A Vow to ‘Soften’ So Your Loved Ones Can Shine

vow to soften

I received a booklet from each of my daughters for Christmas. Some of the pages made me laugh. Others made me cry. But a few pages stood out.

“I love when you talk to me like a friend.”

“I love that you love my opinion.”

“I love how you never are mean to me.”

“I’d be lost without your love.”

It’s not often a person receives tangible signs of progress—an unexpected measurement of how far she’s come.

you are never mean to me

love #HFM

My Hands Free journey started as a mission to let go of my millions of distractions and my need for perfection. As those outer barriers dismantled, my inner barriers did too. I felt myself being less of a controlling manager and more of a peaceful nurturer. As my inner barriers weakened, my ability to respond more lovingly, more patiently, and more openly grew.

My friends Lisa and Shawn call this process softening, and I just love the image that word creates and the feeling of calm it brings.

To me, softening has come to mean pausing, breathing, reflecting, surrendering, accepting, opening, and revealing.

But there is more – and this is the kicker:

Softening means seeing—truly seeing.

By responding to others and myself with more compassion, patience, and acceptance, I’ve begun to see less in black and white and more in color. I had no idea my loved ones had so many colors until I began to soften so they could shine.

waves HFM

As New Year’s resolutions or “word of the year” bounce around in your head this week, I hope this one sticks: soften. It is doable. Its benefits reach far beyond you. It is life-changing and life-giving. And even a little bit of softening goes a long way.

The following vow is something I could have used a few years ago before my inner barriers began to crumble. I didn’t think to create such a vow until I wrote this post on the best gifts I ever gave. Many commenters declared the word “soften” as their word/goal for 2016. I can’t help but believe there’s a little something in this vow for all of us—no matter where we are in the process of pausing, surrendering, breathing, revealing, reflecting, and accepting. I can’t help but believe our world could use a little softening right now. My hope is that we can start or continue the softening process with this vow and perhaps, in time, we’ll receive a note, a look of surprise, or a loving sentiment indicating just how far we’ve come.

My Vow to Soften

I’ve had enough of my hard edges.
I’m tired of straining my voice.
I’d like to loosen up and laugh a little more,
Be a positive rather than a negative.

I’d like to feel the upward curve of my lips.
I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control.
I’d like to let things unfold in their own time, in their own way.
I’d like to participate joyfully in this fleeting life.

I’d like to be softer
towards him,
towards her,
towards me.

Thus, 2016 shall be the year of my softening.
And this is my vow:

sand #HFM

I vow to listen to opinions – I don’t always have to be right.
I don’t always have to agree or have the last word.

I vow to hand over the hairbrush, the pile of laundry, the school project,
the task before us. “How would you do it?” I will ask.
I vow to step aside and respect a new approach.
Success might be difficult to see at first; I vow to keep looking.

I vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms.
I vow to be more accepting of tastes and styles unlike my own.

I vow to remember he is in the process of becoming; she is in the process of finding her way.
And they are more apt to do it if I stop telling them how.

I vow to regard “weaknesses” as hidden strengths.
Inner gifts can be nurtured when I stop plotting ways to alter, change, and “improve”.

I vow to greet my family and myself with a loving smile, no matter what happened yesterday.
Grudge holding only hurts us all.

I vow to pause before correcting.
I shall take a moment to consider if the mistake even needs to mentioned at all.

I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds.

I vow to demand less and inquire more.

I vow to listen
and expand my thinking.

I vow to be a voice of encouragement in a demeaning world.

I vow to be a silver lining spotter in my family’s little world.

I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday—a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.

I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me.

By being softer, I can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more.
At last I will fully see.

I will see his colors.
I will see her colors.
I will see my colors
Perhaps for the very first time.

The colors might take my breath away
Bring me to tears
and offer long-awaited peace.

I shall soften in order to illuminate the colors of the soul.

