Margin for Moms: An Interview with Carol Barnier

December 30, 2013–January 3, 2014   |   Vol. 118, Week 4

If you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed, you are not alone! Many homeschool mothers struggle with finding margin in their lives. Find out just what this “margin” is and how you can de-clutter your life as Mike Smith speaks with Carol Barnier on this week’s Home School Heartbeat.

“We need to remember, we’re not just running a school here, but we’re also supposed to be enjoying being a family.”—Carol Barnier

This Week’s Offer

Carol Barnier has more encouragement for homeschooling moms in her book, If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?: Help for the Highly Distractible Mom! Learn more and discover Carol’s other work by visiting her website at

Exhaustion, chronic stress, mental distraction—are those the symptoms of a mysterious disease? Or just a day in the life of a homeschooling mom? Well, it doesn’t have to be! That’s what Carol Barnier tells us, as she joins host Mike Smith on today’s Home School Heartbeat .

Mike Smith: This week, we’re pleased to have Carol Barnier on the program with us. Carol is a speaker, an author, a wife, and a homeschooling mom. Carol, welcome!

Carol Barnier: Thank you for having me!

Mike: Carol, our topic this week is something many, if not most, homeschooling moms struggle with. And why do moms, especially homeschool moms, run themselves ragged? Is this really necessary, Carol?

Carol: You know, I call this the problem of the list. The list that can kind of eat your life. Because we start homeschooling quite merrily—I mean we start with this reasonable, sensible list of things that we want our children to do, but then we go off to a support group meeting and, you know, we meet that woman whose children all play a stringed instrument, or maybe in the hallway we meet some woman, her child’s Lego-robotics entry gets him a trip to the White House. I don’t know—before you know it, you come away with a list of way too many things on it.

I think, we homeschooling moms, we regularly need to remind ourselves to create a reasonable, unhurried list of objectives. And every so often we just need to reassess that list and determine if we’re trying to do too much. ’Cause chances are we are. It just kind of goes with the territory. We need to remember, we’re not just running a school here, but we’re also supposed to be enjoying being a family.

Mike: Well, Carol, thanks so much for those very helpful insights! And we’ll talk more next time. But until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Carol, last time you explained how a lot of homeschooling moms are running themselves ragged at home. Would you explain the concept of margin, and how this can help moms?

Carol Barnier: Margin, very simply, it means the time, the money, and the other resources that we have left over when what must be done is finally actually done. You know, it’s funny, when I ask that question in a room full of homeschooling moms, the answer is almost always, “Nothing.” So most of us understand how we live too close to our means financially, but, for me, the big issue is time. Most moms work nonstop through the day, and then they just collapse, and then usually we get up with less sleep than we really should get, and we start all over again.

So, in my talks lately, I have been really encouraging moms to actively pursue margin in their life. We really have to make an effort to incorporate down time, and times of laughter, and times of fellowship into our lives. Homeschooling, unfortunately, is highly conducive to overextending ourselves. But we, and our families, we need the peace that comes with some downtime. And that’s something we’re going to have to make happen.

Mike: Well, Carol, that’s such an important idea for moms! And we’ll talk more about how moms can implement this in their lives on our next program. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Carol Barnier is with us this week to talk about how creating more margin in your life can counter the stress and exhaustion common to many homeschool moms. Carol, the first thing that’s got to change is attitude. How can moms start thinking differently about how busy their lives really should be?

Carol Barnier: Well, when we first homeschool, I think part of why we push naturally toward “busy” is that we have that fear of socialization. And it doesn’t help, every third person you meet asks you, “Well, what about socialization?” But the longer that you homeschool, the funnier that question gets. The question is not, “When will my child spend some time with other children?”—but rather the question becomes, “When will we ever spend some time at home again?”

