I first discovered Danielle Chassin via her insanely gorgeous Hippie in Disguise Instagram feed which I follow, along with 134,000 other people. It’s a journal of her life, her kids, and her slow, eco and minimal living lifestyle. I was delighted to find out we had a friend in common and so pleased when Danielle agreed to answer my questions.
Her responses really made me think about so much but especially about enjoying every moment and quality vs. quantity as it relates to time spent. It also made me rethink days out.
Read on to hear about Danielle’s perfect day, what she would change about her current setup and how she restocks her energy.
What’s your work schedule?
I work full-time outside of the home in order to provide for our family, this is an office job that pays well, but gives little back that feeds my spirit. I work on my blog, Instagram and creative collaborations in the evenings after the kids are asleep. On rare occasions, when they are occupied on their own, I will sneak in a little photo editing or reply to emails. In terms of the magazine, Enfants Terribles, where I am an Editor, we have a strong editorial team and all pitch in for each issue, some months I contribute more or less depending on our family life and my other commitments.
How do you handle childcare?
As of this past September, both of my children are both school age. Prior to this my son was in a Montessori school and a home childcare. I wish that I had the resources to keep my children home with me, but it’s never been possible.
When do you typically hang out with your children?
I spend all of my spare time, while the children are awake, with my children. Childhood is so brief, I’m more than happy to give all my time to them, showing them I am always available and want to be with them, they are my everything. There will be many years when they are off on their own when I can go to yoga classes every day and work on my bucket list.
What do you like best about your current setup?
To be honest, I don’t much enjoy my current setup, but I know that I’m doing the best with what’s available to me. I really don’t enjoy working outside the home. I would like to be able to work from home, either for others or for myself, so that I could spend more time with my children. Even saving on commuting time would give me an extra 8 hours with them each week, that adds up quickly.
Do you have any family rituals?
We have a lot of little things we do that are idiosyncratic to us, just small things. But one bigger thing we love to do is go for long walks, like 6 or 8 hours wanders around our city, discovering new alleys, paths, forested areas, waterways. We call these outings “urban adventures” and we all enjoy ourselves a lot on them, discovering new places that are just outside our door.
Do you have any time for yourself?
I don’t have what is commonly considered “me time”. This is mostly my own choice. Like I said above, I am very happy to give my free time wholeheartedly to my children. I think the notion of ‘me time’ comes from a need to restock our energies and do something for ourselves. As mothers and parents, some of us are not good at giving this to ourselves. For me, what restocks my energies is being with my children. I have never, honestly, ever had the feeling of needing a break from my children. I’m not a high maintenance person, I don’t need to get away to have my nails or hair done or to shop. What fulfills me is being in their presence. Learning from their perspective, being reminded of how simple happiness and fulfillment are for a child. All I need is that childlike wonder to remember that no object or time alone will ever be what I need to feel complete.
In practical terms, I have a partner who is very busy with work, athletic pursuits and volunteering, so there really isn’t another option for me anyway, but even the thought of asking someone to watch them never comes to mind, because I truly just want to share space with them.
How do you handle household chores?
I do the vast majority of household chores. My husband does not share my perspective with regard to home aesthetic and tidiness. And I respect that. I can’t compel him to want a sparsely filled living space and counters that are bare at all times! He grew up in a very different home and so his sense of what makes a home comfortable and effective is different from mine. I’m also home more than he is, due to his active involvement in volunteering and athletics, so I’m more available to do these things.
I involve the children in household tasks, such as laundry, general tidying, dishes, yard work and so on. They usually enjoy this and feel proud to contribute. I also think it is very important for them to grow up knowing all that goes into managing a home and how to contribute. They each have preferred chores: my daughter loves preparing meals and is quite adept in the kitchen, she also loves sewing and is happy to repair damaged clothing; my son enjoys tidying and arranging things and any sort of yard work or snow shovelling. He also wants to press fresh juice every day, but sometimes that’s a bit out of scope for a before school timeline!
Do you ever wonder how other women manage and do you ever talk about it with your friends?
This might sound silly, but no, I don’t ever wonder that. I truly think I’m the busiest woman I know. My closest friends are either stay-at-home parents or professionals without children, so our lives aren’t really comparable in terms of scope of responsibility. I’m not really one to stress over how much I have to do on my list of tasks, I just plug away and see what I can accomplish. I always tell myself that it’s a terrible waste of time to stress over things.
What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?
I would just say that in each moment or situation make sure you are putting your energy into what is most important to you and your task at hand. This will allow you to accomplish the most possible in relation to your highest priorities. So when I’m at work, I work, and work hard. When I’m with my children, I give them my attention. I minimize distractions and I avoid multi-tasking. Although doing a few things at once can sometimes be helpful, I find that doing this in the presence of my family, really keeps me from doing my task well and from being present to family’s needs, so I fail twice.
