old people. She loves old people, and she was like, “I want to adopt a grandma.” Because we don’t have grandparents here. So we started going to the retirement home. She befriended this sweet, sweet lady. And unfortunately she passed away this December. But she, that woman, just touched our life. It made Avery so happy to go there and play her guitar.

Jen: That’s good.

Rachel:  And yes, this is not always convenient for me. Let’s just talk about the fact that our kids are going to want to do things with us. Once we find out what they want to do, they’re going to need us to sometimes take them there.

Jen: That’s good. They’ll never forget that, just never. These will be the stories that they’re telling their kids when they’re older. It’s just so meaningful.

And I appreciate you saying, let’s just say it up front and put it on the table, this isn’t all convenient. It’s not a matter of engineering your summer so that they are completely on their own, independent of us, doing their own thing. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. So I think even just setting our expectations correctly that this is just how it is for those of us who have kids who are in regular school hours during the year and home during the summer, this is a different little, short, season of the year in which we have to also toggle our hours and our expectations and our availability. And there’s something relieving to me about just saying that out loud. I’m not trying to figure out how to get my same eight-hour work day that I get when they’re in school. I just can’t. It’s too long and there’s too many of them.

So there is something really empowering about saying, “All right, for me personally, I’m going to dial in tight on work until 8:30 in the morning. That means probably me getting up earlier.” Of course I have teenagers, no problem, they’re in bed. Piece of cake, mornings I still have to myself. Anyway, that’s so useful.

Let me ask you this. By the way, everybody, we’re going to have all these links over on the transcript on my website at because the Hands Free Summer Contract is amazing, and I love it, so we’ll link to that whole blog which is just gold. To me, I love that specific blog because it was such a relief to read what our kids really want. As it turns out it isn’t an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland. That not it. And it’s within our reach.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jen: Obviously being responsible for somebody’s childhood is a big deal. We’re just human people. We’re just human women. So we can’t fulfill our children’s every single wish for the summer. My kids have no problem putting some absurd outrageous wishes into the pool and hoping for the best, but we’re not wizards. Because we can’t always meet all their expectations, which in a lot of cases are inflated, there is the potential for summer guilt. I have just suffered through this so many different summers. And so pretty quickly, if we let it, actually.

I wonder how do you coach others, how do you coach yourself to let go of this—honestly, I find it invented and self-inflicted—guilt, associated with this idea, this perception that our kids didn’t get to do All The Things during their summer?  Or that some of it was boring? Or some of it was  . . . not every moment was magic. Not every single moment was this deeply connected, Pinterest-worthy parenting moment. How would you coach us through the real life issues here of having a lot of responsibilities and this being just one of them?

Rachel: I had a pretty profound experience happen because I had those couple of years when I was so distracted, so disconnected. It’s pretty painful when you wake up and you go, Wow, I pretty much missed Avery’s ages two and three. That was a hard one to swallow. And it makes me get choked up just thinking about it and I lived with guilt for a couple of years, once I realized what I missed and couldn’t get back.

One day I was going to get something out of the pantry, and I was talking bad to myself. You should’ve done this, and guilt was consuming me. I told the girls I need a minute and I went to my bedroom and I sat down and I cried for all that I had missed and all that guilt that I was feeling. God just sat with me and said, “You know, you were doing the best that you could at the time. And now that you know better, you’re doing better. And today matters more than yesterday.” That’s what God put in my heart.

Jen: Oh, that’s great.

Rachel: And it’s interesting because I have apologized to my girls. Because I can remember some really hard moments where I didn’t act like the person I wanted to be. I realized, You know what? That happened five years ago. I remember, but I can still say I’m sorry for that. The chances are they might remember too.

Sometimes they didn’t remember, but I do remember that one time Avery  . . . There was this moment when I had lost it right before we were going into church, you know how church can be stressful.

Jen: I sure do.

Rachel:  We were trying to get there. We sat down, we were new to the area. I was feeling very vulnerable and Scott was out of town, and I was just feeling like the worst mother. Avery had laid her head on my lap in church that day, and I was listening to the sermon. Tears were coming down my face, and I was feeling like I was failing.

And a few  . . . It was probably like a year ago, I told her, she was like, “I really miss our church in Birmingham.”

And I said, “Yes, I do too, Avery.”

And she said, “I remember that you didn’t make me go to child care, and you let me put my head on your lap. I would look up at the beams, and I thought about all the ways you loved me and lifted me up.”

Jen: That is so sweet.

