The Focus Course

Margin as a Family

One of the primary purposes of margin is for relationships.

Of course margin is worth pursuing and restoring for ourselves. But margin for us also means margin for those we care about the most. Whether single, in a serious relationship, or married with kids, a dose of margin enables us to more wholly engage the people in our life that matter most.

When we are under financial stress, relationships suffer. When we are emotionally overwhelmed, our ability to engage others on an emotional level diminishes. When we are physically exhausted, we lack the energy to bring our best.

We are relational beings at core. No matter how introverted (or extroverted) we are made for deep connection with other people. To care for and nurture friendships, we need margin.

Margin in Family Life

Maintaining margin in a family with small children can feel mythical.

A lot of days my wife and I are just holding on for bedtime, let alone trying to carve out a sense of breathing room. But as a husband and father of two (soon to be three), margin is essential for our household.

Our daily experience includes quite a bit of chaos. Lots of screaming, lots of messes, tons of questions, a lot of hand holding, and of course, lots of snuggles. My wife and I finish most every day emotionally and mentally frazzled. Physically tired comes with the territory of young kids, so that’s a given. Being pushed to our limits emotionally and mentally daily it is important for us to maintain a baseline margin. And it’s up to my wife and I to make decisions for margin to ensure we don’t fly off the rails.

Truthfully, prioritizing margin as a family with young kids just feels hard. It ultimately comes down to trade-offs and doing our best to make decisions based on our values.

While we are in a very specific season of parenting here are a few things we’re doing right now to maintain margin.

Routine

Kids (especially young kids) thrive on routine. They need that sense of stability that they can count on their mid-morning snack or afternoon nap. We’ve found our kids really like knowing what’s coming next.

My wife does an incredible job at building routines around the development stage our children are in. This includes regular nap times, different types of structured activities, and predictable meal times.

We have found when our children are in a rhythm of routine we pick up a few margin points all around.

  • Nap times and bedtimes are not as much as a wrestling match.
  • Our kids mood and emotions are not quite as erratic.
  • Limits our decision fatigue as parents since we follow a set schedule vs reinventing the wheel every day to entertain a toddler.

Go Slow (Don’t Maximize the Schedule)

Our overall pace of life is much slower with kids.

We try to minimize how many evening and weekend activities we have on the schedule. Not to say that we never get out in the evening as a family, we’re just more mindful of how many commitments we have in a week or how many evenings out back to back. When things start to stack up and our regular routines as a family get pushed aside margin starts disappearing quickly.

It took me a while (and I’m still learning) what a sustainable pace is for my family. It takes a bit of effort to make sure the calendar doesn’t slowly fill up without realizing it.

When I was in college I could burn the engine pretty hot with a very full schedule. And for the most part, I was the only one that had to deal with the consequences. A full schedule now impacts my wife, as well as our boys. With my wife being a full time stay at home mom, she then has to deal with the fallout of emotions if we do too much with the boys.

For us, a slower pace of life is recognizing we don’t have to pack as much as we can into a week and live on the verge of emotional and physical exhaustion.

Carving out Solo Time

While it doesn’t happen as frequent as my wife or I would probably like, we try to carve regular solo times.

Both of us are on the more introverted and need time alone to recharge. Which turns out to be a bit challenging with small humans tethered to you. For us, solo time helps restore emotional and mental margin. We need uninterrupted times of being alone to think, process, and feel the emotions of what’s been going on in life.

Ideally this is early mornings before the kids are up, but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes nap times align to give my wife a break. We also try to give one another short stints of time to escape. A Saturday afternoon trip to a coffee shop or a midweek evening bonfire. These things works wonders for us.


Maintaining margin as a family is a moving target.

It’s definitely not cut and dry, and there’s always more than one way to do things. In the end, my wife and I do our best to communicate with each other what we’re feeling. There are times she’s feeling more overwhelmed than I may be and I need to default to where she’s at. It takes team work.

And sometimes a commitment for margin as a family takes a little help from your community. Asking for help when appropriate. We have definitely taken advantage of having grandparents down the road that will watch the kids for date night. And that has been a lifeline.


Photo by NeONBRAND via unsplash.

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