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.

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

Wishes For My Babies

I remember so very clearly the beautiful October day my husband and I left Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina with our first son. The sky was bright blue with pure white wispy clouds. Some of the trees had just started changing color and those red, yellow and orange leaves shone gorgeously under the sun. My husband and I love the fall, and love days just like that one. It could not have been a more perfect day to bring our first child outside, into the world for the first time.

We clicked his car seat in and I hopped in next to him. The thought of him riding in the back seat alone for the entire six-minute drive home was just too much to bear! As my husband starting pulling out of the hospital parking lot I noticed that he was driving even more slow and cautious than usual to the point where I had to say, “Babe, can you drive a little faster?!”

“I just don’t want to get into an accident.” he replied. “We have a child now. We need to be safer.”

He was right. Our world had just changed. We were no longer responsible for ourselves, but also for this beautiful little being sleeping in the backseat in his adorable sailboat outfit. We continued on at the snails pace, cars honking at us and pacing us. They obviously had no idea that we had brand new precious cargo…or that we were brand new parents who suddenly interpreted the words “drive safely” on an entirely new level.

We got home safe and sound and officially began our journey as parents.

Getting ready to have some dreams and wishes of my own!

Our son finally settled into his bouncy seat immediately next to us at the dinner table (of course), we settled into our own seats and began pondering all that had just occurred the last four days. My husband paused from shoving food in (we had already learned to shove food in, not knowing then #1 would cry and need attention), and looked up at me,

“Isn’t there a manual that comes with babies? Like how to do all this stuff and what each cry means?” I smiled and replied with,

“I know, right? I mean I can’t believe that the hospital just let us walk out of with this fragile person, trusting that we would know what to do, that we would care for it well, that we would love it enough. I mean wow, are they nuts?!”

We both laughed and then #1 woke up and those ten minutes of peace and reflection passed. It was a good thing we had stuffed the food in!

As I look back at the arrival of my first son and that first night home and all the things we didn’t know what to do, I don’t wish that someone had told me before hand how to do them. I don’t wish someone had given me more explicit directions about burping, feeding, sleeping habits, soothing, bathing. Nope. I knew in due time that experience would teach me those things. But what I do wish is that someone told me to take the time BEFORE he was born to write down my wishes and dreams for him. I wish that someone had told me to write down which values I want to teach him, both through example and through experience.

Oh I wish that I had written about both of these topics because often at the end of the day I find myself wondering, am I doing a good job parenting? Am I being the parent I want to be? And when I start to think these thoughts, I find that I don’t have the answer.

Maybe it’s because of my analytical nature (or maybe it’s just because there is no real answer), but for me, how can I know the answer to such questions if I don’t know what I am measuring against? If I don’t know what kind of parent I am aiming to be? I mean sure I know in the back of my mind what I want to be teaching and how I want to be loving but I also know that with all the chaos that life brings that I don’t keep these thoughts at the front of my mind. And I know that I want to. Desperately. Because they matter more than “did I teach my son to tie his shoelaces today?”

And I know that making a visual cue, perhaps a typed up list of my wishes for my children, my dreams of what I hope to teach them, would help me remember the kind of parent I aspire to be. I could look at it and say, “Okay. I didn’t do the dishes today, but I did work to make a wish of mine for my children come true so I am doing okay at this parenting gig.” Oh how I have wanted to get around to making that visual. I just, you know, have never gotten around to doing it. Sigh.

But then this past weekend happened. I was at a baby shower for a dear friend who is having her first child this fall. The activity was to fill out the form “Wishes for Baby.” I knew the activity was intended for my friend, but I felt like it was really intended for me. I felt like it was the push to get me to do what I have wanted to do for almost seven years but have been pushing off. I filled out the form for her and then took a blank one for me.

The way I see it, it is never too late to have a wish, to share a wish, or to make it happen.

For my sons, who I love so very much, these are my “Wishes for Baby” that I have always had, just never shared. While you are no longer babies per say, you will always be my babies and I will always have these wishes for you, and more. I hope that I can do my part to make them happen!

