For many years I thought running on empty was just what we did as moms. I kind of thought it a noble badge of motherhood – that ability to give and give and give and push past burn-out – and to chuckle about being so exhausted and needing the triple shot of espresso from Starbucks.
I mean, no one really says it out loud, but there is this undercurrent, this whisper, that says, “a good mom gives gives gives” but no one really shouts “until she runs out.”
So for many years of my motherhood journey I proudly ran on empty. Yeah, I’ll say it: proudly. I wore my running on empty motherhood as a badge of I’ve got it all together motherhood.
But, friends, I didn’t. I was just pretending. Just trying to keep up with everyone. Thinking and believing the lie that if just did more I’d be a good mom. I’d measure up. I’d make it in the hall of awesome motherhood.
Thank goodness there’s no award show for moms. And if there was an award show for moms it would need to be for things like: she made school lunches with a pantry of seven things, got the kids to school even though the favorite jacket was lost, handled the drop off line with ease and totally rocked the yoga pants with the stain on them in Starbucks which she expertly covered up with the lost jacket found in the trunk of the minivan after school drop-off.
That’s an award.
But this running on empty doing everything while being exhausted and smiling thing? That’s not cool. It’s not good. And it is not something we should strive after. Being a mom is hard enough. Plain and simple, it’s hard. I don’t care how perfect it looks on Instagram or elsewhere – it’s a crazy exhausting pull out your hair kind of thing. Ask anyone who has to remove tags from shirts, has to understand the strategy of negotiations between two kids who believe it is there turn on the Xbox and can expertly maneuver the massive cart in Target. On no sleep.
Yet, there can be this idea that part of motherhood means we need to run on empty. Because if we’re not exhausted or running on fumes, then, if you’re like me, you’ll hear this warning warning warning in your head alerting you to something you have not done, something that needs to be done or that the laundry you started yesterday is still in the washing machine. Pay attention to that one. But the rest?
What if the warning was masking guilt? What if it was keeping you busy but not busy in the right spaces?
I learned to cope, for so many years, being busy on empty.
Let me repeat that: I coped being busy on empty.
We can only cope so long.
Here’s how I know: about a month ago my seventeen year old daughter said to me, “you’re a great mom, but you don’t have a ton of patience.” Now, let me tell you, for a bit I missed the first part of her sentence. Easy to do as moms as we can hear the negative. So let me say that it was wonderful to hear that piece of kudos. Especially from my teenager. However, I will freely admit that I did not like hearing about my tendency to not have patience.
Because she is right. She’s completely right.
I’m going to tell you this: when you cope on empty and run on empty you also lose patience. You lose patience because nothing can go wrong in your world because you have nothing to give. There is no store house on empty. It is simply fumes.
I dealt with the fumes by pushing harder. But I also lied to myself for a long long time. I told myself, “I’ll take care of myself tomorrow….” Well, sweet sister, tomorrow will never happen unless you make tomorrow’s priority a priority today. I’ve learned that.
So I made a pledge to myself to not be running on empty.
I am not a better, more valiant mom, because I’m stressing out and doing everything. It is OKAY to let some stuff go. It’s okay to not have everything perfect.
There is no award in motherhood for denying self.
My kids need me to take care of myself. They need me to not be so stressed out over everything. If the milk spills, well, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but in the empty fume running world of motherhood that I once lived, that simple variable could throw the entire morning off. Do you know what I’ve learned? If we are late to school because I had to clean up spilled milk and I don’t get stressed out – life is okay. My kids will be okay. I will be okay. A tardy for spilled milk is a fact of life. Not a crisis. Not a grade. Not any of that.
I needed to learn to breathe.
To slow down. Our world doesn’t tell us to slow down. It shouts at all of us moms to keep busy, to find something else to do. And we can go on Facebook or Instagram and see EVERYTHING else all the moms of the world are doing.
I’ve decided I want to be the mom that says it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to be real. It’s okay to try really hard. And it’s really awesome to laugh. To find yourself. And to enjoy life. Now.
But it’s not okay to run on empty.
I know it’s not easy to step back in the middle of motherhood. It’s not easy when there are babies and toddler demanding your attention. It’s not easy when there are middle schoolers testing your attention. It’s not easy. But even though it’s not easy, it’s critical.
Fill your heart. Decided that YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN RUNNING ON EMPTY.
So today, do one thing for you. One simple thing. A walk, time with friends, watching that show, a nap. And instead of guilt, think that you did awesome. Because when you take care of you – you have much more to give.
You know the funny thing about the spilled milk morning? We weren’t late. I cleaned up the milk, the kids laughed, we got in the van and we ended up at school at the same time.
The difference? I have been taking care of myself. Running, doing yoga, watching my favorite shows on Hulu, playing games with the kids. Somehow when I take care of my own heart, and this is the truth, there is more of me to give to my family. Even though I have the same time.
When you don’t live on empty you gain time.
So sweet mom, breathe. Breathe deeply. This is not the season where you need to run without. Take care of yourself. Let your kids see that you – your dreams, your health, your passions – matter as well. And I can tell you that you will experience more joy, more peace and more chill than you’ve ever imagined.
Because your heart will be full.
That’s the beauty of life. Not completed to-do lists.
But happiness, space and grace in the midst of motherhood.
I sooooooooooooooo like soooooooo needed this today. right this very second. Your posts are always so ontime. So real. Raw and so what many of us need to hear and be reminded of. Thank you!
I am so thankful it was what you needed to hear. Blessings to you, Jennifer.
This was a great word to read and take in. I had found myself recently thinking the extreme of “Am I the right mom for my child? Do I need to look at adoption? There is no connecting, what am I doing wrong.” But, perspective, admitting I’m running on fumes, and breaking down my false sense of mom pride is a great start to where and what I need to do about being burned out. Thank you for you candid, open post about something not often shared. Words shared to all and not even knowing who will need them. Thank you.
Sometimes I too feel the same way. Just like walking on a road that has no end. I can relate my thoughts with this post.
Wow, thank you so much for this! This is something I have been repeating to my husband lately, the feeling of running on empty, and I appreciate the conviction you gave me through this post. Knowing it’s not a badge, it’s not a positive, it’s not something to strive for are all things I needed reminding of. Sometimes I feel empty, but have no idea what to do with that knowing. Tonight, I’m taking your advice and doing something for myself!
Thank you for this. I keep repeating that line to myself, ” You are worth more than running on empty.” It’s how I feel, and yet to do something for myself is so foreign. I am almost afraid. Thank you for this.
When i was going through my divorce in 2011, with my sweet babies who were 2 and 4 at the time, I started running. i cried every time i ran, My play list was called running on empty. i bawled my head off and ran. I get it.