Balancing Your Time as a Young Family

Mrs. Idotf wrote this question in her comment on a recent post about time management:
I have a 20 month old and now a 5 week old and I am struggling with my time. I want to walk wisely and spend my time in ways that honor the Lord and that help my family. It often seems difficult when pulled in different directions to give everyone that quality time they deserve. Especially to have quality time with my husband- who seems to get neglected.

Since you are a mom- of more than two- do you have any advise?

Mrs. I, sure, I've got some thoughts about this.

First off, even if you're a laid back, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants family, once you add in a second (or third, or fourth, or....) child, you probably need more predictability than you did with no children, or with only one. This can be done in many ways. Here are some ways I have some predictability in our lives:
  • We operate on a flexible routine as a family, particularly regarding sleep and meals. We're not extra planned-out sort of people, but for us, having an expected naptime and a certain bedtime for all children makes things much easier. For example, in our home, all kids four and under take naps in the afternoon, every afternoon. Around age four is when, if their attitude allows it, they may begin staying up during naptime. Even still, they must have a quiet reading time for 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours every afternoon. It's good for everyone to have a bit of a mid-day rest and some quiet time each day.

  • The more children we've added to our family, I have implemented some helpful house routines. Mine mostly have to do with food and seasonal clothing shifts, but other moms of many often have laundry or cleaning routines. For the last year or so, we have operated on a 4-week meal schedule that never changes. That way, I don't have to re-make grocery lists, meal plans, recipe lists, or get stuck at 6pm wishing I'd thought in advance about dinner plans. But not everyone operates like this. I'd say, start with one routine-- whether you use Flylady for cleaning, or have a generic laundry plan (i.e., Mon- sheets, Wed- whites, Fri- colors) or some sort of cooking/shopping plan. As your family grows, you can add more routines if you need them, but this will take care of one pressure area and reduce stress.

  • We make time together as a couple a BIG priority. Every night, by 7:30 or 8pm, the kids are all in bed (yes, even the nursing infant who will be fed at 10:30/11:30 before sleeping through the rest of the night)... and we have time together as a couple. Time to talk. Time to chill out in the complete quiet. Time to watch a movie. Time to vent about the frustrations of the day. Time to sit next to each other and read on the couch. Time to do other, ahem, stuff together as a couple. The point is, that we make time for each other, and that is a GREAT part of each day... once the kids are down, we can chill out together for a bit before it's time to hit the sack.

  • Make some way to get some spiritual "food" throughout the day. Sign up for iTunes and download some great podcasts and free audioBible portions. Buy an entire audio Bible (you could probably get one at a used bookstore for fairly inexpensive) and get in the habit of listening to at least 15-30 minutes of Scripture each day (more, if you do it at various points throughout the day). You really will be amazed at how much of God's Word you can take in by doing this.

    And don't be afraid to meditate over the same portion of Scripture for a week or more. Keep listening to it and drinking deep from the well of wisdom and truth that God has given us in His Word. This is one EXCELLENT way I've discovered in the last year to be actively taking in the Word of God... to listen to it at various times throughout each day, soaking in the same chapters and book multiples of times over the course of a month.

I wanted to say, too, Mrs. I, that this time that you're in is (in my view) the hardest time on a mom... all of the little ones are too little to do anything for themselves. Once even one child is five or six years old, in my experience (and from what I've heard from others), it seems to make a huge HEAP of a difference in how "hard" it is. Having multiple babies and/or toddlers really is a time-consuming, difficult job, and yet it is a precious time, full of rich memories and sweet snuggles. I hope even one thing I've said can help make this a slightly easier time for you as you try to honor God and your family with these moments of your life.

I'm sure other moms have more ideas about how to balance time together as a couple with young kiddos... if so, please feel free to share your thoughts here!


Catherine R. said...

Well, good... I just made a post asking ladies to describe their routines and then I saw this!

I would be interested in the meal planning you mentioned. Even though it's just me and my husband right now I struggle with meal planning, especially dinner and I know it won't get easier once kidlets enter the picture.

I see meal planning posts on so many blogs I just cannot seem to get my act together for some reason.

darci said...

great post! i would just echo..we too have a routine (yay babywise)- even my 'big kids' have 'quiet time'..and i think it's great for aLL of us. and into bed 'early'..a late nite is 9 :) i've TRIED meal plans in the past and it always works out so after reading this, I"M GOING TO STICK with it. i like the thought of having one month that rotates, although i might stick in one new meal a month just to try out some new stuff.
i also get up EARLY and have my devos..i just lie in bed and reach out and grab my stuff..i just have a basket full of Bible, notebook and any books I'm reading.
we also have family devos geared to the kids every night, and I often come away having learned as much as they have. :) keep Bible, books, in the bathroom (I know, sort of embarrassing, but sometimes, hey that's my only 'free time' heehee)
God bless.

darci said...

oh and we also basically tell the older kids at times 'this is mommy and daddy's time to talk' and even get their help with the baby, so we can visit.