I hope you learn to: Dance in the rain, literally and metaphorically. There will be storms in your life. When you can, embrace the storm. Know that it will pass and will leave you stronger and with a new perspective. So put on the rain boots and go outside and let the rain pound down on you. You’ll feel refreshed and alive.

I hope you love: With all your heart. It might get broken and that’s okay. It will just help you appreciate what real love is when it comes along.

I hope you aren’t afraid to: Believe in your dreams and passionately pursue them. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that your dreams are foolish and unachievable. Ever.

I hope you get: To experience success, but also, failure. Success will give you confidence, but failure will keep you humble and will teach you how to persevere.

I hope you laugh at: Yourself whenever you can even if you have made a mistake, and never at someone else (unless of course a joke was made.) Laughter makes life lighter and more enjoyable.

I hope you grow: Kindness in your heart and plant it everywhere you go. Random acts of kindness are the most wonderful gifts, a gift that is always needed, always treasured and always impactful in ways you cannot imagine.

I hope you respect: Yourself and all the decisions you make. You will sleep much better at night knowing that you spent the day honorably, wisely, and kindly.

I hope you become: A man who follows his heart for happiness, a man who treats women (and men) with respect, a man who stands up for others, and a man who is not afraid to be true to himself and who he is.

I hope you never forget: Just how very, very much you are loved, appreciated, needed and supported. I hope you never forget how grateful we are that you are in our lives. I hope you never forget how proud we are of you. And I hope you never forget all of the above wishes we have for you.

* * * * *

I share one of my favorite promises to my boys (and favorite stories that always makes me tear up!) in my new parenting memoir/guide, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids-and How You Can Too!” Full of 100 Alternatives to yelling, Simple, Daily Steps to follow, and honest stories to inspire, my book shares my journey to yell less while gently guiding you on your own. It hits shelves in October but you can pre-order it now by clicking here (you’ll hit my Publishers site which lists all the online retailers!)

“I Can Do This.”

Well, I did it.

Yesterday I woke up and thought, “today, today is the day I am going to conquer my current trigger (my weight)” and I did. Just like that. Snap of the fingers, ya know? Super duper easy. Or easy peasy as my seven year old would say.

Ha! As if!

The day started at 4:30 as littlest man is getting his two-year molars and the poor thing was howling like a wolf and completely inconsolable. My go-to coping method for exhaustion? Eating and eating and eating some more. I guess I think that if I keep my arm and mouth moving it will literally keep me awake?!  But yesterday for some reason I didn’t give into my desire to eat and eat when I was tired but not hungry.

Come round 2:00 pm I wanted to crash my head into my kitchen counter. You see next to eating and eating my go-to method for exhaustion is drinking lots of Diet Coke, like lots of it. The problem with this plan? It most definitely makes me want to eat more and more and it most definitely makes me crave the “bad stuff.” But yesterday for some reason I didn’t give into my desire to have more than one.

Then 7:00 hit like a ton of bricks. All four kiddos were tucked snug in their beds and it was time to work out. It was time to actually do what I told myself I would do tonight no matter what. It was time to remember that working out is important to me, that it does make me feel good physically and emotionally, that I do have time for it. But oh, oh I wanted to just plop on the couch, grab a glass of wine and do nothing. But yesterday for some reason I didn’t give into my desire to not exercise.

Nope, the only desire I gave into all day was my desire to achieve my personal goal. Again, it was super duper easy, easy peasy. Ha! As if!

Even though I plopped into bed last night giddy and proud and pumping with adrenaline that I finally “did it,” that I finally got back on track and found the energy and determination I needed to focus on eating healthier and being healthier, I plopped into bed UBER exhausted, perhaps more exhausted than I started the day. And not just because I had just exercised and been awake since 4:30, but also because I had mentally spent all day talking to myself. Looking back at yesterday, It wasn’t just “some reason” that I didn’t give into my desires that would steer me off track; it was this reason. It was these conversations with myself.

“Orange Rhino, you don’t want to eat the kids pancakes, you aren’t hungry.” I said to myself. Myself replied, “Right. You are right. I don’t want to. I can do this.”

“Orange Rhino, I know you think you need another Diet Coke but you don’t, you need some water and a walk or a dance party.” I said to myself. Myself replied, “Right. Water will make me feel way better. I can do this. I can do this.”

