the secret sauce.

whmr-1I’m not really one of those “Women can have it all!” fanatics. I don’t do everything and I certainly don’t do everything well. I delegate, I have occasional meltdowns, sometimes I am a hot mess. Balance is something that sounds nice in theory, but also seems somewhat unattainable while I’m wiping snot from Everett’s face for the seventeenth time today.

Having said that, I strive for balance. I attempt to be a good wife and a good mom. I try to be a good writer and a good photographer. Sometimes I sway back and forth, my energy levels and priorities playing an aggressive game of tug-of-war.

For me, balance usually comes down to time management. When I am managing my time well, I feel balanced in my roles, and when I’m not managing my time well, I feel like a hormonal pyschopath. It sounds like a simple concept, but time management can be really challenging when binge watching Dexter is a viable option on the table.

Nevertheless, here are some tried and true balance strategies that I currently use to a) manage my time, and b) keep myself sane. If you have ever wanted to know how I “do it all” (even though I don’t), this is my secret sauce:

1. I have a babysitter. Taking small, short breaks from Everett to do things for myself makes me a better mother and a much better wife. Right now I have between 6-8 hours of babysitting a week—three hours with a paid babysitter and about four hours with a babysitting swap. I typically use that time to write, to work on my photography business, and to go to barre class. It’s amazing how refreshed I feel after exercising my body, mind, and creative spirit.

2. Brett and I go on dates. This is a new commitment we made in 2014 and boy, am I glad we did. We’re two dates in to our year of dates plan and so far, we are loving it!

3. Everett does independent play time once a day. Mommas: this is huge for me. Every morning, Everett plays in his crib for 45 minutes while I take a shower and get dressed. Most days I get dressed in yoga pants and slouchy sweaters, but that’s besides the point. I like starting my day with a hot shower, and once Everett transitioned to one nap (around 13 months), I knew I needed to figure out how to make that possible. A few of my friends were doing independent play successfully, so I decided to give it a shot. We started at 15 minutes and worked our way up to 45 (some days we do a whole hour). Nine months later, this is still working really well for us. Everett is totally used to the routine and even gets excited to pick out what toys he wants to put in his crib. He runs around the whole house shoving little cars and trains between the crib rails before I set him in there. I turn on Toddler Radio on Pandora, shut the door, and retrieve him after 45 minutes, sometimes longer if he’s having fun.

4. I get out of the house, alone. Since Brett commutes and works a normal 8-5 job, he enjoys being home a lot more than I do. I usually leave the house one or two nights a week, to go to barre class or to write from Starbucks, while Brett has special time with Everett. I’m never gone long, normally just an hour or so, but it often feels like a mini vacation to be by myself.

5. Sundays are family days. We live for Sundays. Every Sunday we go to church as a family, grocery shop at Trader Joes, make a big lunch at home, and then relax all afternoon. We cook dinner at home, sometimes take a walk along the river, and then Brett and I clean the house once Everett’s in bed. I love to end my week with rest and a clean house.

6. Friendships are a priority and commitment. I’m in a bible study that meets twice a month and a playgroup that meets once a week. They are committed gatherings, and that’s why they work so well. There are coffee dates and pedicures and movie nights in between those commitments, but I love having dedicated friend time on the calendar six times a month.

7. Nap time rituals. I have little rituals that I savor during nap time, the most holy time of the day. First I pick up all the toys and light a candle, transforming my living room into an oasis. I eat my lunch. I read, I rest, I work, I make to-do lists and cross items off. I treat myself to a piece of chocolate. I soak up the only silence I will experience before bedtime. Have I mentioned that I will probably completely lose my mind when Everett stops napping altogether? Because I will. I will actually lose my mind.

What’s your secret sauce to keeping yourself balanced?

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26 Responses to the secret sauce.

  1. Don’t fret yet about naps 🙂 They are my special, speciallllll time, too. I don’t even feel bad saying it. But? my almost 4 year old still naps because we’ve made it A Thing so much so that we just try our best to never miss it. Also, when we brought home #2 (19 months ago), I made sure they napped at the same exact time every day. So pretty much since day 1 I’ve had an hour and up to 3.5 hours ALONE with them both snoozing away every day. It’s heaven. When naptime stops completely? She will get learning apps on the ipad and quiet time (we’ve done that from time to time recently because she’s starting to dwindle as expected!). Anything for that sanity in the middle of a crazy day 🙂
    Katie @´s last blog post ..You’re capable of more than you think.

    • Ashlee says:

      I am totally on board with the quiet time idea for when Everett stops napping. I still think we are a ways off, but that’s the next trick up my sleeve 😉

  2. Emma says:

    I work 9-5 so it’s hard to keep work, family time, romantic time, me time, freelance design time, and cleaning time equal. Some weeks I just have to evaluate what’s more important and pick and choose date night over working on projects, playing with my son over doing dishes after dinner, and cleaning the bathroom over that extra 10 minutes of tv time before bed. It’s hard to stay balanced when one thing takes up 75% of your time already, but I find that sacrificing some things to get more of others works for us!
    I love the idea of independant play. My son Julian is really good at entertaining himself on weekend mornings when we want to sleep in, so I make sure to put some books and toys in his bed the night before. It’s really a lifesaver!