The Simple Shepherdess said...

Hey Jess, I am also curious about your 4 week meal plan:) Would you be willing to post it or e-mail it?

Also, I struggle with the kids' lunches. Do you plan lunches? Any suggestions here?

Jess said...

Well, as far as meal planning goes, a little over a year ago, I sat down and listened to Crystal's "Supermarket Savings" audio programs, and it gives all the details, and a lot more information as well. It's worth the cost of the program, for sure!

Basically, I made up a four-week plan of menus. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All of it. Then I made up a corresponding grocery list for each week, including every single ingredient, staple, and pantry item I would need to completely cook that week's menu.

So I have four menus and four complete grocery lists. And then we just rotate. I write on the calendar "week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 1, etc." and then print out the list every week and just cross out the things I don't need that week. (For example, honey is on the list every week, because we do bread or biscuits every week-- with jelly and honey... but quite often, we don't need to buy honey, so I just cross it off the list but on the one week every couple of months when I DO need to buy honey, I don't have to think of it or remember it.)

When I first did this, we went through a month or two with adjusting and now, it's pretty set. I do shift meals within each week (for example, if we're having company on Tuesday night, but I want to serve lasagne, I just switch it from Monday to Tuesday and switch Tuesday's meal to Monday).

When I get tired of one particular dish, I take it out of rotation and put in something else new, adding in whatever ingredients I'd need.

It may sound complicated, but really, once I did that initial juggling and figuring (a couple of hours of time), I only spend about 3-5 minutes every week just crossing out the stuff on my list that I don't need and then everything's set. I don't have to worry about what to make, think about what to buy, etc.... it's all set.

VERY well worth my time to have done so. When it was only Doug & I eating, I could easily "wing it" and throw something together at the last minute. But with 5 (almost 6) people depending on me to eat, I can't "wing it" anymore... I had to come up with a system, and I'm thankful to Crystal for her insights that go far beyond what I've just shared.

Jess said...

For those of you who are interested, I just posted a new post of lunch ideas on my food blog. Here's the link:

Lunch Ideas for Busy Moms

Hope this helps give you more ideas!

Catherine R. said...

Thank you for posting that, Jess. I am confused right now but I will read it a couple more times and see if I can't figure it out : ]

Also, glad to see you're always making hubby a priority, it gives me hope for when things aren't going to be so easy down the line.

Anonymous said...

I could never be as organized as Jess, but the four-week meal rotation sounds like a great idea.

One other possibility, which a friend of the family did while raising four kids in the 1970s, is to set aside one day on the weekend for cooking. She made six casserole-type meals and froze most of them. Every day she put the next day's meal in the fridge to thaw out. Then she just had to remember to put it in the oven an hour or so before dinner.

I'm not a big casserole person, but if you can find five or ten different freeze-abel recipes you like, and your husband or another person can help watch the kids on a weekend day, that might work well for you.

Before my husband and I had kids, we used to call the quickest-and-easiest meals I could make "meals of the future," because we figured we'd be eating them a lot more often once I had less time to cook. And we were right!

Tonight I made a recipe I used to make every month or two before kids. Now I only make it about once a year, because it is so time-consuming. But that makes it extra-tasty when we do eat it.

Laurie B

Tressa & Mark said...

daily devotional time - I like Proverbs 31 Ministries. They send a short and sweet daily email. Check them out at

birthblessed said...

that is how I would have described our household and my plan of attack back in the day when I only had 4 children ages 5 and under.

As you would (or should?) expect, things really change when your household changes to more children, older children. I had one friend who tried to warn me-- she had 6 and the oldest couple were teens back then. But I believed what I heard at the homeschool seminars-- Oh teens are lovely and they'll take over the bulk of the work and you'll be out of a job.

Uh, no. Maybe if you have what M. Pearl wrote this month, "cloistered homeschool syndrome."

Yes, my teens could run the household if they had to... after all, from preschool to high school they did a nice chore rotation. But they simply don't have TIME to do it. And after all, there are younger siblings who need to learn, so need to be doing the chores.

Meals are crazier now, too. You think it's crazy with a toddler and a baby, just wait til you have a high school football player, 2 in soccer, toddlers and babies around.... :)

Seriously, Jess described the plan of attack well and it worked for me for many years. However, the kids didn't become angelic Brownies who keep the house clean without my knowing it. It's harder for me to get them to do chores now than it was when they were little. Little hands like to be helpful, older hands have their own ideas about how to spend their time, and housework is LOW on their list.

