Do you know that feeling when you get an hour (or twenty minutes) of down time? The sensation of freedom and the release of tension? We need it, we crave it! It’s so valuable because it’s so rare.
I well remember the toddler and early grade school years where shuttling little ones from soccer and basketball, church activities and school filled hours of my week. Looking back, I can see that I was stressed and they were, too. FOMO is a thing and I think it’s part of the reason we keep adding more to our schedules. We want our children to experience everything, to hone skills and be exposed to many activities. America is the land of opportunity – literally at any given moment there are countless “opportunities” and choices for us and our children.
Psychology teaches us that we need space to rest, time to dream and be bored, as well as space for creativity. The constant doing of hustle culture may feel empowering but the end result creates anxiety and disconnection. We desperately need margin in our lives. Looking back, I wish I had fewer obligations that pulled at my limited downtime during the early years and invested more in simply being available for the moments that matter.
How can we create margin today and for the future of our families?
1. Identify what is important and prioritize. What is going to be your family focus? Is it school? Church? Athletics? Family time or social activities? It’s not the only thing you get to do, but it’s the thing that takes precedence when activity schedules collide. Identifying the priority points made it easier for me to pass when other opportunities come our way. Anything over that is just something extra that we add in as we can. Those priorities have remained the same for us as we transitioned into a family with older kids. They have become our family identity.
2. Appreciate and schedule downtime. Allow for space between your commitments. My favorite memories happen while swinging on our back patio. Time spent lingering as the light fades or the grill warms creates an easy, unrushed rhythm. Saying no to a packed schedule allows for unpredictable stops at the shaved ice shop or an impromptu walk in the neighborhood. Most importantly, margin in our schedule provides space for a soft reply instead of frantic stress when the unexpected intrudes.
3. Find Freedom in the word No. Each time you say no, you are saying yes to another possibility. When we are whittled away by too many insignificant pursuits, we cannot have real impact anywhere, even our closest relationships. We become too diluted. Let your values and priorities inform your “yes” and give your best where it counts most. Mother, no role is more impactful than who you are to your child and how you reflect worth back on him or her.
4. Hold your agenda loosely. I’m still learning to be flexible with how our days roll out. It’s easy for me to become task focused even when my desire is to be most aware of the people in my day. While there will always be a “to-do” list, the faces and persons in front of me are where I find the most joy. There are times to be rigid but more often I see it’s important to sway with the needs as they arise. Use your agenda as a guide, not a dictator.
When we become so occupied by activity and schedules, we miss opportunities to connect because we must be focused on the clock and next obligation. Margin between commitments allows space for spontaneity and conversation. It takes time for school boys to unravel the happenings of their day. It takes uninterrupted space for my daughter to open up about her friendships. It takes many minutes in the safe space of our kitchen for my high school senior to move past the silly one-liners and for his true concerns to emerge.
The margin of our day is often where the magic of true connection happens.
Having three children in less than four years forced me to make choices that I thought were sacrifices, but now I see as gifts. I’m so glad for the “lovely limitations” which allowed space for bonds that have lasted into the teenage years (which bring even more demands and options, btw!).