  3. Angeline says:

    Bookmarking this to remember for when our little girl gets here! I think finding personal balance (rather than trying to be everything to everyone all at once) makes us better in every way – better wives, better mothers, better friends, better employees and better followers of Christ. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. 🙂

  4. Baily Hollen says:

    I have an almost three week old daughter named Marin. I’m slowly learning how all of this motherhood stuff works, but this post rings so true to where we are heading. I also desire balance and know that I need to have some mama time where I still can take care of myself. It can be so hard at times and I’m also cherishing all of the newborn naps that Marin has right now, for I know they will disappear. My “secret sauce” right now is actually being able to take a shower at some point in the day, booking a massage/mani/pedi in a few weeks and having my mom watch our daughter for a few hours, or sitting down at night and working through my never ending to do list. I love reading posts about how other women manage their time and priorities. Thank you for the insight into what your “secret sauce” is.
    Baily Hollen´s last blog post ..Week Two

    • Ashlee says:

      Congrats on your new baby, Baily! Three weeks old, you’re still in the trenches… 😉 It all gets easier, I promise. Also: hot showers are key. Even if you get right back into yoga pants.

  5. Christine says:

    Obviously don’t have a baby yet to throw into the mix, but I think you make some great points on balance as a whole. I have three (very busy!) girlfriends in NYC and we’re committed to dinner/drinks together once a month and it is SO fun every time it comes about–and we’re always so glad we’ve made the time. Right now, I’m trying to figure out work and blog and yoga and boyfriend and friends and it’s constantly a time management puzzle. Always possible, but as you said–sometimes you have to cut the Netflix binge in exchange for the real good, real nourishing stuff. xo
    Christine´s last blog post ..Postcard from Tanama Eco Spa

    • Ashlee says:

      I’ve learned, specifically in my twenties, that attaching a commitment to friendship is always a good idea. Also: NETFLIX IS RUINING MY PRODUCTIVITY. For real.

  6. Mariah says:

    Girl, I NEEDED this. Struggling so hard with balance and work and mommy-ing and wifing. Thanks for sharing your tips!
    Mariah´s last blog post ..Toddler Backpack in Art Gallery Fabrics

  7. Melissa says:

    OK…Independent play time is just genius! I have the hardest time taking a shower because, even when I set M up with projects, I come out to my bathroom and bedroom looking like a tornado tore through. It makes my shower time stressful and feel very ‘not worth it’. Needless to say, I absolutely love this idea and can’t wait to try it. Thank you for posting!
    Melissa´s last blog post ..state of the pw etsy

    • Ashlee says:

      Dude…..TRY IT. Warning: Everett cried the first 4-5 times. It was kind of like sleep training, only play training. Once he figured out that I wasn’t going to get him right away, he relaxed and began to enjoy his toys. Be patient, start small, and keep me posted! Good luck! 😉

  8. Lauren Gibbs says:

    I love all of these ideas Ashlee! I love your idea of a date night every month. Alex & I do a date-night swap every once in a while with some friends where one of them will come to our house after Raegan is in bed, so we can have a date night, and the next night one of us will go to their house while they go on a date. It’s an awesome deal 😉
    I agree on the nap times too. I never want them to end!
    Lauren Gibbs´s last blog post ..Food Friday: Kim’s Chicken Casserole

    • Ashlee says:

      We have done that too! It’s like a mini sleepover for the kids, so fun! And much more affordable. We also split a babysitter sometimes…..two kids at one house, and then we each go on separate dates.

  9. Linnea says:

    Just clipped this to my Evernote “family” notebook… because seriously, I need to start taking notes! This is such good stuff, Ashley. Thank you.

  10. Amy says:

    My kids are older now, but I do remember exactly how you feel. To keep me in balance, I run. It sounds counter-intuitive to add another thing to my schedule, but it always clears my head and gives me perspective. Oh, and I’m not above a night time glass of wine and a couple of episodes of Castle!

    • Ashlee says:

      That’s awesome! I feel the same way about barre class. I have to think about everything my body is doing so I tend not to think about anything else (the to-do list, what I’m making for dinner, etc).

  11. Bethany says:

    THANK YOU for this post. These are things I desperately need to do. Our little girl is almost 9 months now. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to teach her to nap longer than an hour and a half at a time, so I have to hustle during her naps to get things done. But I like the oasis idea. I think I need to make a focused effort to do these things to avoid mama cabin fever!
    Bethany´s last blog post ..mailbox love + six inches gone

  12. Kelly says:

    This is a great post, so many important things. I love the independent play time- this is SO important for him too that he knows how to play by himself/entertain himself. My baby is only 7 weeks old and I’ll be back at work in a few more weeks, so I’m not sure how balance will look then. I teach kindergarten so it won’t be a break from kids, that’s for sure! But right now I’m trying really hard not to get caught him in the new mother-can’t-be-away-from-him thing. I’m trying to workout and make time for me, so hopefully I can continue that when I go back to work!
    Kelly´s last blog post ..How Do You Make Friends?

  13. I do a lot of the same things! I agree, you have to make yourself a priority. Naptime, is the best. I get a lot done, sometimes I take a nap too! 🙂
    Andrea Worley´s last blog post ..Coffee Date 03.07.14

  14. jean says:

    love this. and the idea of independent play time! i’ve been doing that and it’s so nice that he finds creativity in his play alone. thanks for this read!
    jean´s last blog post artist

  15. suzy says:

    i need to start figuring stuff like this out. Sullivan’s seven weeks old now, and i still feel very…
    like, i can’t even think of that word. and i’m dang GOOD at thinking of words.

    i feel very…
    like, hurricane, dentist appointment, dense fog, first date, million dollars, fever.
    like that, in a blender.

    suzy´s last blog post ..{sullivan’s room}

  16. Debra says:

    Space to create! It took me so long to realise that my main source of bad moods was not allowing myself regular lone time to be creative. If I’m feeling off it always brings me right back into balance.
    Debra´s last blog post

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