I shall soften so the human being within me and beside me can shine.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2016

HFM and her mom


Recommended Resources:

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am grateful to have come to know so many highly skilled and experienced parenting educators and simplicity experts over the years. Here are some beneficial resources and learning opportunities to help you “soften” in the year ahead:

    • Andy Smithson, LCSW, helps parents change negative behaviors and build powerful cycles of growth and happiness in families. Andy is a husband, father of four, therapist, parent coach and speaker as well as author and creator of truparenting.net. Back by popular demand is Andy’s “Stop Yelling in 21 Days Coaching Course” beginning on January 25th. You can find out about the class and read the stellar reviews from past participants by clicking here.
    • Therapist and mindfulness expert Kerry Foreman did an incredible video series on mindfulness in December that helped me and many others “see” our loved ones and ourselves with greater focus, patience, and compassion. Sign-up is now open for Kerry’s Mindful Marriage video series beginning on February 1. Kerry writes: “With such busy lives, we forget how important it is to be present in our relationships. Whether you’re married, engaged, or just in a long term relationship, attending to your relationship must be a top priority if you want it to thrive.” Join Kerry and the supportive Get Grounded community by clicking here or sign up for the free mindful marriage video series by clicking here.

Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. For those who are new here, I have written two inspiring books that chronicle the steps and habits I acquired over the past five years that made the softening process possible. They are HANDS FREE MAMA and HANDS FREE LIFE. My books are currently on sale for $10 on Amazon. I also have beautiful reminder bands in leather and non-leather options available to use as a visual reminders to choose love. Indiana friends, I will be speaking and signing books at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, January 30th. You can click here for all the information on the Indy Women’s Expo. Thank you for walking beside me on this journey!



  1. 1

    Michelle says


    You have such a gift with words. This is EXACTLY what my heart needed to hear today. Your readers are so very blessed by you. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.

  2. 3

    Kirsty says

    After a tough weekend where I’ve felt at times as if the world was against me, this is just what I needed to read.

    Would things have been different had I softened…? I think so…

  3. 5

    daisy says

    this is almost exactly like my one of the two new years resolutions. this is what bothers me these days and before from time to time. i cannot stand the thought that i am getting in the way of my fragile 8 years old daughter. i really hope i never disturb her will, interfere less and only to support (when needed) her shine.

    soften is a cotton-like word, i love it, thank you for this and for your blog!!!

    • 6

      daisy says

      hello again. i rarely comment that is why i just would like to explain why i love the blog: you really inspire me in finding ways to be a calm mother, not pushy, but strong and supportive when needed. just the name of the blog sounds inspirational, hand free = enjoy = just be there. and so often i can see you write exactly for the stuff that bothers me, see your point, feel compassion, get support. of course each parenthood is so individual, but exchanging points of view with you, though only virtually, is so enriching. also you recommended the book “the gift of failure”, it is my book definitely.
      so thank you for helping me stand more stable on my feet when there are thousands of decisions to take for letting the little bird that i raise fly free.

  4. 7



    I hope you had a wonderful vacation and time with your family. I also put myself first for once and got away all alone for 6 days. Turns out to be the best thing I could have done to “soften my edges” and also allowed some space for EVERYONE in my family to grow in strength, confidence and truly knowing that they were OK without Mommy (mostly my 8 year old with separation anxiety-the changes in her since I got back have been astounding!!).

    Thank you for being that loving voice in my heart, reminding me that I am important. I look forward to reading much more from you in 2016.

    With Love,

  5. 8

    Beth says

    Can you tell me the title of the book which your kids filled out for you, I love you because…I’d be lost without your…..? I would like to do one for my husband. Thank you!

    • 9


      Hi Beth – My husband took my daughters to a store called Francesca’s and found the books. The ones my daughters gave me were called, “What I Love About Mom” but there are other versions like the one my husband got me called, “What I Love About Us”. I just googled it and found it at Barnes & Noble so I am sure Amazon would have the books too.

  6. 12

    Jenny says

    I absolutely LOVE this!!! Your have put into words what is in my heart!!! Thank you for writing and I’m so glad I found this!! May your and your have a very blessed 2016!!!

  7. 14


    Oh, Rachel, I needed this so much today. Yesterday was hard, really hard, one off those awful days – really just a few hours at the end (!) that make you feel hung over with sadness and regret. Softening is exactly what I need in my life, for my family and myself. That poem made me tear up, as if it were written with me in mind. I will hold onto this today and going forward in 2016.

    • 15


      I always love your comments & reflections, dear Dana. Your honesty and openness is so relatable. I am grateful to know this resonated & touched your heart today. I am thankful for your presence and support on this journey.

  8. 16

    Michelle says

    Hi Rachel –
    I’ve read your book and love your posts. They resonate every single time they pop up in my in-box or on Facebook. The timing is always perfect… A nice reminder to do what I pray for every day. Even though the messages are different it always seems you are talking directly to me and my current situation. Thank you!!

