Lose Yesterday’s Regrets With a Do-Over Today

I love spending time with my nephews. But because we live in different states and my daughters always monopolize their little cousins’ time when we’re together, I rarely get alone time with them. But when I do, something magical happens. Time slows down. I become calmer, happier, and more attentive. I marvel at their long eyelashes and the way their small hands feel in mine. I ask them questions like, “How long does it take a tree to grow?” and marvel at the certainty of their responses. “’Bout five minutes,” beautiful Sam said when he was four.


When I am with my nephews it’s like getting a do-over. I get to do the things I wish I’d done when my daughters were three and five. But I didn’t because that is when I tried to control everything. That is when I worried so much about the outcome that I forgot to enjoy the experience. That’s when I counted my calories and my kids’ mistakes. That is when my voice was harsh more than it was kind. That’s when my phone ruled my thoughts and actions. That’s when I gave my time and energy to people I barely knew and had nothing left for the people I named myself.

But I try not to wallow in regret. It sucks the joy from today.

So instead I try to do better. And time with my nephews is a like a do-over. And it’s a reminder of what beautiful moments can come when you just hold a child’s hand and let him lead.

hands HFM

My nephews have a baby sister now. In her first few months of life, my sister-in-law would send me pictures of her sleeping. I’d study the photos and actually feel my blood pressure lower. One day, I got teary. The way my niece’s arms rested wide open and the peace settled on her tiny features made me cry as I wrote back to her mother: “Just look at the peace and trust she knows. That is all she knows.”

I couldn’t help but think that was not the case with my “baby”.

My child knows let down. She knows distance, agitation, and impatience. She knows what it feels like to have her hopes crushed like a paper airplane. She knows worry that makes it impossible to sleep. She knows confusion and the sound of my sobs. She knows a mama who breaks dishes in frustration. She knows a mama who broke under the pressure. She knows when it’s time to plug her ears and shut her eyes. She knows things I wish I could take back.

Looking at that picture had me wondering if I’ve let my baby down one too many times … if I’ve failed to be the positive and loving presence I aspired to be when she was born.

I could’ve done better, I think to myself more often than I’d like to admit.

But then I remember what day it is.

It is today. It is not yesterday.

Today all hope is not lost. Oh no—hope is not lost.

Today I can follow through.

Today I can listen, really listen.

Today I can say, “You can count on me,” and mean it with every fiber in my body.

Today I can use Soul-Building Words and swallow hurtful ones.

Today I can see what is good before I see what needs improvement.

Today I can pick my battles and choose love every chance I get.

Today I can bring peace to the breakfast table … to the front door … to the nighttime talks and then maybe, just maybe, that peace will begin to look like love and trust in my child’s eyes when she’s awake and in arms wide open when she sleeps.

my niece HFM

sleeping baby HFM

I’ll never forget when I was packing my suitcase with a box of goodies to play with my nephews when I traveled to their state for a speaking event. My freckle-faced Noticer walked up to see what I was doing. She immediately picked up the brand new slinky.

“Oh wow! I love these. Did you get one for me?” she asked hopefully.

A twinge of sadness washed over me. “Well, no,” I said sheepishly. “I got it to play with your little cousins while Aunt Stacie has some time to herself.”

After a moment of silence my child said, “I am not too old for that.”

It’s not too late, a hopeful voice inside me whispered.

When I returned from my trip, I gave my daughter a slinky. We played with it on the stairs. She stretched it out as far as it would go and let it spring back. We laughed at the way our cat Banjo tried to catch it. My eight-year-old child loved the Slinky as much as the little guys did. Most of all, she loved spending time with her mom.

Suddenly I was reminded of the seven most hopeful words in the English language:

It is today. It is not yesterday.


 Today offers a do-over, my friends. Let’s not waste it, shall we? The following list was inspired by my nephews, my daughters, my former special education students, and by my recent surgeries and healing process. I wish I’d done more of these actions when my kids were small, but here’s the thing: It’s not too late. I can do them now. And what’s more, these actions work on my husband, my parents, and my friends too. I am certain they will work for you and your beloveds too.

