Maintaining Margin in Motherhood

Our pastor introduced a concept to me long before I was even thinking about having kids. But to this day I constantly have it running in the back of my mind. Living a life with margin. It’s a problem we encounter in today’s world of over-scheduling, multi-tasking, and not being able to say “no.”

We have no margin. There is no wiggle room, spontaneity, or just good old downtime. And as a parent, it can be an even bigger problem as our kids enter the school system, play sports, or have play dates. But it is something that I constantly fight for.

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Part of me enjoys being busy. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am providing a fun life for my kids by constantly having something to do or somewhere to go. I feel needed or that my lack of presence would be detrimental. But we can only coast like that for so long before the bubble bursts and the weight of it all comes crashing down. I slip into feeling stressed, overworked, tired, frustrated, and whiny. “I NEED a girls night.” “No. I just can’t. I’m SO overwhelmed.” These are a few things that have slipped out in the midst of living a life with little to no margin.

We need margin though. We need schedules that have room for unexpected things that will arise. (Hello! Children are full of those.) If our schedules are so jam-packed, we end up having to say no to the things we want to say yes to. So where to start?

1. Create a system that works for you. I am no organizational guru, but I constantly strive to maintain a minimal schedule that gets done what I need in order to stay sane. Now that Judah is four, he helps in that effort and is expected to make his bed, clean up his toys, put away his clothes, etc. I created two charts of how our morning and night should play out. He even flies through it some mornings when he wants to watch TV before school. Do we do this everyday? I wish. But it is a system in place that accomplishes the bare minimum of what I need–time in the morning to wake up, a picked up living room, clean counters, and kids in bed by 7:30 pm. This is what works for us, so it may not work for you. But take some time to figure out what you need and then devise a plan to get there.

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2. Be smart with naptime/quiet-time. Naptime is sacred in all houses, especially when you have managed to get multiple children down at the same time. So if you are feeling burnt out by noon, then do what is relaxing to you. During a season of exhaustion, I let myself off the hook and use naptime as 100% me time to read, take a nap, or catch up on emails or social media. But if I’m doing well and I want to get ahead of the laundry for example, I’ll use part of it to watch Netflix and fold. You know what you need and if you need a break, let yourself take one without feeling guilty. The more you care for yourself, the more available you’ll be for your family. And that’s just a win for everyone.

3. Say yes to family time. This is probably the most important reason why we say no to things and protect our margin. Since my husband works most nights, we guard our weekends very carefully. And what I’ve found is that I am still able to go and do all the things I cared about doing before. We only have a certain amount of time with our kids at home and we want to spend most of that time together. Sometimes you do have to divide and conquer, but if it’s not something we can do as a family, then we will most likely opt out if it falls on a weekend when we need to connect. However, I do think there is something to be said for quality time and one-on-one attention with each kid, but I’m talking more as a whole and a general concept–there are always exceptions.

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4. Say no sometimes, but NOT all the time. Do you have four parties in one day? Did you know that you don’t have to go to all of them? We love going to birthday parties. But somewhere along the way, we had to say no to one or two and realized that the world did not end. This goes for kids activities, play dates, girls nights, volunteer/leadership roles, etc. If it will take away from needed time with your spouse or children, then just say no. I’ve found that people understand this and there is no need to make up an excuse other than, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need some family time or time to myself.” People love you and want what’s best for you, so let go of feeling like you will disappoint if you can’t make the next Noonday party or if you have to step down from a position at your child’s school that has become too much. However, be careful that you don’t go crazy once you finally find your “no” voice and reject every offer that comes your way. Family time is important, but finding time for other people is important as well. I’ve had to burrow out of hermit status when I realized that I needed to spend time outside of the house too.

5. Create a schedule that is life-giving. So now that you have allll this free time, what to do with it? This is the beauty of it all. You and your family have an opportunity to love and invest in those around you. By opening up time in your jam-packed schedule, invite a family over for dinner one night or go to the zoo together. Instead of running the party circuit all day, bring your kids to volunteer at a local church event. Talk to your neighbors, encourage your kids to make a lemonade stand, or have a neighborhood outdoor movie night. The more margin we have in our lives, the more freedom it gives us to show our kids how to be good friends and healthy contributors to our community instead of simply waving to our neighbors as we drive to the next event on our calendar.

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This isn’t a new concept, so what are some ways you maintain margin in your family?

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