    I love this last post and wondered if you have a printable version of the soften vow. I’d love to hang it up as a daily reminder.

    Happy New Year!!


  9. 20

    Kimberly Shaw says

    Love this!! Thank you for sharing! Thank you also for the amazing webinar with Courtney Carver last month on Simple Year! It really touched my heart!

    • 21


      Thank you, Kimberly! That really makes me feel so good! I felt a little embarrassed that the question posed by one of the members at the end made me cry! Ugh. My emotions get the best of me — especially after surgery! You have put my worries to rest today.

      • 22

        Kimberly Shaw says

        Actually, I think we were all crying with you! It felt authentic, loving, and beautiful! After listening to a year of monthly webinars (all of them good), yours I remember the most…it really touched me deeply! Thank you for crying and sharing from your heart!

        • 23


          Thank you! This means so much to me, Kimberly! Please know that now I won’t be so nervous during my next webinar (I much prefer writing!) because of this exchange. THANK YOU!

  10. 24

    ammie bury says

    Rachel, thank you for all the ideas and links with this post. And for the synchronicity: the past few days I have been got clear on an old idea – that I will find the KINDER way of saying things. means I have to SOFTEN and listen closer for the feelings behind the words of others… reflective listening. Loving kindness. Best wishes

  11. 25

    Flo says

    Thank you for this. I absolutely need to start softening. I hate being a drill Sargent always trying to get everything done instead of just being and really living. I feel so defeated so often always trying to get my kids to do the littlest things like brush their teeth. It becomes easy to feel hardened. Next next next.
    I want so much to feel soft and live. I am going to really try this.

  12. 26


    I cannot say enough about this post. I have loved and read and re-read all your other posts. Your books. but this one hits home. I read it out loud this morning, to myself and I want to read it out load every morning. Your words touch not only the heart of moms but the souls. We, as moms, try so hard to be “perfect” and in that trying, we mess things up. or maybe I should just say I mess things up. too often. and then the cycle of regret and anger at myself continues. This year I shall vow to soften. I shall vow to to slow down, to love more, to be a silver lining spotter, a do-gooder, a mindful mom, and an acceptor not criticizer and controler. Rachel you have my deepest respect and thanks for your guidance, light and always your gentle nudge to awaken and remember to be an “only love today”mom!

  13. 27


    I fear, my heart would burst up if I receive such a personalized gift. What a treasure!

    I agree with the first commentator. Some of us grow and evolve as parents but it is a talent to put it out there in such eloquent words. You write some of the feelings or thoughts I might have but not necessarily be able to verbalize. Then I read you and say Aha! that’s it. That’s what it’s about.

  14. 29


    My softening is in practicing allowing my 16yo son to decide HOW and WHEN he will accomplish the agreed upon to-dos. I will encourage him for his ingenuity and praise him for his efforts and trust that his heart is to make good on his agreement.

    Thank you for the reminder…

  15. 32

    230sweaste says

    I loved this, can you say where the booklets came from that you were given. I’d love to use them with the ASD children I work with for their parents. Thanks

    • 33


      My husband took my daughters to a store called Francesca’s and found the books. The ones my daughters gave me were called, “What I Love About Mom” but there are other versions like the one my husband got me called, “What I Love About Us”. I just googled it and found it at Barnes & Noble so I am sure Amazon would have the books too.

  16. 35

    Kellie says

    Oh! How I love you Rachel. I re-listened to the original HF Mama book a few weeks ago while driving long hours back and forth for a funeral. I was alone in the car with just me and your words. It was the perfect precursor for preparing for the holidays and the new year. Your post today sums up what I long to accomplish with my kids. I am getting there bit by bit, but I know that if I can continue to soften, our lives will be so much better than they are. Thank you for being the best mama-mentor. I use “I love watching you…” all the time and I love it every time it rolls off my tongue. Now I need to work on “How would you do it…” =) Thank you!

  17. 36

    Mary says

    I love what you have written. Working on being softer is my goal. Thank you for putting it into perspective.

  18. 37

    Kate says

    Could you please send me a printable copy of the vow for 2016, I may need to read it several times. I really need to give this gift to my husband and family. Thank you!

  19. 38


    This is the best blog (not just today but every day!) I’ve ever read. I got your leather bracelets as gifts for christmas and everyone loved them! I love mine too 🙂 You are so inspirational. I have shared and tweeted this! Thank you.

