Parenting on Empty

The other day as my boys and I drove up north to visit my family, we saw a car on the side of the road getting serviced by a tow-truck.

“Why is that car stopped mommy?” Asked my increasingly inquisitive four-year-old.

“He probably has no gas. That’s what happens when you have no gas you know. You stop working.” Said my increasingly know-it-all five-year-old.

“Oh.” Replied my increasingly trusting of anything his big brother says.

And that was that. The conversation ended and they resumed complaining to each other that we weren’t there yet.

And I resumed complaining to myself that we weren’t there yet because I too was tired, because I too am tired.

I am tired of feeling like that car on the side of the road: broken down and out of gas, stranded on the side of the road with a destination in mind and no power to get there. I am tired of running on empty; which is exactly what I have been doing for the last four or five weeks, maybe even longer.

I am go-go-going in all aspects of my life: physically, emotionally, socially, maternally, and personally and it is nothing short of absolutely exhausting and absolutely alarming. Alarming because I see what running on empty looks like. I am missing doctors’ appointments. I am walking like a zombie. I am planning birthday parties way later than usual.  I am not doing things that I enjoy doing because I am “too tired,” I am not writing as much because I am “too tired.”

I am giving half-hearted “uh, yes, I see, that is great” replies to my sons as they proudly show me things and this breaks my heart. I am struggling to keep promises made to my sons that really matter to me, like focusing on yelling less and loving more. 

And while generally speaking I love to go-go-go, and in fact I thrive on it and have never had a problem running my life as such, for the first time in my life, my body is saying to me STOP. SLOW DOWN. Actually, it is begging. I have never physically craved a vacation as much as I have in the last two weeks. And while I have “a lot” that I want to do but don’t need to, “a lot” that I should do but don’t want to do, and “a lot” that I need to do and well, just need to do, my body is telling me I can’t.

My body has physically slowed down. At night it screams, don’t “do” just sit on the couch. In the morning it screams, “don’t do” just cuddle in the bed with the boys and be lazy. In the day it screams, “don’t do” just go outside and soak in the sun and the fresh summer air.

Don’t do, just be.
Don’t do, just breathe.
Don’t do, just don’t do.
Take a break.
Please.

Yes, my mouth has stopped yelling at my kids, and now my body is yelling at me. Yelling at me to stop and slow down. And I need to listen, because running on empty, parenting on empty, well, it doesn’t work! It not only does me no good, but it also certainly does my children, my family, and my friends no good.  Running on empty means I am shorter, snappier, moodier, grumpier, everything “-er” except calmer, friendlier, and happier. Running on empty means I am that much closer to yelling than I have been in months and that is a part of me that I do not want to welcome back.

Running on empty means, well it just means I am not feeling entirely fulfilled in anything I do because I do not have enough energy to fully embrace each moment as much as I wish.

Running on empty means that I need to pull over and fill ‘er up. I realized this about two weeks ago. The problem? When I asked myself, “okay, self, you need to fill up the tank,” (and yes, I literally used those words with myself and referred to myself as if I were a car) I found myself replying, “but how? How do I fill up the tank?”

You see I have run on almost empty before and I knew then how to get more into the tank when I felt my energy siphoning out. I would find a way to get a night out laughing with close friends or family and how to squeeze in a few workouts. And you see, when I have run on half a tank and felt I needed a boost, I would just have an extra coffee or two and go to bed early and voila, tank much more full.

But empty? I have never run as empty as I am now (maybe I have never cared so much about the impact of running on empty as I do now?). When I pushed myself to figure out how to “fill ‘er up” a few weeks ago, and struggled to find an answer, I actually felt emptier. Was there nothing that would get me back on the road? Had I gone-gone-gone too long and finally truly broken down from exhaustion (eh hem, just as everyone warned me I would?!) How would I possibly stop and “fill ‘er up” because that would mean not doing something that I should be doing and that doesn’t feel right, I need to be productive. And then it hit me.

I literally needed to get on the road and drive.

I needed to get on the road and breathe in fresh air. I needed to go to my Sanctuary, my place that fills my soul with calm and beauty, peace and joy. I needed to go to the rocky coast and sit on the rocks and hear the waves crash and crash and crash. I needed to go to the woods and smell the pine trees and stare at the pitch-black sky with only stars and no city lights. I needed to get away and “be productive” by just connecting with my boys, enjoying my boys, loving my time with my boys uninterrupted because that is always what gives me the most energy.