Rachel: I was like, it was so profound. Here I was in that moment, feeling like I was failing and she was looking at me like, I love my mom and my mom is there for me.

So you can feel like you’re failing and still be loved. Remember that.

When you are in the middle of your hard summer, when you are trying to balance all these things and you think everybody is having so much fun and you feel like a complete failure, guess what? You can still be loved.

Jen: That’s so true. The way I’ve put it to my readers before is my goal is to be somewhere between 80/20 or 70/30 on success rate. If I’m hitting 75% that’s pretty dang good. If 25% of me is mediocre or I mess it up or I don’t nail it or I overreact or I overreach, well, heck. That’s still pretty good childhood.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Jen: I know my mom did not over-wring all this out when she was a mom and we were kids. I grew up feeling incredibly loved. And now when we can go backwards and tell stories about my mom’s own personal Mom Fails, some of them which I didn’t even know, I didn’t even perceive them. Or we’ll tell her, “Mom, this is what we were doing when you had no idea where we were.” We would just die laughing. And you know what? It all worked out. It just all worked out.

This idea of a perfect childhood and being a perfect mom is so bad for us. It’s so destructive and it’s not true. I love that.

I like this message that we can be getting it mostly right and that’s enough. That is enough to feel loved and that’s what our kids will remember. It is, it’s what they’re going to take out of childhood, which is how we made them feel.

Rachel: And how great for them to be able to watch us fail, mess up, and get back up and try again. And say, “I messed up. I’m sorry.” Like, man, show them how to do that. I love people that can take ownership for their mistakes. And when I hear my teenager do that I’m like, Gosh, I love that. And I want to be that person.

Jen: I know. There’s something very, very powerful about telling our kids we’re sorry when we blow it. Really powerful. It almost, whatever broke there is almost stronger than before. Not only do our kids get to watch us correct a mistake, but they get to offer forgiveness, which for them is something really powerful to learn how to give. So I am with you. Listen, I’m the first in line to be like, “Hey, guys, Mom absolutely lost her crap, and I want to say that I’m sorry and I am sorry that I went into maniac mode.”

All right, so listen, let me wrap this up with you. These are questions we’re asking all of our guests in the “For the Love of Summer” series. And this is just like whatever comes to mind, you can just tick it right off. Quick summer favorites quiz.

For you, and this can be adult or it can be Shirley Temple version, but what’s your favorite summer drink?

Rachel: That has to be the mojito.

Jen: So good.

Rachel: Any kind of mojito. If they have an exotic kind, I’ll try it. I’m willing to try any kind.

Jen: Do you ever make your own?

Rachel: No.

Jen: Me neither, I’m intimidated by it, but they’re so delicious. How about this: favorite summer clothing item.

Rachel: If anybody’s read my stuff, they know that I’m the biggest lover of hats and I wear a hat like it’s permanently attached to my head in the summer. So it’s all about the hat.

Jen: Mm-hmm. What kind of hat do you like?

Rachel: I have a problem. When I go into Target, I go right to the hat section. They have really cute—I can be dressy and have a cute hat on.

Jen: Like a floppy summer hat? So cute.

Rachel: Yes, no hair washing required, which is so perfect. But I am partial to the baseball cap.

Jen: I probably have 30. How about this, and this can be literally anywhere: favorite summer location.

Rachel: When we talked about childhood summer, my mom would let my sister and I go to my aunt’s in northern Indiana in the summer. And I think my favorite place in summer would have to be my aunt’s porch.

Jen: How nice.

Rachel: She had this beautiful farm porch, nothing fancy, tons of acres. And I’m an introvert, so there were no people around and it was like  . . . Like I said, I love nature, I was at peace, the breeze was blowing, if I could be there right now, that’s where I would be.

Jen: That’s so dreamy. If you know anything about me, I’m a porch person. So you are like singing my song, sister.

So last question, and this is kind of a twist on our favorite Barbara Brown Taylor question: what is saving your life this summer?

Rachel: Okay. So I know you love Gilmore Girls, right?

Jen: I do, I’m on my second through with my daughter.

Rachel: I don’t know how you feel about this, but right now saving my life this summer is my daughter is finally to the age where we can watch Felicity.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Rachel: Do you remember that, Felicity?

Jen: Do I ever. This is a good use of your summer hours with your kiddo.

Rachel: We, my husband goes to bed early, Natalie and I are late owls, so we get our Felicity going. And It’s talking about the things she’s worried about, but it’s not in the way that it is now where it’s like you have to hide your eyes and hold your ears for everything, you know? And we can talk about things. I literally have been waiting 10 years for this moment, when can we watch Felicity together. My goal is to get through all the seasons this summer.