7 Small Actions That Can Greatly Impact the Life of a Child (Big or Small)

  1. Ask for their opinion

Whether it is: “What flowers do you think we should we plant in the yard?” or “How do you think our family should handle this?” asking your children to weigh in on a decision makes them feel important and valued. In addition, it provides great practice for them to make sound decisions without you.

  1. Let them do for themselves

Maybe it’s folding their laundry in their own way, pouring their own cereal, picking out their own clothes, or managing their time. By letting go of the need for tasks to be accomplished quickly and in a certain way, you foster vital life skills and confidence in your children.

  1. Listen with eyes, ears, & heart

Attentively listening to your children’s dreams, needs, and questions results in the ability to KNOW them. And when a person feels known, they feel loved and understood in the most powerful way possible.

  1. Kiss a forehead

When I was recovering from surgery, my husband got into the habit of kissing my forehead. It made me feel cherished in a way I could not describe. I began doing it to my daughter. I noticed she smiled the same way I did. A kiss on the forehead makes you feel protected and celebrated.

  1. Announce you have time especially for them

Some of the most powerful words you can say to another person are: “I’ve got ___ minutes and they are all yours. What do you want to do?” Although it appears to be a gift to the recipient, you may find yourself walking away from that time of connection feeling more peaceful and fulfilled than before you started.

  1. Give some breathing room

Let there be breathing room when it comes to the shot they missed. Let there be breathing room when it comes to their packed schedule. Let there be breathing room when it comes to their emotions. Taking risks, learning, growing, and expressing emotion mean there will be mistakes; there will be meltdowns; there will be challenges. Give your people breathing room to be human and you’ll see them prosper and thrive.

  1. Say “I love you” out of the blue

Rather than saving the words, “I love you,” for nighttime tuck in, departure time, holidays, or achievements, get into the habit of saying it when you feel it—like when her beauty astounds you … like when his giving heart shines though … like when you notice the joy they bring to the world. When the words “I love you” are not tied to situations or achievements, they are better emphasized, better heard, and better absorbed.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2015

dreamer 2 HFM


Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, the release date for HANDS FREE LIFE is just two weeks away! If you have found value in the words that I write, I would greatly appreciate your support by pre-ordering my book. Every order enables me to continue doing what I believe I was born to do—write truths that offer hope, healing, and connection. Don’t forget that with any pre-order of HANDS FREE LIFE, you get a free e-book download of my NYT bestseller, HANDS FREE MAMA. Details here.

Throughout the next two weeks, I’ve been graciously invited by a collection of like-minded bloggers and authors to share my message with their online communities. Of course, I don’t write anything without sharing it with you too! The following list shows where you can find additional Hands Free inspiration in the weeks leading up to the release of HANDS FREE LIFE. Please check out the site while you are there. These people are my friends. They are gifted writers with important messages.

8/24 Creative with Kids  – “Two Words That Can Bring You Back to Peaceful Territory”

8/25 Roots of Action – “Managing Screen Time Increases Family Joy”

8/26 Emily Wierenga  – “Changing the Way the Story Ends”

8/27 Kari Kampakis – “How a Critical Mom Learned to Connect With Her Child”

8/28 Q&A with Emily Plank of Abundant Life Children

8/31 Q&A with Paul Axtell of Ten Powerful Things to Say & paulaxtell.com

9/1 Purposeful Faith – “A Moment We All Need to Give Ourselves”

9/1 Joyful Courage Podcast with host Casey O’Roarty
(Click here to listen to the podcast once it airs)

9/2 Amy McCready – “The Single Most Important Parenting Action We Can Do Today”

9/4 Simple Homeschool – “School Year Hopes”

9/7 Hayhouse Radio interview with Mike Robbins, host of “Nothing Changes Until You Do

9/8 Becoming Minimalist – “A Season for Hands Free Living”

9/10 Mamalode – HANDS FREE LIFE book review

Dates TBA:

Podcast with Dr. Laura Markham of Ah-ha Parenting

Podcast with Maggie Dent, Quietly Improving Lives

Book review on The Mid by Kristin VanderHey Shaw

 Recently published:

8/20 Janet Lansbury: Elevated Childcare – “A Feasible Way to Really Know a Child

8/20 Power of Moms Podcast – HANDS FREE LIFE with Rachel Macy Stafford

When Life Feels Like a Mess, There’s Something We Can Do

signing HFM for my nurse, Kristen

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
Brené Brown

My friend lost her sister to cancer four months ago. She talks about it—the pain and disbelief, the pressure to move on, the things that help and the things that don’t. She talks about the good days and the indescribably bad days.