Alison said...

Hi! I found your blog through Heather at Becoming and just wanted to say thanks for the encouragement! I have only read this post and one other, but I am looking forward to finding more great resources for being a wife and mom who honors the Lord.

Michelle said...

I am so excited you are back from your sabatical. :) I really enjoy reading your blog. I know this doesn't really apply to this particular post, but do you have any posts regarding homeschooling? I will be homeschooling my Kindergartner soon and was hoping you might have some insight or tips in this area. Thanks!

Michelle said...

Yes, you got the right Michelle. :) Thanks for writing back. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about homeschooling. Thanks!

Ashley said...

i would like to put my kids to bed that early, but i've found they arise at an ungodly hour. what time to you/they get up? and what time do you and the hubby usually stay up until? what time does your hubby get home? does he get enough time with the kids with them going to bed that early? just wondering...this is such a big issue in my house!

Jess said...

They all sleep about 11 hours, so if they're in bed around 7:30 and asleep by 8, they wake up around 7am. Sometimes a little earlier or later than that, depending on when the sun rises.

Doug & I stay up until usually 11-12... sometimes later, usually not earlier than 11. And he's got different hours... some days he works normal work (daytime) hours, but sometimes he's got language lessons in the evenings, and sometimes he is here doing computer work from home. So it just depends from day to day and week to week.

As for the kiddos, he spends lots of time with them in the early evenings and on weekends.

Honestly, the kids all sleep well because we've worked to build that into them... it took a lot of effort those first few months, but it pays off big.

Gina@Chats With An "Old Lady" said...

You are right, Jess. Those days of having all little ones are the hardest days for a mom. Mine are 18 and 15...and I definately think those were the hardest days so far..

Marianne said...

I LOVED this post. I only have one child (7 mos) and I have no idea where my time goes. I currently work full-time (two days at home, three out of the home) and just cannot find a moment to do the other eight million things that NEED to be done. Fortunately, my husband loves to grocery shop and he does laundry too. I will take that back at some point - but I'm incredibly blessed to have him.

You moms-of-many are AMAZING!

Kelly said...

How do you find podcasts to download on itunes? I have Itunes...I guess I'm just not using it like I could.


Jess said...

Go into your iTunes store and click on podcasts... or search for it, if you have a different version. Anyway, there will be a listing of all podcasts. You can search by church, by speaker/pastor, by subject matter, etc.

Hope this helps!

Polly said...

This is a good post and good question. I only have one now (15 months old!) but have found that i have had to change routines, etc. to fit our new lifestyle as parents! I am sure things will be tweaked further when we have more children.

One huge thing for me is to have a basic structure to follow throughout the course of the day. this means I clean around the same time each day (with different cleaning tasks on each day), the baby naps around the same time each day and we run errands around the same time. I do keep life flexible enough so that nothing is rigid (b/c it's fun to deviate from the norm at times!) but this helps ensure dinner is made, chores are done, etc each day. I'm not perfect at it, but having the routine/structure to follow helps and also helps me NOT have to do any housework when my husband gets home. {Also I wash dishes AS I cook so there's not much to do after dinner.}

We can't do a rotating meal plan because we are seasonal locavore-type eaters and my husband is a foodie. Variety is key as is eating what is available in season, though of course I buy non-seasonal items as well! When eating from the garden each month is different. I try to keep meals simple, very healthy and save 'bigger' or more involved meal-making projects for the weekend when my husband can cook (he loves to cook) or we have more time to just enjoy the cooking and dining process.

Our son goes to bed around 8ish, usually, and then we can hang out for a couple of hours. Sometimes he goes to bed later, depending on when his last nap was. if that's the case, we just use it as family time.

my husband and I could cause gasps of disdain, but we don't have a date night. in fact we have not even been to dinner alone since our anniversary last year--Oct 9!!--but we'll probably go again this year. We go out to dinner w/ the baby, although I think w/ two children this becomes MUCH more difficult. We just talk then--it's a date even with the baby. we just sort of roll with it.

The biggest thing for me is just to make my husband a priority, and whatever that means, that's what I do. I pack a lunch for him every day and include a note--EVERY DAY. We spend time together after the baby goes to bed. We cook together. On weekends we just keep our activities pared down and simple and enjoy time together. We try to run together sometimes as well and hike en famille. It does take effort, but it's well worth the effort! having a happy marriage is worth every second of time I invest into it.

also, keep a sense of humor together. laugh!

so in summary--I'd say keep household routines and schedules simple and fairly predictable, and spend time together--giving each other full attention! :)