Managing Margin

As women we try to be super heroes. Our capes encircle our necks as we swoop in to rescue our families, especially our children. We exert so much time, energy, and effort for others that we become depleted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Our lives overflow with so many tasks and duties that we are left without margin.

Margin can be defined as the space built into everyday life; the boundaries between operating safely and attempting to function on overload. It is the area between living with breathing room and barely surviving and sucking in air. We all need room to think, to rest, to play, to breathe.

One year I had a student who completely covered his notebook paper as he worked on an assignment—from top to bottom, left to right, 100 percent writing. It was intimidating to view. Not a spot of margin remained, making it very difficult to read. I’m unsure if he did it so I couldn’t make comments or he didn’t want to waste paper.

When I think of that student, it reminds me of our lives. They’re so full of stuff that we don’t have one speck of margin. I can hear you now. “I don’t have a choice. It is all up to me because I’m responsible for everything.” What I’m encouraging you to do is not give up the important things but make decisions that offer a bit of space on the right and a morsel of space on the bottom. Let me offer some suggestions:

1. Prepare for school the night before so your day doesn’t begin with chaos. Have your kids lay out their outfits and pack their backpacks and put them by the front door. 

2. Involve children in helping clean the house. They can reach the low spots, start laundry, etc. Plus, you’re training them for the future when they live on their own or become a spouse.

3. Serve a frozen dinner or cereal or a happy meal occasionally. It won’t hurt them and gives you some extra time. Growing up, my favorite night of the week was called “whatever you can find night,” meaning we fixed our own dinner with whatever we could find. It resulted in some crazy concoctions, but we loved it.  

4. Plan simple birthday celebrations. You don’t have to compete with other moms or create the biggest party. Ask your child how they would like to celebrate. I have a friend whose son chose donuts and a bike ride. How simple is that?

5. Organize and calendar your children’s schedules. Carpool with another parent. Limit your children’s involvement by having them pick the most important activities. Kids get stressed, too. They don’t have to join every team or organization; one or two will suffice.

6. Say no to things you’re not passionate about or feel called to do. It’s okay to decline invitations or requests for help.

7. Spend time with your kids doing things that are beneficial. Pull weeds as you visit about their school week or exercise by going for a walk while they ride bikes beside you. Brainstorm ideas with your kids.

8. Do something for yourself periodically. Ask a friend to watch your children, or when they are at their dad’s, plan an activity you enjoy.

9. Spend time at the feet of Jesus. I saved the most important for last. There is a peace that is found when we pause and spend time with our Savior. He promises in Matthew 11:28 that if we come to him he will give us rest. When we shift our focus to Jesus, the rest of the swirling commotion falls into place, and we are better equipped to handle all of our tasks.

I’m not claiming to have the answers. I’m just someone who has walked through the fire of burnout by living a life without margin and am giving you some water to throw on your fire. Decide your most important priorities and protect them from infiltration.  You must be proactive. Fight for it. Be creative and discover ways to create breathing room. It will make a difference in all areas of your life. Plus, your kids will reap the benefits. Go put some space on your paper. 

Shelley Pulliam

About Shelley Pulliam

Howdy! (A girl from Oklahoma has to use this as her greeting) I’m Shelley Pulliam, executive director of Arise Ministries and former teacher of hormone-filled 8th graders. But my real claim to fame rests in my award as second grade spelling bee champ and my recent gun-handling skills as I train to competition shoot. It helps me be on guard when Satan comes knocking. I’m a voracious reader and can frequently be found at the theater enjoying movie marathons where my record stands at six in one day. I’m a single, never married, who loves to pour into children at every opportunity. Let me know if you have any for sale. You can connect with me on social media.