I listen to everything she offers. I tuck it away for safekeeping. With her help, I’ll know a better thing to say when someone hurts. With her help, I have some perspective on inconsequential problems when they’re getting more attention than they deserve.

Each time my friend shares, I am struck by admiration and awe. I think to myself, she never wanted to be the messenger; she never wanted to be an expert on grief; she never wanted to know what words, what actions bring a moment of solace to an aching soul.

But she is. And she does.

This is now my friend’s story and as much as she’d like to deny it, she’s chosen to own it—quite bravely and brilliantly, I might add.

I thought of my friend and her unchosen expertise when I had a CT scan in June. It was the first time I laid beneath a big scary machine and held my breath for dear life. When the machine began to inch forward slowly, I thought of my friend and her story. I wasn’t sure how my story was going to play out, but I decided I would own it. Tell my close friends what I was going through. Say, “I’m scared,” when I felt scared. Ask for help when I was in pain. Above all, I knew it was important to pay attention. So I vowed to take it all in—the good and bad—and perhaps discover something worth sharing in the process.

[Read more…]

The Conversation I Almost Missed & the Future It Could’ve Cost

you make me feel like I belong under the sun -citizen cope

 “You make me feel like I belong under the sun.” –Citizen Cope

I was not expecting to experience such an emotional response when Dr. Shefali Tsabary shared her video about parent shaming with me. It was the following words, found two minutes and twenty seconds into the video, that brought me to tears:

“I came to you so you could honor my soul, nurture my worth, and preserve my spirit. Yet it is you who annihilates my very essence in the name of parenting, in the name of love, in the name of teaching.”

Dr. Shefali then calls on parents to “become the person they are meant to be.” She describes it from a child’s perspective as:

The parent
The guardian
The usher of my soul

Not too long ago, I was good at shaming my children. It wasn’t obvious. It was subtle. Exasperated breaths. Eye rolls. Belittling. Inducing guilt. Acting like they should know better. But they were children. They were learning, and I seemed to forget that.

I thought it was my job to teach them a lesson.

But what I was teaching them was that I could never be satisfied. I was teaching them to confide in someone else—someone who would be more understanding and less reactive. I was teaching them to strive for perfection, no matter the cost.

Although I’d improved on seeing the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations, there was still work to do. It was an intentional change in my approach to life that revealed exactly where further improvement was needed and more importantly, why.

[Read more…]

Replace ‘Guilt’ with ‘Gift’ & Watch it Become a Life-Changer

guilt #HFM

Guilt can be loud.

Are they getting enough?
Am I doing enough?
Should I be doing more?

You should be playing more.
You should be planning more.
You should be having more fun.

Earlier this summer Guilt got very loud and had a lot to say to me.

The old me would have listened and accepted its critical words as truth. But the Hands Free me has learned the best way to silence Guilt is to pull back the veil of darkness and shed light on the matter. I do this by telling someone what Guilt is saying.

In this case, I told my mom.

[Read more…]

The Glass Jar Every Human Being Needs to Hold

the jar of love #HFM“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray

“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”

I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.

“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”

And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.

I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.

If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.

And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.

[Read more…]

Ending the Stoplight Excuses

ending the stoplight excusesI could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.

I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.

I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.

I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within a few feet of your car door.

My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.

I’d like to say that incident changed me.

And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.

It’ll just be a second.
The traffic isn’t bad.
I’ll just check at a stoplight.
I’m good at multi-tasking.
The kids aren’t with me.
This call is important.
This message can’t wait.

And for two years after the red light incident, I continued my distracted ways. When I think about the number of times I put my life, my children’s lives, and other drivers’ lives at risk for the sake of a meaningless call or message, I feel physically ill.

But one glorious day, while out for a run, I was overcome with regret, sorrow, and clarity.  I vowed to stop making excuses as to why I was missing my life – and risking my life – for my distractions.

