by Diane Helfrich, March 2022

A feeling of exhaustion, constant concern that you are doing the right thing, a new-found cynicism or sadness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, no sense of purpose or satisfaction, changes in health—these are all signs of burnout (Mayo Clinic). It’s a common problem for moms who are trying to be wives, moms, teachers, friends, and often employees. The Super Mom is a tough role, and we all handle it at times better than others. The key is recognizing when the burn is too much and taking a break. The old saying. “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” (an old southern saying put into song in 1998 by Tracy Bird) is truer than we’d like to admit. Because we play such a central role in our families, our moods and life swings affect them greatly. 

Let me introduce a concept of rhythm and margin: a conscious focus on a balance between working hard and playing hard—an intended cycle of change-up in activities. In physics, we learn and understand that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s a universal constant that applies to our psyche as well. 

Dolly Parton once said, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” Think about it. The storm comes, followed by the calm and the beauty of the rainbow; in a way, they are opposites. Trees lose their leaves and have complete rest before the work of production during the spring, summer, and fall months, again a type of opposite. When someone pushes you, you push back. So, think about the work/play balance and how you might create some “opposite” time. 

Are you refreshed when you sleep in a bit? Do you have more energy when you get outside and move? How do you feel when you get away on vacation? Have you tried mindfulness exercises? These are all the “margin” parts of the equation. The point with any of these is that you do them with a degree of intensity or focus. Make your mind and body do something very different than what you are doing with your responsibilities (the “rhythm”). Don’t change up a little. Change up a lot! But, more than that, change up with a conscious focus on how you feel in the activity as you change the tempo of life. 

I think it’s very easy to passively take a nap or a walk. Next time, focus on every aspect of the nap or walk, and focus on every aspect of how you feel when it’s time to don your Super Mom cape again. Think about how every inch of your body feels against the chair or bed. Clear your mind by focusing on breathing. Or, while outside, in addition to focusing on breathing, feel the sun, hear the birds, see the sky. Think about how your body feels as you work up a sweat. I think you will find that the very act of concentrated thoughts will help you better shake off the “tired” from your day.

 Do you wait for burnout to try all this? Heavens, no! Build it into your schedule. You just completed a heavy effort deep cleaning the house. Now, having planned the time, sit outside in the sun for an hour, soak up some warm rays, and feel it on your skin. Smell the air. Hear the birds and the sound of a car going by. Experience every aspect of it before you go in to prepare the next meal. Did you know you were going to have a particularly trying session of working on math Monday and Tuesday (rhythm)? Plan now to head to the park Tuesday afternoon and play (margin). Play hard and laugh. Focus on your kids’ reactions to the environment. Focus on how your body feels as you move. Focus on breathing in the fresh air. Then, focus on how you feel as you head home. Did you work hard for several hours with the kids prepping for the next speech and debate tournament and then had to do taxes in addition to all the other household chores (rhythm)? Plan ahead of time to have a couple of down days after the tournament (margin). Maybe plan a beach trip, a relaxing afternoon with a friend, or a drive in the country listening to worship music. 

It’s so easy to focus on what must be done. Yet, we never have the same focus on that other space when we aren’t in our major roles. We plan the rhythm. We tend not to plan the margin. Start giving it a conscious focus and see if it changes the way you rebound. Give that hard work an equal and opposite reaction of play or relaxation.

By the way, it’s a great life skill to teach your kids. They will see you do it. You can talk with them about it. They will model what you do, whether you include intentional margin or not. Part of the luxury of homeschooling is to have a way to teach life skills and character development by example. Teaching rhythm and margin serves to help develop balance. Balance helps with emotion control. Emotional control helps keep the mood swings more manageable, whether it’s us or our kids. Putting a little rhythm and margin into your life is one of those little five percent changes you can make that yields much larger results. God created the first rhythm and margin as he created the earth and all that is in it, including humanity, in six days. At the end of each day, He took time to evaluate His work, and said, “It is good.” On the seventh day, He rested. 


Diane Helfrich is a retired homeschooler of fourteen years. She and her husband David have two children that have both gone on to receive graduate and postgraduate education. Now, she serves as the NCHE Development Director and enjoys cooking, reading, and playing ukulele in her spare time.