I was recently reading a poll of sorts in a Facebook group that asked the ladies there how often they have time away from their kids. And by that, she didn’t mean the hour after they’ve gone to bed where you sprawl out on the couch with Netflix or Instagram. (Although all the praise hands for that hour in the day, am I right?) And she didn’t mean the 15 minutes before they wake up where you chug your coffee and speed-read Beth Moore so you can check “quiet time” off your list for the day.
What this question was getting at the heart of was margin. This friend of mine was asking a group of trusted, wise women how often they create margin in their lives in order to get things done or relax or pursue passions outside of the family.
The answers astounded me.
The majority of the women who responded had NONE. Other than those 15 minutes before the kids get up and the hour after they go to bed, about 80% of the women who responded had no more than their time in the bathroom or their time taking a shower away from their kids. And let’s be real – those kids are either prying their grubby fingers under the bathroom door or standing just outside the shower glass during either of those tasks, so in my book, neither of those count.
My answer was a little bit different than most because this year, I gave myself a gift: Wednesdays from 9-2.
The truth is that I need to work at least a little bit at my kids’ preschool because two in preschool on a single income is HARD. So, for the first time in three years, there is one day a week where the kids are all in school for 5 blessed hours, and I am free as a bird. Some Wednesdays, I am super productive: in those five hours, I run every errand known to mankind, hit the gym, get my nails done, grab an oil change, and use all 300 minutes I’m given to their utmost potential. One Wednesday, I sat in a coffee shop, brainstormed blog post ideas, and wrote my little heart out. Other Wednesdays, I crawl under a big ole blanket on my couch with a hot cup of coffee and binge Grey’s Anatomy.
And you know what?
I am a better mom to my three kiddos for it.
On the surface, the idea that leaving my children for five hours in childcare makes me a better mom can sound hypocritical, so let’s dissect this a bit.
When Carter was six months old, my husband and I started marriage counseling. We had only been married about a year and a half, but the stress of working (at that point) full-time, being still somewhat newlyweds, struggling with managing our finances, and oh yeah, having a baby less than a year into marriage was just too much for us both. We were fighting like crazy, both feeling angry and resentful and like the other partner wasn’t doing their part to balance this whole charade.
The burnout I was feeling was all over my face, and I remember our therapist asking me what I was doing in my life that made me happy. I’m fairly certain I must’ve looked at her as if she had just grown a unicorn horn. I was completely and utterly confused by this question. I thought, “Who has time for that right now, lady? I’m swimming upstream everyday managing what I have…how can I possibly add in time for me?!”
But she said something to me that day that has stuck with me for years – something I absolutely believe at the core of my being to be true. Yes, she said, you are a wife and a mother and a teacher, but you are also a woman and a friend and a daughter, and just because you entered motherhood doesn’t mean those roles went away.
I heard it described another way at church one Sunday when our pastor was preaching on margin. That’s the first time I was really able to define this important piece of our lives that so many women seem to be completely ignoring. Our pastor was speaking of financial margin – in other words, understanding your financial boundaries and living within those limitations with room to spare.
Women, we have got to live our lives with room to spare.
We pour out and pour out and pour out and serve and serve and serve some more, but the sad reality is that so many of us are serving up empty glasses. We simply have nothing left to pour out anymore because we are not pouring IN to ourselves by living our lives with margin. We are filling every single square inch of our lives with our children and our obligations and we’re forgetting ourselves in the mix.
Here’s the hard thing: the truth is that the math of margin sometimes doesn’t add up. We can’t afford to send our children to preschool an extra day or we have no extra funds that would allow us to bring in a babysitter for a few hours or we have circumstances in our lives that don’t allow us to be away from our children due to special needs. I get it, I really do. I spent ten straight months with Brooks when he first came home from China because we needed to bond and attach to each other. In that particular season, I had to get very creative about finding margin. I had to go meet girlfriends for dinner after he had gone to bed and didn’t even know I was gone. Or I had to get up super early to hit the 6am yoga class while he still couldn’t handle the gym childcare. Or I had to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to get that blog post written.
Sometimes, it’s not always as clear-cut as a Wednesday from 9-2.
But whatever margin looks like for you, I would encourage you to find it. Nope, let’s rephrase that. I would encourage you to create it.
Finding margin isn’t easy and it can take work. I remember talking to a sweet mama at a MOPS meeting a few weeks ago about margin, and she looked at me like I was crazy when I shared about my Wednesdays and how healthy they’ve been for me. I could tell she didn’t quite understand my need for this mental health break, so I turned the question back on her and asked what she would do with five hours to herself every week. She shook her head, her eyes welled up, and she said, “I don’t know. I think I’d spend the whole time crying and missing my kids.”
Ladies, there is so much more to this season of your life than those tiny people you raise. Yes, you’re a mother, and that’s an incredible thing, likely something you’ve dreamed about since you were a little girl. BUT! BUT! Don’t lose who God made you to be in the chaos of it all. He created you with unique talents and gifts and planted dreams in you that you’ve likely forgotten in your sleep-deprived, yoga-pants, overly caffeinated state. But, I have a feeling, if you dig hard enough, you’ll find them. They’ll be dusty and may even be broken, but they’re still there.
You’re still you.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to stand before God when I get to heaven and say, “Sorry, man. I know you gave me this incredible gift that I totally wasted, but I was just so tired from all the babies.”
You still have purpose.
I’d encourage you to dig up that dream you had when you were eight. Dust it off. Revisit what it could look like for you today. It’ll likely look different, but I bet the fire is still there.
And if nothing else, I’d encourage you to carve out some space this month for margin. Give yourself an hour. Put me to the test. See what it could do for your soul. My bet? You’ll return refreshed, focused, and better able to pour into those little people you love so much because you took time to pour in to YOU.