So that is what I am doing. And I already feel rejuvenated just being home and just being with my boys and with no blaring to-do lists (okay, just ignoring the blaring to-do list.)

Figuring out how to “fill ‘er” up wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t the only thing that was hard. It is hard to step away and actually make it happen. But I know that I need the break, that I need to take care of me. I know that it is essential, you know, just like an oil change, so that I can keep running smoothly and take my children places. Oh I want to take my kids places, and I don’t just literally mean to school and therapy appointments, but also I mean to happy places, like happy memories and happy feelings. I can only do this if I take care of me. Repeat: I can only do this if I can take care of me.

I cannot do this if I parent on empty. I will not parent on empty. I will not live on empty. I will fill up as frequently as I need to.

If you enjoyed this piece, check out my new new book, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids–and How You Can Too!” It is a 30 day guide to yelling less but also a parenting memoir with each day sharing an honest, heartfelt  story from my Orange Rhino Challenge Journey. Also included are simple steps to follow for your own journey to yell less and daily alternatives to yelling to try. It hits shelves this October but you can be one of the first to receive it by pre-ordering it here

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12 thoughts on “Parenting on Empty

  1. I almost missed a ten minute description of how Butterflies were inviting the Spiders to come “get” all the Mosquitoes.

    Yes, capitals on all the ‘critters’ because this was his story, these were the players and I almost… I caught myself though… because I am working on my tone and intent, what am I say, how am I saying and for what reason am I saying… but I almost simply said: “Yes son, great the butterflies are great.” – I heard the response IN MY HEAD, and I played the movie out, watched him stare at me… and watched him walk away. Instead, I listened, he spoke and I am in AWE.

  2. Oh, I am so at the breaking point right now. I’m waiting for tomorrow when my chest xray results may, or may not, tell me I have pneumonia for the third time. I am done-done-done too and the frustrating part of it for me is that sure, I can drop things from my life to make it easier, but it will be the things that I am doing for me, and I’ve been in that bitter angry place where I do everything for everyone else, but don’t have time for me, and I don’t want to go there again. I know there must be a happy medium, but I’m really not sure what it looks like.

  3. Simply beautiful post that really hit home. I know I try to be so much to so many people. Thank you for putting into words how I feel. You are so much to all of us!! Enjoy filling up!!

  4. This might sound TOTALLY crazy, but you sound lot like I did 3 years ago. I finally went to the doctor figuring I needed an antidepressant– turned out my THYROID went caput after my last baby! It is a simple blood test, but you if are feeling down, exhausted, and having weight issues, check your thyroid! It is WORTH it! I feel sooooo much better!

  5. I am SO PROUD OF YOU!!! A good friend of me once gave me the best parenting advice ever. Take care of you first, and you can then take care of everyone else. :-) Namaste xxoo

  6. I can totally relate to this…. I love to do do do and like to have lots going on at once, but then my care for myself can slide, which is not okay. For me it’s even remembering just the simple things so that I am literally not on empty – staying hydrated, eating healthy…. And I love your meditation in this post. I need to remind myself to breathe and be.

  7. Yes, I can so relate to this (and I loved the description of the relationship between the boys! We are in the thick of the four-year-old inquisitive phase over here, and the silly almost-three phase).

    I also have a hard time slowing down and remembering to recharge my batteries. By the time I’m running on empty, I have no reserve brain juice to even call for a babysitter. Clearly, I need to learn to anticipate those moments.

    Good luck filling up, and feel good!

  8. I have loved each of your posts. Our lives seem to parallel often. I love how you are able to put words to my feeling so I can learn to work through them. Last night I filled my tank while taking a walk at sunset by the river, we threw out bedtime and evening chores and just walked. We walked back by moon light and I felt my tank fill just a bit. I’m going to bed with a 1/4 tank and hope to continue filling it tomorrow! Thanks for sharing with us to make life easier.

  9. You are so awesome and inspiring! I’ve been parenting on empty for over a month – only getting between one to two hours a sleep a night. I’m 8 months pregnant, so that doesn’t help matters. I’ve started saying “no” to some requests as of lately, because I really need to try to sneak in some naps while my daughter sleeps. Hoping this does the trick. Good luck on feeling better! I’m always cheering you on!

  10. Great point and good reminderto stop and look at my son and really listen when he is askinga queston or telling me a story. It’s just plain respect and as adults what we expect from others. Good way to show by example

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