Within hours of that life-changing run, I took one of the first steps toward living free from distraction’s powerful grip. I turned off the notifications on my phone and put it in a drawer. No longer would I be controlled by the sound of notifications, beeps, and dings. No longer would my attention on the living beings in my home be suddenly dropped because of the summons from a little black box.

[Read more…]

The Loss of Life Beneath Your Skin & How to Revive It

making tea HFM“We push and pull
And I fall down sometimes
And I’m not letting go
You hold the other line
‘Cause there is a light
In your eyes, in your eyes.”
–Mat Kearney

A few months ago my newly turned 12-year-old daughter got into making iced tea.

We seek out new flavors at quaint little farmers’ markets and at fancy tea shops in the mall. My child holds the canister and asks questions of the vendor that I do not understand. She pays with her babysitting money.

I stand back and marvel at her maturity and her newfound passion.

She comes home with her wares and goes right to work. It’s quite a process, and she takes it very seriously. She makes a large pitcher and offers me a glass. My daughter knows I am trying to stop drinking diet soda once and for all. So whenever she makes a new flavor, she says, “I think you’ll like this one, Mama.”

She holds out that glass of deep orange liquid as if handing me a sunset made with her very own two hands.

I didn’t know why I felt like crying happy tears at such an offering until my friend shared something about her own life experience.
[Read more…]

The Unlikely Reaction to Filling Life’s Holes

waiting 2 #HFM“Oh, the joy of nothing is a sweeter something
And I will hold it in my heart.
Yes, I will hold it in my heart.” –Foy Vance

Exactly one year ago my family moved to a new state. I felt internal pressure to dive into activities, make friends, and navigate new territories because that’s what I did in our three previous moves.

But instead of going outside to become acclimated, I came inside.

I flanked myself with family. We planted seeds in the backyard. We waded in nearby streams. We paid attention to the way the summer rain sounded on our rooftop. My blog went quiet. I filled many notebooks, only my eyes privy to the words I’d share when ready.

I did not jump in. I did not take action. But I was always looking—looking for The Moment when it felt like everything would be okay in this new place. Much to my relief, there were many of those soul-assuring moments when divine connections and experiences brought tears to my grateful eyes. We’ll be okay, I often reminded myself quietly and consistently.

Despite the moments of assurance, I could not ignore the missing pieces—the important parts that made our life a life before the transition. These particular missing pieces created a painful void that could not be denied.

[Read more…]

If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]

An Invitation to Save Summer from the Screens

invitation #HFM“Rejoice as summer should…chase away sorrows by living.” ― Melissa Marr

The other night I was taking a walk when I came upon a man pushing a lawn mower across his overgrown grass. My pace slowed as I watched tiny blades of grass dance over his yard. I breathed in deeply and smiled.


It is the smell of fresh lawn trimmings and gasoline.
It is the sound of crickets and thunderstorms.
It is the taste of homemade vanilla ice cream.
It is the feeling of hot cement under bare feet.
It is more than a season and more than a memory. It is my favorite, most alive feeling, and it can be awakened with one smell, one taste, or one remembrance from my childhood summers.

Because when I was a kid, summer was an all-senses experience.

I cut the grass blasting tunes on my Walkman, waving to my dad as he supervised me mow the steep hill in back. I sported chlorine-scented hair and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. I wrote notes to my best friend in bubble-letter script and mailed them because that was second best to passing them in class. I babysat and carried a blue-eyed toddler on my hip treating her like the beloved child I someday hoped to have. I beat the fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the garage door in rhythmic succession. There was always one long car trip with my family—sweaty legs that stuck to the seat and ice cold soda from the cooler in back.

Now here I stand on an uneven sidewalk admiring a stranger’s lawn mower lines wondering what my children’s summer associations will be.

I fear for the extinction of nighttime hide-and-go-seek and tadpole catching in a shallow creek. It doesn’t take scientific data to tell me that an All-Senses Summer is greatly threatened by electronic screens, over-scheduling, endless duties and distractions—both on my children’s part and mine.

As the man tending his lawn gave me a friendly wave, I forced a smile wondering how I could save the season of watermelon-stained smiles from permanent extinction.

[Read more…]