Many years ago David and I read the books Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives and The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. Both impacted us in profound ways. David and I took steps to reduce our overload and increase our margin. We did a pretty good job for the most part.
Then we became parents of a high-need baby and margin went out the door. Overload became the norm for quite some time. Frankly, we’ve been trying to adjust ever since.
What is Margin?
If you aren’t familiar with Margin, Swenson defines it as this:
Margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It is the leeway we once had between ourselves and our limits.
I’ve lived with margin and I’ve lived without margin. The difference cannot be overstated.
The Real Needs with Gifted Children
Gifted children take more time, more energy and more work. They simply do. Whether they are spirited, highly-sensitive, right-brained or “only” gifted, they simply require more of their parents. More mentally, more physically, more spiritually, more emotionally.
I remember reading an online article about spirited children and one of the experts in the article said something to the effect of forget about the mother of these children having any kind of a life other than keeping up with these kids. They are just too demanding and draining.
I felt both relieved and disheartened.
One thing that has become crystal clear to me over the past few years and especially the past few months is that parents of gifted children have to be even more diligent about maintaining margin in the family life. The parents need it. The children need it. What might be “normal” for the average family in terms of outside commitments could be disastrous for a family with a gifted child.
Hitting the Wall
We hit the wall a few weeks ago. All three of us are worn out. I mean really worn out. As in all three of us need a year-long sabbatical. Caroline just turned eight and we’ve never had a family vacation. Believe me, I’m not saying that as some point of pride. I’m saying it as a matter of fact that people who invest their energy into high-need children and chronic illness often simply don’t have the opportunity to take vacations.
Last week the three of us made the decision we are going to ditch everything we possibly can in an effort to add some margin to our lives. EV.ER.Y.THING. Homeschool co-op, Sunday School, most church, everything. We’re not even involved in that much since all three of us are naturally homebodies, but trying to juggle the few activities we had along with so many appointments for me and now Caroline was simply too much.
I knew Caroline had reached her max when instead of wanting to go to the mall (with the carousel! and Auntie Anne’s!) to use the Build a Bear gift card she received for her birthday, she wanted to order it online.
She, too, is desperate to be home and have downtime.
She, too, is desperate for margin.
Obviously David and I can’t quit work, but other than that everything is on the table, including church. I’m sure that some people reading this will be shocked, but church is one of the most stressful things we do all week (for reasons I discuss in another post).
So how do we as parents of gifted children try to bring some margin back into our lives?
Recognize That Your Spouse and Children are Your First Ministry
Becoming friends with different Catholic bloggers over the years, I’ve become familiar with the idea of the domestic church. I’m not Catholic, but here is an explanation I thought was helpful:
The Council restored the ancient concept of “domestic church” as it declared: “In what might be regarded as the domestic church, the parents are to be the first preachers of the faith for their children by word and example” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, #11).
The early Church began in house churches, where families were the heart of the communities and from which ministers were first called to use their personal gifts to serve the needs of the larger community. The family is the most intimate experience of Church, the place where love, forgiveness and trust should first be encountered. This is the family Church, whose members are called to embody Christ in everyday life.
My first ministry is to my family. The most important person I will ever disciple is Caroline. It is nearly impossible for me to intentionally invest in her spiritual life when my own well is running dry from lack of margin. There is no calling for my spiritual gifts outside of my home that is more important than my own husband and child.
Let Go of Unreasonable Expectations – For Your Family
No one can do it all. We all think we know that, but it is easy to overlook the reality of it in our individual families. Everything seems important. We want to be able to do what other families do.
But you know what? We can’t.
- Other families aren’t making every single meal and snack from scratch because their son has significant food issues.
- Other families aren’t dealing with a child with significant sensory issues that overwhelm her every day.
- Other families aren’t in and out of medical appointments multiple days each week.
- Other families aren’t constantly researching how to best meet the needs of their off-the-chart child when it comes to his academics.
When you have a child who is wired differently, you have to absolutely adjust your expectations. Normal for your family is what works and allows healthy margin. What anyone else does is completely irrelevant.
Bringing Margin to Our Families
Making sure our families have enough margin is important. We need to do what we can for the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of our families even when it involves making hard decisions. The need for more margin is real.
I believe that if we ask God for guidance in these areas, He will help us and so we should ask Him to open our eyes to ways to bring rest and peace to our families. He desires to care for us and our children and we can trust our lives to Him.