The most dominant and recurring conversation though, the one that felt like I was in ground-hog day? That would be this one.

“Orange Rhino, stop it right now. Right now. Stop telling yourself that working out for 20 minutes instead of 30 doesn’t count. Stop looking at your achievements from today as small and pathetic; instead look at your achievements as a step in the right direction, a step better than yesterday, a step better than nothing.” I said to myself. Myself replied, “Right. I know, I know. Baby steps are big steps. Stay focused on the good. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”

Or wait, would it be this conversation?

“Orange Rhino, stop it right now. Right now. Stop worrying about how you are going to get through the day. Stop worrying about how you will lose all the weight you want. Focus on now. Go one moment at a time. All the moments add up and will lead you to your goal.” I said to myself. Myself replied, “Right. I know. I can do this. I can do this.”

Oh yes, I spent much of yesterday reminding myself to stay in the moment and celebrate what I was doing right instead of thinking of all that I was doing wrong. And oh yes, was it exhausting but worth it! All the constant chatter with myself helped me to stay on track, to get through each tough moment. Each successful moment gave me confidence and my confidence just grew and grew over the day and carried me well into today, just as I knew it would, or rather, as I hoped it would. So tonight as I sit here writing, I am celebrating two days of feeling back on track, feeling good about myself and I credit it mostly to talking to myself.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I have had a lot of experiences in my life where I lacked enough confidence to get over a hurdle. As a result, I just stayed in limbo, wallowing in self-pity really that I couldn’t just “snap out of it” and find the courage to jump the hurdle. Whether it be as small as having the guts to finally accept my first kiss (I was shy, okay a prude), trying a new food as a young adult at a business meeting (I don’t like new tastes, at all), sharing a contradictory opinion (I greatly fear offending people), going down a really high slide with my boys at an amusement park (I fear heights, big time) or as big as not yelling at my kids (this one is self-explanatory) I have so greatly struggled to often times just do it. I have let fear and lack of confidence stop me. But every time I finally “just did it” by telling myself “I can do this.”

Okay, that is a partial lie. I did it by telling myself “I can do this, I just a small win to believe in myself, I just need to go one small step at a time.” Just go for a peck on the lips. Just take a small bite. Just share part of your opinion. Just get to the top of the slide. Just go one moment not yelling. And then two, then three hours, then six hours, then a day.

Yes, telling myself “I can do this one moment at a time” has always helped me finally find the courage, energy and determination to get on track towards meeting a goal or overcoming a challenge. While it might not be easy-peasy to remember to say this to myself, it certainly makes it a heck of a lot easier to accomplish something than telling myself I can’t.

Yelling Less Loving More

(P.S. The other thing that helped me have two really good days? You all. Just sharing my struggle helped it be more real, it helped me realize how important it is to me. And you all sharing your support gave me the strength to wake up and get going. Thank you. Now it is my turn to return the favor. You can do this “yelling less, loving more” thing. You can! I know you can. Just go one moment at a time…..)

{sometimes} My Weight Makes Me Want to Yell

My weight is up right now and boy does it have me down. Now, my weight being up is not a new thing to me; I have struggled with my weight and body image issues for at least fifteen years. (Okay, that was kind. I think since I was fifteen is more like it.) Anyway, what is a new thing to me is that I am lacking the determination, the will power and the ability to get to where I want to be to feel better about myself. As a result, I am feeling many of the same ugly, heavy feelings I used to feel when I yelled.

At the end of the day, I feel guilty that I indulged in an ice cream sundae…again. I feel disappointed in myself that even though I told myself “today is the day I will gain control” that I didn’t stop myself when the bag of chips called my name. I feel like a failure whenever I look in the mirror and my face and arms are noticeably puffier. I feel out of control, as in completely out of control and unable to stop myself once I start. And I feel embarrassed, frustrated, and hopeless that I will ever get back on track.

And I don’t like it.