I used to try to do work here and there when the kids were awake and with me, but I found that I, then, felt a lack inside, like I missed them, and this was because I wasn’t fully present. Being present, I am more productive when I’m away because I’ve done my best for them, and don’t have lingering worries about whether I’m giving them enough of me.
Are you good or bad at asking for help and do you think that is a help or hindrance?
Admittedly I am not very good at asking for help. And this is really because I can be a bit controlling about how things are done, I have high expectations and usually rather just do things myself so they are done the way I like. I have tried to work on this over the years, but haven’t made much progress. I think that I’m an “aesthetically sensitive person” – a term I made up – because I really feel a bodily disturbance when a space is disorderly or things aren’t done well. It is probably a hindrance that I’m not better at asking for help.
Are there any tools that you feel could help mothers achieving balance?
For me the biggest help has been setting realistic expectation for myself and others. I’m still working on this. As well, minimalism and simplicity movements have helped me. Minimalism, for me, is about reducing quantity in favour of quality. It should be obvious from my earlier answers that quality time is very important to me. To increase quality you need to decrease quantity, whether it’s the number of social commitments you have in a week, or the amount of stuff there is in your home that requires maintenance. I have over the last two years, been reducing quantity for many things: play dates, social engagements, toys, clothing, housewares, so that there is less to manage, what is left can be done with greater purpose, more energy and care. This leads to a greater feeling of balance, for me, because I don’t feel like things are left undone — there is just less to do, so it can be done well.
Are there any areas of your life that you feel suffer and that you would like to work on more?
The one thing that is suffering, but I really use that term lightly, is my yoga practice. Suffer is a strong word for me, and there is real, deep suffering in our country and around the world. I don’t suffer in this sense at all. I’m very privileged.
I have practiced yoga for over 18 years, until I had children I had a dedicated daily practice. I had completed teacher training and was very serious about my practice. With raising children, I haven’t been able to maintain the level of practice I would like. This means my overall mental and physical health are not as tuned as they could or should be. I know that this is just a phase and that I will be able to come back to my practice more fully. I’m patient. In the meantime, I work on my mindfulness as much as possible, and do my best tadasanas while waiting in line.
Is work-life balance possible?
I think that work-life balance is very individual. I think things are in balance when you are healthy physically and mentally. If a job doesn’t provide enough income to support you this will affect your health. If a job isn’t satisfying creatively, this will affect your health. Any sort of dissatisfaction with your job will translate into pressures and the balance will be off. I think that if you are putting your energy into something that satisfies you and that also provides food and shelter for your family then the balance is there, regardless of the income or hours worked. So, I think it is possible, but not always easy. I think that the greater resourced you are in terms of time, money and support, the easier it is for you to achieve balance.
What are some great activities for kids in Ottawa?
I’m heavily biased toward outdoor, free, uncurated activities. This is what I call minimalist fun. Thankfully there are many beautiful, fun and unique spots for minimalist fun in Ottawa.
My absolute favourite spot is along the Ottawa River Pathway, where a local artist John Ceprano works most days, weather permitting. (The spot is on Google Maps just search “John Ceprano Rock Sculptures”). Using the rocks that wash along the river, he builds rock-balancing sculptures in and around the shallow waters. People are encouraged to interact with John and to build their own sculptures. I love any activity that mixes outdoor fun and art making. We spend many full days and weekends at this spot, playing on our own, meeting new people, joining outdoor yoga classes, and exploring.
Another great spot is the National Art Gallery, which is a very child friendly gallery with lots of interactive components in the exhibits and Artissimo (children’s lab) on the weekends. While I love what the gallery itself has to offer, I most love the location of the gallery because it is set on the Ottawa River, near beautiful walking paths and Major’s Hill Park. Each of these spots offers space to explore and move around after a more structured walk through the gallery. If you visit, don’t forget to explore the grounds around and behind the gallery, there is a lovely native plants garden and sculptures to enjoy.
What is your perfect day with kids in Ottawa?
A perfect day would start slowly with snuggles in our big family bed, followed by a simple breakfast of fruit, toast and coffee, eaten outdoors listening to the birds chirp and seeing the morning light filter through the trees in our yard. It may sound a bit precious, but these simple things really fill me with joy and contentment. After this we would pack up for a day walking around the city. My favourite routes involve passing through a farmers market, walking the path along the train tracks, which is full of trees and picnic spots, and visiting the river pathway, so we can refresh ourselves with some moving water. On a perfect day we would eat all our meals outdoors sitting on the ground, napping when we need to, and observing no schedule at all, returning home in time to climb into bed.
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