Jen: Oh, my gosh. This is such a good goal. I am, right now, starting to scheme. You know what, I need to watch that with Sydney before she goes to college in the fall.

Rachel: There you go. Yes.

Jen: That is phenomenal.

Listen, Rachel, I want to thank you so much for being on today. I thank you for your really humble and lovely approach to parenting and to marriage and to life.

And it’s interesting that this started for you seven years ago, because our world has even become more and more and more addicted to our devices and our screens and social media. And it all feels so loud, and it all feels so scream-y, and it is so all-consuming. And I just feel like, even more today is this message important than when you even first started seven years ago.

So thank you for bringing what you’ve learned to bear as so many face down summer and we just don’t want to let it slip through our fingers again. We don’t. Nobody wants that. We want to feel connected, we want to feel present. We want to feel like we do not have one eye here, one eye there, one ear here, that doesn’t feel good.

I find all your counsel, and your advice, your suggestions so practical and honestly so doable. This doesn’t, to me, require an entire life overhaul. These are tweaks that can be made.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jen: I would love for you to tell everybody really quickly where can they find you, where can they find your stuff, where can the find more. Because you are like a wealth of information on this conversation, and I want them to be able to do a deep dive into everything you’ve learned and everything you have done with your own family.

Rachel: I appreciate that so much. My blog is Hands Free Mama. I also have a Facebook page called the Hands Free Revolution, which people that don’t know anything about it, they are like, “Oh, well, wait a minute, you just said you were hands free. Why do you have a Facebook page and an Instagram?” So if I said, “We’re not getting rid of technology here, it’s a tool.”

Jen: That’s right.

Rachel: I have those. The communities there are really wonderful. We’re all about being real like Jen is. And then I’ve written three books.

Hands Free MamaHands Free Life, and Only Love Today. Those are my three books and they do not have to be read in any order. And Only Love Today is wonderful because it is basically one of those Choose Your Own mysteries where you can flip it open to any page. You can flip it open, read a two-minute reflection, and, like I said, it’s like a Reset button, bringing you back to what really matters. So that’s one thing I would want people to check out.

Also, Jen, I have prepared a free little ebook for your people, for anyone who’s listening, because one thing’s that’s really heavy on my heart, as I mentioned, was our kids are navigating really tough territories with pressure and social media. I wrote a little book this spring called Words That Can’t Wait. Because there are five critical conversations that I’ve had with my kids that really just take that pressure off and let them know that no mistake they make is bigger than your love. I’ve had 30,000 downloads on this book, and people keep saying it has helped them have really important conversations. So I really just wanted to offer that to your community.

Jen: I appreciate you. Thank you for making that available to my listeners. Guys, I’ll have that all over at under the Podcast tab. Every link that we’ve mentioned, all of Rachel’s social feeds, all her books, everything, so it’ll be a one-stop shop for you.

All right, sister. Thank you so much for being on the show today. You are amazing and I’m so glad we finally met.

Rachel: Me too. Thank you, Jen.

Jen: Absolutely.

Okay, guys. That is our show for the day. I think what I’m walking away with is this very simple idea that we have a choice in the matter. Right? We have a choice for the rhythms of our day and our summer, our parenting, our marriage. We are not just a victim of circumstances. With just a little bit of intentionality on the front end of things, we really can steer our own ship. And that is so empowering to me. Sometimes I just need somebody to tell me that. And remind me, You get to do this, Jen. You get to be in charge of your own life.

You guys, I hope you loved Rachel. Like I mentioned, all of this will be over at underneath the Podcast page. Please do not ever miss that resource. My assistant Amanda spends so much time on that. She builds it out with extra pictures and links and icons and of course the entire written-out transcript. I have several listeners who tell me on the regular that for some reason they prefer to read the interviews rather than hear them, which is hilarious. And so if that is you, that transcript is there for you week after week. It’s our joy to do that for you. It’s our joy to work so hard for you on this podcast because we love it so much and you are the best listeners ever.

Thank you, guys, for telling your friends about this podcast, for sharing it, there’s the train, you guys, if you’ve been around the podcast a while, you know the train is a constant soundtrack to the For the Love Podcast so thank you for being generous and gracious about that.

Okay, guys. Way more to come in the summer series. Lots of practical stuff on travel, on fashion, on surviving. We have so many fun guests, we have so much fun content coming your way. And so absolutely come back next week and we will dig into more “For the Love of Summer.” Have a great one, you guys. See you next time.

Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

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