Welcome back to My Full Life!
If you’re a new reader, My Full Life is my series featuring working moms such as myself. My goal for this series is to ultimately gather together a tribe of women that my readers can go to for advice and feel they are not alone. I’ve got enough women to continue this series through the end of the year and I can’t wait!
I’ve been following along with this Mom’s journey for longer than I can remember! I’ve enjoyed reading Ashley’s blog for years and I’m thrilled to have her share her perspective with us today.
Tell me a little about yourself- what you do and what your family looks like.
My husband Neal and I have been married for 5 years and have 2 beautiful children. Our daughter is 3 years old and our son is 2 months old. Neal and I both moved to the Washington, DC area for our careers and have both lived here for 13 years. Neal and I both work full-time, commuting into downtown DC from our home in Maryland (Neal takes the train and I drive into the city). In my full-time career I am the Director of the Student-Athlete Support Program at American University in Washington, DC. Our office provides academic and life skill development support to the Division 1 student-athletes at AU.
How did you get in your current role?
I was a discus and hammer thrower at George Mason University and knew fairly early on in my career as a student-athlete that I wanted to support other athletes. I have a deep love and passion for sports and am extremely grateful for the work I am able to do each day. I love working with college athletes and have a personal passion for helping athletes through their transitions, both into college and out of college. I have worked at American University for 10 years now, which is hard to believe! The years pass quickly!
What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally? What about as a parent?
Moving into my role as director was an accomplishment I am incredibly proud of. I have always known that I wanted to be a working parent and being able to advance my career since becoming a mom has shown me that I can really do this!
As a parent, I am just proud to see my children thriving. It’s so easy to feel like I am letting my children down by not being with them during the day, but to see them learning and growing, with the community we have developed for them, has helped me to feel more confident in being a working mom. Learning to balance career and motherhood is a challenge, but I try to hold onto the successes both at home and in the office.
Tell me a bit about what your work days look like. What do your routines look like?
A traditional work week has me working in the office Monday-Friday from 7:30-3:30. As DC traffic is far from kind, this work schedule allows me to get a head start on the morning rush hour and to “beat” the traffic home in the evenings.
Commuting is difficult, but I try to make the most of my drive, calling friends and family, listening to audio books, and just jamming out to music. It’s a great time for me to clear my head.
Our mornings are pretty routine as I work really hard to set everything up before going to bed each night. I lay out all of our clothes, make everyone’s lunches, and organize my work day bags. I honestly couldn’t do it without my husband’s help! We both have a role in the morning, Neal focusing on my daughter and me focusing on the baby.
After work I pick up my daughter from daycare and am home with both kids until my husband gets home. The evenings are pretty hectic, I won’t lie, but we make it work. We do dinner, bath time, story time, and bedtime all before 8:00 and then have a few hours with the baby to watch TV, write, or just relax. We definitely don’t go to bed as early as we should, but it’s the only time we have to actually get stuff done.
What do your weekends look like?
I used to plan, plan, plan. Now I live in a world where I don’t like planning much on weekends. I just never know how the work week will end and some weeks I just want to hang out with my family around the house. Other weekends we go on little day trips or do things with friends in the community. I am enjoying the spontaneity of the weekends instead of having everything planned out months in advance.
I feel like I spend my weekends planning too! Any tactical advice to share? I’m always looking for new hacks on how to make our weeks run more smoothly.
I am a huge fan of Wunderlist and use it to create a weekend to do lists throughout the work week as I complete my daily brain dumps. Some things I’m able to tackle before Saturday, but I usually take a few minutes over coffee Saturday morning to review my weekend to do list and to create a plan.
Weekends are truly about balance for me. I have to strike a balance between getting a ton of things done and relaxing. It’s a fine line, but I find that having a plan before Saturday gets going helps. In a nut shell, we usually use half of each day to relax and the other half to tackle to do’s.
I’ve also learned to say ‘No’ and to not feel bad about it. I love seeing my friends or going to events, but some weekends it’s just too much. From my experience, being stressed and overwhelmed at the end of the weekend is way worse than just saying ‘no’ to various invitations and tasks that’ll free up your treasured time away from work. I’ve had to learn that the hard way.
What has been your biggest struggle as a working mom? How have you overcome it?
I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it, but I do feel guilty about not being as available to my children as I may think they need me to be. I’m a little nervous about balancing being a working mom as my kids get older, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, I am trying to focus on how happy my kids are in daycare/school and how happy I am with my professional career. It’s a lot of work, but I know that I can do both and do them well!
If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself as you were preparing to return to work?
Don’t be stubborn, hire a housekeeper. You can’t do it all, so don’t try. Be ok with what you are able to get done. Don’t focus on postpartum weight loss right after having a baby, be kind to yourself!
YES to this:”You can’t do it all, so don’t try. Be OK with what you are able to get done.” Any advice on how to make this stick? Perfectionism always sneaks back in for me.
A manager once told me, “Ashley, we don’t work in an emergency room! We can’t treat everything like it’s an emergency” and she was right (assuming you don’t work in a true emergency environment). It’s amazing how stressed we get over “emergencies” and the reality is, most things can wait. Very few things in our day to day life are true emergencies. I’ve applied this philosophy to my own life and it has really helped me! The dishes will get washed, the laundry will be folded (someday), and I’ll eventually put away the Christmas decorations. Trust me, I still stress over things that are out of my control, but this “no true emergencies” approach has definitely helped me to smell the roses.
Any thoughts on how going back to work has been different this time around?
Going back to work full time after having my second baby has been so much easier this time around. It is still difficult as ever spending my days away from my children and feeling all of the guilt associated with missing out on 10 hours of their life, growth, and development each day, BUT I know we’re all going to be alright and I know I share these emotions with many parents!
Being well seasoned has also helped tremendously. I know what’s coming up. I feel more confident in my decisions. And, I know I can be both a wonderful mom and a dedicated career woman.
Having a set routine definitely helps! I rely on my husband much more this time around and don’t feel like I have to do it all. Trust me, most days are an absolute sleep deprived whirlwind, and I often feel like Neal and I are ships passing in the night on week days, but I know we’re doing a really great job managing 2 careers, 2 kids, and everything else in between.
Tell me your thoughts on balance. Do you think it truly exists? How do you make time for your family, career, relationships and yourself?
I think balance is imperative to being a working mom, hence my blog Balancing Today! What people have to realize through is that balance doesn’t mean things will always be equal. Some days, my kids have to be the higher priority than work. Other days, a work meetings may be the higher priority.
Balance isn’t 50/50. Some days it’s 70/30 and that’s OK! I also think that our own self care has to be at the center of the scale. We can’t balance things without our own wellness being a core. I think a lot of us lose ourselves through the madness and that’s what makes balance so difficult to feel as realistic.