Parenting while feeling emotionally exhausted is no small feat. The old saying is true: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” When we’re too tired to get up and refill that cup, though, how are we supposed to manage? When we're mentally drained, even the smallest tasks can feel incredibly overwhelming.
The answer is simple. We can’t.
So…what now? Our kids can’t fend for themselves, so there must be something we can do. (Please make it an easy something, though, yes? As in, really easy?)
1. Reframe your perspective. Denying our exhaustion isn’t going to help anything, but we often push through anyway. To the extent we try to keep powering through, however, we’ll just keep digging deeper into non-existent emotional reserves. Give yourself permission to say, “I’ve got nothing. I’m tired. I'm done. The body wasn’t designed to keep going without a break. I need a break, and it’s healthy to take one.” Reframing your perspective from "must-keep-going" to "It's healthy for me to stop" can be really empowering.
2. While the kids are still awake and to the extent it’s possible, have a “Yes Day.” It’s just what it sounds like: they ask for something and you say yes. Cereal for breakfast? Yes. Cereal for lunch? Yes. Same for dinner? Sure! Sit in front of the TV for a gajillion hours straight? Sure, that’s fine. Color the walls? Maybe (tape some paper up there and go for it). This is temporary. The point is to get you out of feeling emotionally exhausted by having fewer power struggles. Unless someone’s safety is in question, it’s perfectly okay go with the flow.
3. After the kids go to sleep, do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Turn off the screens yourself for awhile (this can help if screen addiction creeps in on you). Let the dishes sit in the sink, let the laundry sit on the couch like you did when your babies were newborns, and stare at that ceiling for as long as necessary. Catch up on sleep. Trust that whatever news / responsibilities / obligations you had will still show up tomorrow. They can wait.
> If you catch yourself thinking, “But then I’ll be more emotionally exhausted tomorrow,” counter those thoughts with, “This isn’t about tomorrow. This is about recharging my batteries right now, and that’s what I need to do.” You have all the permission in the world to just BE.
> If you get stuck in a negative mental loop where you're replaying scenarios that make you feel more emotionally exhausted than before, tell those thoughts they can come back tomorrow -- but they're not welcome now.
Think of it as a really good stock option that you've just lucked into. You invest very, very little into something important and worthwhile, and you get a huge return soon thereafter. Is it hard to invest, though, when you're not sure you'll get anything in return? Of course it is -- the habit of constant productivity is hard to break. Here's the thing, though. This is an almost certain win for you. Only good things can come from feeling more emotionally grounded.
What will tomorrow bring? It might very well be another day that leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted, but maybe it won't. If it does, you'll at least have some reserves from which to draw. And if it doesn't -- well -- you likely know exactly what started things back in the right direction again for you.
Take care of yourself. You matter, too.
Related post: How to Take a Break When You Can't Take a Break
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