Parenting: Remembering to Fill Your Own Cup

Parenting: Remembering to Fill Your Own Cup

28 October 2022 • Words by Elle Walsh 5 mins

Parenting can be the most beautiful yet soul-baring experience a person can go through: tugging at our vulnerabilities while expanding our hearts beyond measure. As parents, we feel vulnerable when our child’s behavior taps into something inside of us that can be unhelpful, perhaps a memory of our past or a generational behavior approach. We can also feel vulnerable when we have hit that pure state of exhaustion that throws us into survival mode. If we don’t identify and acknowledge these vulnerabilities, they can interfere with the kind of parents we want to be to our children.

Recognizing when our emotional cup is getting low can be invaluable to our parenting. This is when our vulnerabilities begin to lead our responses and behavior, and before we know it we are falling into patterns of parenting that we hadn’t anticipated or wanted. It is essential that we make some time for ourselves—real time out to do something genuinely soothing or nurturing that will care for our body, mind, and soul. You don’t just stop being a human with your own needs the minute you have a child.

What can be tough, though, is actually learning to recognize when our emotional cup is low…

And notice this to then take the time to tune into our bodies and reflect on what we need to do to refill it. Without taking this time, parents can become more burned out, stressed, and emotionally depleted. As we are all aware, our children are emotional sponges. Their very first language with us is nonverbal and they perceive our body language and emotional state. They can sense our frustrations, our anger, and even our parental guilt as it bubbles up in us when we become overwhelmed or stressed out. This can trigger anxiety and stress in our children, which then becomes communicated in their behavior, and there we all are riding on this merry-go-round of heightened emotion and insecurity.

Wow! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just stop that merry-go-round by taking a few minutes for ourselves? Sounds impossible, right? Well, it is not impossible, but it can be very hard. As parents, we are so busy. How do we recognize when our emotional cup is low and then be able to take the time we need to rejuvenate so we can have the emotional resources to care for someone else?

Read on to discover some parenting hacks that will make that impossible goal seem possible—tips that I wish someone had shared with me when I was starting my journey as a new mom. These simple practices can help you regulate your nervous system in that moment of feeling overwhelmed and will equip you with ideas for refilling your emotional cup. 

Parenting Hack: Emotional Cup Recognition

These three parenting hacks will help you recognize when your emotional cup is low.

You are feeling triggered by your child’s tantrum or outburst and you can feel your frustration bubbling or your heart pounding.

Action to take: Stop. Take five slow, deep breaths. Explain to your child what you are doing to model deep breathing as a helpful resource. It can be a teachable moment for them later on in the day when their feelings are not so overwhelmed. 

Result: Taking slow, deep breaths enables more oxygen to enter the body. This physically helps quiet your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response and encourages calm in the body.

You notice you are short-tempered with those around you, including your loved ones, often snapping back at them or raising your voice.

Action to take: Ask your partner or child to let you know when they observe you are raising your voice frequently or are unreasonably upset with them. Often it can take someone else pointing out our reactive behavior for us to realize we need to pay attention to our own needs.

Result: This approach embraces your relationship with those around you. It opens the door to communication about where your anger is coming from and is an opportunity for you to model how to manage this big feeling in yourself—perhaps exploring together how your behavior made them feel and what might help you feel calmer.

You feel overly emotional and sensitive, perhaps in response to your child’s behavior or due to lack of sleep.

Action to take: Sometimes what can help the most is to simply have a good cry. Release all of that energy that has built up for various reasons throughout your day, and acknowledge that feeling exhausted can exacerbate even the smallest of situations.

Result: Not only is shedding emotional tears self-soothing, but it also releases oxytocin and endorphins—feel-good hormones.

Parenting Hack: Self Care

Okay, so we have been able to recognize our cup is almost empty and we have a few tools that can help us in the moment. But what about that wonderful time for ourselves that we spoke about earlier? Taking some moments for ourselves as parents is essential. Self-care can help replenish your energy and your focus and promote positivity. It is important that we set boundaries for ourselves so we can nurture our minds and bodies, and finding a balance between our own needs and our kids’ needs is something every parent deserves to discover. But how can we do that if it feels like we don’t even have five minutes?

Here are three more parenting hacks that can give you moments of self-care that will help you recharge.

Listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook while you blow-dry your hair.

Every mom has to wash their hair, and if you have to blow-dry it as well, like me you may find the task tedious. But that time to myself has become so releasing because I use it to listen to my favorite podcast. This would also work for a dad while he’s shaving.

For at least 30 minutes every day, find ways to move your body.

Perhaps you could go for a walk or a run while your partner watches your child as they nap, or do a workout routine while your little one has their afternoon snack. This also could be a fast-paced stroll to the playground alongside your little ones. Any exercise is good for our bodies. Thirty minutes every day will give you more energy, refresh your mindset, and help strengthen your immune system.

Plan a “playdate” with a friend.

Making time at least weekly to see and speak with friends is important—even if it’s just meeting for a cup of coffee or setting a time to chat on the phone. Although it can seem tricky to find this time, making it a priority not only will nurture both yourself and your friendships but will set a good example for your child.

Another piece of advice for new parents is to take small chunks of time for yourself as early on as possible. It is one of the best ways to keep yourself from feeling trapped as a new parent. Keeping yourself happy and healthy will allow you to give the best care possible to your new baby. The reality is, the way to take the best care of your family is to make sure you are taking the time to take care of yourself.

Elle Walsh