  20. 40

    Charlotte says

    Thank you so much, Rachel, for these beautiful words which I shall print out straight away!

    I’ve never commented before but have been following all of your posts for several years now. Reading your words on a regular basis has already helped me to “soften” and to get my priorities right. You have helped change my life! And I’m sure my baby daughter would thank you for it if she could.

    Wishing you and your family all the best in 2016

  21. 41


    Rachel, you are a centering person. I don’t know if you’re “centered,” that’s not for me to say (I know I’m not), but, your words help center others, I know they do me. It’s all about paying attention isn’t it. I am painfully soft on the inside, but, so often, I don’t let that softness show, especially to my sons. “I’ve had enough of my hard edges.” Yes that. I’ll work on it, thanks.
    It is a beautifully structured piece I might add. The poem sort of curves and repeats softly, the images have an inherent softness, the words are gentle and soft-edged, the mood is hopeful. You are always a joy to read.
    God’s Peace, as always, to you and your beautiful family.

    • 42


      Oh Bill – a comment from you is like looking in the mailbox and seeing a card from my grandma. As a girl, I would get SO excited when I saw my grandma’s shaky script waiting for me to read in the box. Thank you for affirming me in such a profound and thoughtful way. I loved hearing your thoughts on the poem through yor talented writer’s eyes. I also appreciated your honest admission. It is so nice to have a companion when standing in the light of realness. Thank you for the incredible support and the loving blessings. You are a true blessing to me.

  22. 43

    Daniel says

    Any ideas how this can apply when you’re rushed in the morning and trying to get the kids to school on time? If I soften, we won’t be on time. Is it so bad to have rigidity and expect teamwork at certain times, but also allow for softening and introspection during other times?

    • 44

      Joann says

      I don’t know the ages of your kids, but I can tell you how I thwarted the early morning panic when mine was in single digits and I hadn’t had nearly enough sleep, and I hit snooze one too many times, and my stomach was already in knots about being late.

      I put my daughter to bed in the clothes she would wear to school tomorrow. That is right. Dry off from bath and into tomorrow’s outfit. I thought of what an underachiever and crappy mom I was because I obviously wasn’t doing it “right.” I wasn’t doing it “right” I was doing the best I could. And you know, she may have been a little rumpled looking, but no one ever called to reproach me for it. That 15 minutes of morning struggle, gave me time to be more gentle brushing hair. It gave me a cushion I desperately needed in case I discovered the skirt I was planning to wear, had a tear I didn’t know about. It made things better.

      Any things that absolutely could not be forgotten, I put on the floor right in front of the door. We could not leave without picking up the permission slip that had to be turned in today or she couldn’t go on the field trip.

      It wasn’t perfect, but stepping around the rules can make things such a tiny bit easier. That 15 minutes of grace might be your grace that you need.

      Blessings to you. Keep trying. Growing kinder, loving and thoughtful people are worth it.

    • 46


      Hi Daniel – I think you are absolutely right. There are times when we can & should expect “teamwork” (I love how you worded that) in order to be on time or get a job done. While it is just as important to look for times when we can step back and allow the child to be on his or her timetable or do it in their own way.

      I think children are often the best observers and I have learned so much from my “Noticer” when I stopped rushing us constantly. However there are times when we can’t stop and observe. I often tell parents rather than saying, “We don’t have time to look at that now,” to instead affirm the child for noticing and bringing interesting things to your attention. If you happen to be running short on time, simply say, “Wow! Thank you for noticing that. Let’s come back and look more closely when we have more time.” And then keep your word. If we do not value observantness and only celebrate speed and efficiency, our children will quickly learn to walk past the beauty, the pain, and the everyday miracles around us as so many adults do.

      I also wanted to share this very helpful post written by my colleague Sandy Blackard that describes 7 ways to make sure things get done on time without rushing or over-managing your children – http://www.languageoflistening.com/blog/on-time-with-empowered-children/

      Thank you again for your thoughtful question that I am sure others had too!

  23. 48

    Kris says

    It seems as though I need to read this every day. I constantly tell my daughter “when will you learn?!” “When will you stop?!” But then I read this and ask myself the same questions. Some days I go between telling myself to be firm with her and what would she do if I didn’t have my thumb on her to the realization that she has to learn from her mistakes. I just don’t want others hurt around her…not physically…but sometimes worry she is the mean girl. It’s so hard…this whole parenting gig. I wished it was as easy as just softening, and then as soon as I do, she will absolutely disappoint me and then I clamp down again. It’s certainly a roller coaster ride that requires a lot of prayer and it’s not for the faint at heart!

