Category Archives: margin

Margin for the Single Parent


This weekend we had a wonderful dinner with old and new friends and I brought up the topic of “Margin” (see our post: MARGIN). It is one of my essential topics because so few people seem to have it in their lives. One of the participants suggested that it is especially challenging for single parents.

It struck me that maintaining margin is especially hard for single working parents and perhaps to a lesser degree, singles in general. The Bible states that two are better than one for the simple reason that they can help each other with life challenges. Tasks can be shared, someone is there to care for them during sickness, and often there may be two incomes sharing the financial burden.

Single parents frequently carry the whole load – finances, chauffering the kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning and disciplining. If there is to be any recreational time, they also have to play “cruise director”. When I suggest building margin into their lives they look at me like I just let my cheese slip off my cracker.

What can single parents do?

The first thing I can think of is to build relationships with others. There might be a tendency to isolate and try to do everything by oneself. Even just the company of others may bring some relief. Can you trade babysitting? You need to carve out time for yourself in any way that you can. Don’t use down time to clean – spend time with God and others.

Next, as hard as it may seem (and you might feel guilty), really limit the extracurricular commitments of your kids. Some kids are actually burdened by the quantity and expectations that come with being overly committed. Sometimes they will agree to activities solely to gain approval from their parent. Even if they feel disappointed by the limits placed upon their choices, they will feel even more let down by an irritable, impatient and overwhelmed parent. Train your kids to be a team with you in the household chores, but be reasonable and encouraging, not an angry taskmaster.

Set a realistic standard of living for yourself and your kids. Simplify. Do everything in your power to make the tasks that need to be performed as quick and easy as possible. Ruthlessly cut out complexity. Eliminate as much clutter as you can. Don’t become a world class “collector” and don’t let your kids become one either. Create systems that can be performed without thinking. Automate bills. Let friends know you are not available to text all day long. There are probably a million other ways to simplify life. What might you add to my list?

Lastly, give yourself grace. I can do finances and taxes easily. Nan would struggle. I would probably nuke every meal. Nan loves to cook and make food look appetizing. If you are single there’s only one person doing everything. Graciously ask for assistance or budget for tasks that overly challenge you if you are able.

Most importantly know that you are loved and that it’s likely that things will get better in time.

MARGIN – do you have it?


I love my job at C.A. (so does Nan). It is what I believe God designed me to do. It is challenging and satisfying and I love the people I work with. So when I feel myself pulling back from it or getting irritable, I know something is wrong.

A few years back Nan & I invited Dr. Richard Swenson to speak at Christian Assembly. He is the author of a book entitled “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”  This concept of ‘margin’ struck a loud chord in my soul and it has been a theme I have been talking about (and paying attention to) ever since.

Margin is the space between your load and your limit.

If you have $3000 (limit) coming in and $2700 (load) going out, you have a margin of $300. You can relax in the area of finances. But if you spend or commit the $300, you have no margin. Any expense you incur after that throws you into a deficit position and you are in financial pain. Your load has just exceeded your limit. It is always sad to see someone who is so burdened by debt that their options have been virtually eliminated. It is doubly painful when they are the perpetrator of their own financial imprisonment.

The same thing applies to time. When I am fully or overcommitted and have left insufficient time for rest or recreation I can begin to resent even the positive things in my life. Any new opportunity seems like a burden instead of a possibility.

In the same way we can run down our health by overeating (or eating junk food), under-exercising, under-sleeping. We use up our reserves and fuel ourselves with coffee and adrenaline and our body suffers.

I often see couples stress each other out with emotional baggage to the point that all the grace is used up. At times I have heard someone in counseling declare “I have reached my limit. NO MORE!” At this point the relationship is in real trouble and there is no margin for future error. Any new stressor may result in the total breakdown or breakup of the relationship.

So how are you doing in those areas in your life? Where do you lack margin?

The solution is to take positive control over your own life. Learning to say ‘no’ to yourself and others may be a challenge. It’s never easy to turn down fun opportunities, or resist spending money or take the extra energy to prepare a healthy meal. But the reward of margin will far outweigh the effort. It will allow you to be able to say ‘yes’ to really significant things as they present themselves. And you will experience joy in doing them instead of pain.

Wrap your mind around the concept of margin and reap the harvest.

Ending Unhealthy or Unproductive Relationships

I always struggle with knowing where to draw boundaries with certain people. And it’s no surprise that the closer the relationship, the more difficult the decision. I am quite aware of the difference between loving detachment and emotional cutoff. With some relationships I am just called to endure with grace and patience and loving-kindness.

But are there some relationships that just need to go away? In a word – yes.

 Every time I say yes to spending time with one person, I am saying no to a multitude of others. Our time is finite and it’s quantity in our particular life is unknowable. I have found that we can spend many unproductive hours trying to cultivate relationships that yield little results for either party, or the benefit feels so lopsided that I see them as an intrusion and I resent them.

I am not just talking about personal relationships, but business relationships as well. As a sales person I have had to walk away from clients who had high demands and delivered little in return. Often these were the people that got my stomach acid churning and made it difficult for me to keep a positive attitude as I made my next sales call. Deciding to cut them loose always came with a sense of relief – and gave me more time to be with the really wonderful clients that I have or cultivate new ones.

If I am a leader, one of the goals is to develop other leaders and release them. I have to be wise in my time investments and careful with my choices. Does this person have the capacity to learn and become a humble and worthy leader or will my time be better spent with someone else?

It is always particularly hard to end toxic relationships in our personal life. It is often these people that make the most demands on us, get the angriest with us, and use manipulations like guilt and shame to try to control us. It is easy to recognize these people. When they leave a voice mail I am reluctant to call back. When I interact with them I feel uncomfortable and trapped or anxious and alert for signs of hurting their feelings. After being with them I feel emotionally drained and relieved to be away from them.

We cannot walk away from all undesirable relationships, but with some of them we must. A firm, but kind break-up is usually best. For those who hate conflict (most of us) this is not easy, especially when their attempts at re-connection through manipulation follow. In those cases I need to remind myself that I will suffer less if I hold fast. After ending a difficult or unhealthy relationship I find it is best to spend time with an energizing person who will fill us up and help reinforce our decision.

How do I decide who to leave behind? This is a decision that is often best made through prayer, and the input of wise and loving friends or mentors.