The idea of margin is one that appears over and over again on this website. There are many ways our family has chosen to build margin into our lives with varying degrees of success over the years. We’ve tried to maintain a healthy amount of margin whether it is time, sleep, energy, finances, etc. Limits Are God’s Idea is one post that addresses how this became an important principle in my life.
We’ve been dealing with a lack of margin in our home over the past few months. You’ve probably noticed the effects of it by the decreased amount of posting and my slow response to comments. I mentioned in a recent post that I took on a new responsibility at church, something I’ve not done since I became a mother. It’s not a huge thing but significant enough that it involves extra meetings and responsibilities to follow through on. It’s another thing to think about and be responsible for in my life that was already (mostly) pleasantly full.
In a span of ten weeks (starting in mid-January) I had meetings on five of the ten Sundays including three Sundays in a row at one point. For some of you, that might be totally normal. For me, it is not. Even though I’m happy with my new activity, the schedule was very disruptive to the flow of our family life.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself and my child, it is that we thrive in a life that has both a rhythm and an open-to-possibilities flow. That might sound contradictory, but it’s not. We both need a predictable rhythm to daily and weekly life but not a rigid schedule. We also both need a life that allows us to be spontaneous and make choices throughout the day based on our individual needs whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. I think this is especially important because we are creative people and creativity often rises at the most inopportune times. Because of that, I have endeavored to keep our family life fairly limited in terms of outside commitments so as not to impede the things that we are wired for and make a big difference in our level of life satisfaction. (See: Understanding Why Your Creative Child is Lazy)
One of the keys for me is that Sunday is the day I give myself the freedom to not feel a responsibility to be productive. I might choose to do something productive during that day, but I don’t put any expectations on that day. It is my necessary mental break day that gives me margin which then translates into emotional and physical margin. When I lose that margin, it throws off all of the rest of life. If I don’t get the margin I need, I go to bed Sunday night feeling like my needs were not met and dreading Monday morning because it is all going to start again. Three weeks of that in a row was exhausting to the point of tears.
One of the things Caroline and I have discussed is that we are on the high end of the spectrum in terms of needing freedom and time alone to pursue our individual interests in decent sized chunks of the day. When we don’t get it, something in us suffers.
In my case at least, it means I have much less to give emotionally online. A lot of the online work and writing I do is emotionally draining. When my tank is already depleted in my home and personal life, the online work is the first thing that is neglected. Even responding to comments feels emotionally draining when I’m seriously lacking margin. I know that probably sounds melodramatic, but it’s the truth.
Along with a lack of margin goes the ability to think clearly and make decisions. My brain feels muddled. I also feel a kind of paralysis regarding decision making when my life lacks margin. And so weeks drift by with no newsletter and very little in terms of content because they require decisions and I don’t have anything left to do that.
Because we’ve lacked margin on the weekends, the lethargy it creates has carried over into the week. It’s impacted our energy for homeschooling and even getting out of bed in the morning. Because we are lethargic, it disrupts our daily rhythm and so we struggle to find our footing many days.
I’m writing all this because I hope it will help someone else realize what is out of whack in her own life. It’s not a crime or a sign of weakness to recognize that you are wired in such a way that you need something different than other people around you. I’m sure there are people reading this who cannot relate in any way to what they just read. This post wasn’t written for them. It’s written for the woman who is on the verge of tears because there isn’t enough margin and it’s slowly robbing her joy and productivity.
Recognizing you need more margin is the first step. The hard part is when you have to ruthlessly cut things out. It will seem at first like there is nothing that can go. But is it because nothing can truly go or because of the expectations of others that you have allowed to shape your life? One of the keys to maintaining margin is being willing to have people dislike you or be disappointed in you when you tell them no or make a different choice that goes against the flow of expectations. I know this from first-hand experience in multiple situations. I would guess some people were surprised when I said up above that this is the first time I’ve taken on a responsibility at church since I became a mother. But is it surprising? Or does it simply fit with what I’ve written about and preached all these many years? I learned to say no many years ago and I ruthlessly practice it. I have to for my own well-being and the well-being of my family.
All that to say, I’ve lived life with margin and without it many times over the years. I can tell you from first-hand experience that keeping margin in your life is incredibly important. I highly recommend making it a priority. In the meantime, I’ll be practicing what I preach as I make adjustments for my own family with this new responsibility I’ve taken on.