  24. 52

    Joann says

    Now a grandma, I see clearer (not by a whole lot–but more clearly than years before). I aspire to be softer and to eject the baggage and critical voice in my head–but you inspire me. I strove for survival and didn’t have a lot of time for softening when working three jobs. I can look back and see so, so many times where frantic worry, fear that I was living too close to the bank balance, and sleep–precious sleep –sleep deprivation that I genuine felt could kill me…these were dominating life in such loud ways that softening seemed impossible. Now that I am retired, I try harder with grandchildren. I try, really. But the 11 year old recently observed, “There is no arguing with Grammie.” While there is a part of me that is proud he has learned that, there is an admonishment to my Self: there isn’t enough room for him to feel listened to, affirmed, free…I AM STILL DOING IT, damnit. So keep inspiring me. Each day is am opportunity to try for better. Probably not leaps better…but another baby step is still improvement.

  25. 53

    Amanda says


    I emailed this to myself and saved it in my favorites. I am going to read it several times a day until the words become my own. All of your writings are beautiful, but I really love this one. Perfect for the New Year. “I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control”… ” I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me”… Letting go of perfectionism and loving yourself is so hard when you have done the complete opposite for years. But through your books and website, I have really began to look at things differently. I am a work in progress and I appreciate all of your help. I want to be softer:) For my kids. For my husband. For myself.

  26. 55

    Tammy B says

    I needed this post about 10 years ago, when my boys were much smaller. But I also need to print this off today and put it in a place where I will see it every day. Thank you!

    Also, I got your new book for Christmas and I can’t wait to get started on it!

  27. 57

    Jessica says

    What a beautiful piece. My new year’s resolution was to keep my temper, but it is more than that, as your poem so perfectly expresses. Instead, I will soften. Thank you! xo

  28. 58


    Oh yes, there’s so much hardness in the world. We’re bombarded with it via politicians and our media. So lovely to see that true wisdom comes in softness and grace.

  29. 59


    I love this post so much. So much to reflect on, I am much ‘softer’ with my younger children and have to work on doing the same with my 18 year old!

  30. 60

    Christi says

    As always, beautifully written! I need to soften SO much! It’s hard to not strive for perfection, but it’s so unobtainable and paving the way for constant frustration. No one, situation, car, family, outfit, etc. is ever perfect. Thanks for the reminder, as I know softening would likely lengthen my life!

  31. 61


    I read this post yesterday and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not the softest of people and I admittedly tend to be a bit of a control freak. This post brought a lot of those tendencies that I have and their possible repercussions on those I love to light.

    So, last night, in between homework assignments, we went out for frozen yogurt as a family because, “I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday—a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.”

    Thank you so much for this post. Being softer has been something I’ve been thinking about over the Christmas holiday and I knew I needed to pay attention to it. This post gave me a few tips and the added confirmation! xo

  32. 62

    Heidi says

    I love the idea of the book you got as a present from your kids where they had to finish the sentences – where can I get this? Would love to do it for a friend 🙂
    Thank you

  33. 65

    Juli says

    Everything you say hits a chord with me…in my heart, my brain, my gut. I would love to have a reminder from you every day — give me a nudge in the right direction, so I can start soft, loving, warm instead of looking at my to-do list, worrying about getting to school on time and all the other flotsam and jetsam.

    Thank you!

    • 66


      Hi Juli – I am currently working on this exact thing for my readers. Publishing is a long process so it will not be ready for a year. However, I post daily reminders on my Facebook page to help people get on a positive path for the day. FB is not everyone’s cup of tea, so that may not work for you. But I wanted to tell you the daily reminders are available there for you. With love, Rachel https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution/

  34. 67


    I heard someone speak a couple of years ago. She brought up a very large stuffed puppy. She then pointed out that those feet are often clumsy, they are always exploring, and so on. She reminded us, parents, that children are like that. They are learning, they make a lot of mistakes, and often adults expect them to act like they have already lived as long as an adult and have all the same wisdom. Since then, I have vowed to work on seeing the good that my kids do and recognizing that not all the things they do are so horrible-they are learning and growing daily.

    Thank you for your reminder in this post!


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