While many people would say “hey, don’t worry about your weight, you like fine and it is what is on the inside that matters” and I would say back “I know, I know” the reality is that right now, neither statement matters to me. What matters to me is that my weight isn’t making me happy, or confident or comfortable in my own skin. In fact, all these negative feelings are making me miserable and well they are making it a lot harder to actually accomplish what I want to accomplish! I know that I need to stop beating myself up in order to move forward. I know that I need to not just give up on the entire day, my entire goal, after one bad snack. I know that one “weak” moment doesn’t mean that I am a failure; it just means that I need to let that moment go and seize the next opportunity to be a little stronger. And I know that telling myself “eh, I don’t really care” is complete bull. I do care, it is just easier to say I don’t care because then when I feel frustrated with my weight I can say to myself “oh, you don’t care, it’s okay.”

But again, that is complete bologna; it is just an excuse to hide behind. I care immensely.

I care immensely that right now I am binge eating because I am feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, tired and emotionally spent. I care immensely not just because I am physically and emotionally unhappy with my weight, but also because I know it isn’t healthy, physically or emotionally. I care immensely because even though in the moment I “really want and need to eat,” in fact I know that what I really want is to stop this behavior. And I care immensely because my weight and my eating habits are huge, gargantuan triggers for yelling and even though I am not yelling right now, I am finding it very hard to stay calm.

You see, when I feel confident and happy with myself, it is so much easier to parent with love and patience.

When I feel like I do now, unconfident and crappy about myself, oh is it hard to parent with love and patience…oh is it hard to be an Orange Rhino and yell less and love more. Why? Because all I want to do is yell, yell, yell!  Do I want to yell at the kids? No. What I really want to do is yell at myself! I want to yell,

“Why can’t you find self-control and not eat all that junk? You know how. You’ve done it before. Like 5 times before. Just put the fork down. Get with the program.”

And “Why can’t you find just 15 minutes to exercise when you know it is important to you and that it makes you feel better in so many regards?”

And “Why are you making yourself miserable? You know you would rather eat healthy and feel healthy than eat crappy and feel crappy.”

Oh yes, I want to yell big time. But just like yelling at my kids does no good, yelling at myself doesn’t either. What would do me good would be to do many of the same things I did to support myself in my quest to stop yelling at my boys. Telling myself I can do it, telling myself that I can lose weight, that I do know how, that I will get there, now that would do me good. Going one moment at a time, celebrating any small success, that would do me good. Practicing and practicing and practicing “self-control” and forgiving myself when I slip up, that would do me good. Loving myself even when I feel fat, and gross, and like a total utter failure, now that would do me a lot of good!

And while all of the above would do me a lot of good, the one thing that I know would really do me a heck of a lot of good would be to start tracking what I eat. This is ultimately what always works for me because it helps me to see where I struggle (can we say night time indulgences after the kids are finally asleep?) and therefore where I need to focus my efforts. I have been trying to track for weeks now. But I can’t stay committed to it. And I know why – because it is hard and it takes focus, energy and honesty. Yes, honesty. Writing down everything I eat means admitting that I am binging on food to feel better and that is hard to admit.

Kind of like how writing down all the times I wanted to yell was hard because it meant admitting that I yelled way too much and that I needed to change. It is one thing to think, “I yell too much.” It is another to actually see just how much I yell on paper. Ouch! Oh tracking my yells and my triggers was a brutally honest but wonderfully helpful tool. In fact, I decided to do it in the first place because get this, I had tracked my food intake before when I lost fifty pounds and I knew that keeping a diary of sorts works wonders.

And it does.

As does waking up each morning and trying again despite what happened the day before. As does being awake for each moment, each opportunity and trying again despite what supposed “failure” thirty minutes ago.  Yes, I have been struggling for weeks now with my weight and it really has me down. But I will not let it keep me down; I will not keep putting myself down for failed efforts, because that just makes it harder and harder to move forward, and easier and easier to say, “Screw it, I quit, I give up.”

Instead I will embrace wholeheartedly what I heard a stranger say today: “Never. Stop. Trying.“

Never. Stop. Trying.

I can do this. I want to do this. I will do this.

P.S. For the record, I continue to be amazed by how much The Orange Rhino Challenge is the gift that keeps on giving; how what I learned on my quest to stop yelling has been so applicable and helpful to other challenges in my life.  

To learn more about The Orange Rhino Challenge, check out  my book “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids–and How You Can Too!”