I got a lesson in this early on from this homeschooling family I knew. And they had at least six kids, all of whom were very talented musicians. And the parents wanted music instructors for their kids, but they had one rule: they said the teachers had to be willing to come to their home. Now in doing this, they knew they might not always get their first choice, but it was so important to them not to be running around all the time that they made this a priority. It was really a good lesson for me.

It’s okay to choose to say no to some activities, even some good activities, and just stay home.

Mike: Carol, that’s such a valuable truth. Thank you for sharing that with us today! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Carol, on our last program you talked about how moms can make an attitude shift to give their lives more breathing room. Let’s talk about some practical ideas today. Do you have tips for some little changes that can make a big difference for overworked, stressed-out moms?

Carol Barnier: I used to feel that bath time, that just ate up way too much of my time. So one of my favorite solutions was to bring a big Rubbermaid tub into the kitchen. And I would put a couple inches of water in it, and I’d let my toddler take a bath while I worked on dinner. I kept him a safe distance from the cooking area, I need to say, but I could keep an eye on him while I was still getting my work done.

Another set of my ideas, though, is to encourage moms to view downtime differently. ’Cause I try to have my family arrive, for example, not just on time, but actually a little early. Because that way, if something unexpected comes up, like maybe—I don’t know—a leaky diaper, or some paperwork is forgotten or something like that, we have time to correct it. And also by arriving early, we would often sit in the car and just enjoy each others’ company.

But I’ve come to see these little snatches of time here and there where we actually connect with each other, that sometimes that was the most valuable thing I did with my family all week.

Mike: Carol, those are great tips! Moms could really simplify their daily lives with some of these—and thanks for bringing this help to our listeners today! Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Carol Barnier has been with me this week with suggestions on how busy, stressed-out homeschool moms can bring more margin to their lives. Carol, some of the moms listening might need major help to get their lives back to a sustainable pace. Would you tell our listeners about some of the radical changes that could transform their lives?

Carol Barnier: Well, you know, Mike, I have lot of ideas that are pretty extreme, but I think the most radical one, I call it “Dropping Off the Face of the Earth.” And you might get to a point where you discover—maybe we have a house that is in serious need of decluttering. Maybe we have a child who’s really struggling with something and we need to spend some time focusing on that. Maybe it’s our marriage that needs some attention.

Whatever it is, you contact friends and people that you typically interact with, and you say, “I’m going to disappear for a little while. I don’t want you to take it personally. I will eventually come back, but I am going to have some reflection time.”

And the second step is to step out of all activities that you possibly, possibly can. Disengage for a while. And during that time, focus on that one thing. And when you have a handle on it, then you slowly step back into your community. But when you step back, your lives will be better, and things may very well be healed.

Mike: Carol, you’ve given us some truly tremendous insights into how moms can create a sustainable pace of life. Thank you for joining us this week! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Carol Barnier

Carol Barnier is a fresh, fun, and popular conference speaker unlike any other. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but admits that most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. She is a frequent guest commentator on Focus on the Family’s Weekend Magazine broadcast, where she’s spoken on a variety of humorous topics ranging from not being ready to be a Titus woman (it’s the name: Titus. Anything that rhymes with Phlebitis is automatically suspect) to why angels need a new public relations manager. She has been a guest on many radio programs, contributor to many magazines, and is a speaker to conferences nationwide.
She’s also a homeschooler of 17 years, author of four books, mother to three children, and wife to one husband. Her first three books deal with the nonlinear mind trying to make it in a very linear world (teaching ADHD kids, being a highly distracted mom, learning styles). But her latest book, Engaging Today’s Prodigal, Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reason for Hope, shares her own prodigal journey and lessons learned to equip and encourage parents who are experiencing the pain of a child leaving the faith they were raised with.

While her humor will have you leaning sideways, her faith is solid stuff. Whether speaking about her firstborn son’s 13 surgeries, her homeschooling challenges, her family’s many ADHD challenges, or her own walk from being a God-denying atheist to the most grateful recipient of God’s amazing grace, this woman speaks from the heart. She knows why she knows what she knows.

Check her website out at

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