Maintaining Joy in Parenting When Your Cup is Empty

I personally feel that, in motherhood, some seasons are more difficult than others. It’s been one of those for me lately as it’s been a little crazier at our house than usual. My husband is preparing for the biggest exam yet of his medical career and is literally studying 14-16 hours a day. I deliver food to his office door, and I honestly don’t know how he does it. His brain is amazing. Anyway, we don’t see him much/hardly at all. I’ve been going through a bit of postpartum overwhelm, my children are incredibly high energy and if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t been the mother I want to be lately. At all. My children are truly my world,the much desired beloved joys of my heart, and nothing hurts me more than feeling that I am failing in being the mother I want to be for them.

I know everyone says you can’t pour from an empty cup, but sometimes in life as a mom you just HAVE to. Sometimes the kids are crying and screaming and you haven’t slept since the last century and you just have to put on your face and MOM THROUGH IT, because, kids don’t go on hold. There is no pause button, and there are times you simply cannot change your circumstances. I am in one of those seasons, and while I cannot change my circumstances, I realized I HAD to change how I was handling them. Kids are not just blobs, they are beautiful passionate little humans who can tell all too well when we are not finding joy in their presence and it has a tremendous negative effect on them. Feed a child frustration and he’s going to spit it right back at you, but even louder. And let me tell you, I have definitely observed that when I am not “mom’ing” how I want I am also exacerbating their behavior.

My family and I are Christians, and thus my parenting is rooted in that. The three cornerstones of my parenting, the things I care most about (and thus are aspects I want to instill in my children), are love, joy, and confidence. From those stem empathy, kindness, and courage. Needless to say, when I am parenting at my wit’s end I am not instilling any of those qualities. I realized I had to find some ways to mentally press pause and fill my currently shattered cup throughout the day in order to maintain my joy in my parenting, because I know all too well that not only are these critically important formative years for my children (I am LITERALLY helping to shape who they will be), but I do NOT want to look back one day and know I lost these precious years to being overwhelmed by circumstances. I came up with a handful of simple coping strategies for those days in which it all gets to be too much. And again, I am not a professional, just a mama in the thick of it and sharing what has helped me and my family.

  1. Hug your kids. Take a moment to stop and say “I love you” and make physical contact. Yes, even when, ESPECIALLY when, they’re screaming and totally losing it and you possibly feel like running away and shutting the door. Have you seen that quote by L.R. Knost? “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” Lawwddd can this be hard. The other night I had all three screaming at me at once and let me tell you, I most definitely joined their chaos. And yes, it only made things exponentially worse. Because when kids are spinning out of control the facts are, we are the only thing keeping their little selves tethered at all. And if we join in the fray, then we’re just all spinning out of control and it becomes an even worse mess. Kids need reassurance, they need to know we love them even when they’re being unlovable. And sometimes when I hug them, they pull away and keep crying, and sometimes they cave into me and keep crying, but it always, ALWAYS, helps. And I know that every time I validate them it makes a difference for their future. It does not mean we never have teaching moments, but I really want to ensure that when there is a teaching moment, they understand why and they know that it is NOT happening because I don’t love them. (I do want to clarify that personally I believe in teaching moments and gentle consequences, but I do not believe in “punishment”. I have gotten far greater results with positive parenting and positive reinforcement).
  2. Let it go and find SOMETHING good. I’m not saying embrace them running rampant up and down the grocery aisles and dancing on the tables (don’t your kids try and do that? No? Just mine? Ok cool). But, the other day I had said “no” and “stop” soooooo many times I felt like we had all been swept up into a swirling tornado of negativity. I decided to stop myself, and choose my battles. When my son went screaming into the dining room on his little crane riding toy and woke up the baby and knocked over a chair, while I was frustrated I chose to say “Harry thanks for not running over Charlie” (and not sarcastically haha). He beamed with pride and said “you’re welcome mama!”. A hard thing with toddlers is they do soooo many things that are either terrifying or mess making and they truly do not mean to. He didn’t go screaming into the dining room to intentionally wake up Charlie, even though I had asked him to be quiet in there, more than once. He is three. He quite literally forgot in his verve for riding his crane. On days when the joy is in danger of disappearing, I try to really, REALLY choose my battles. And oh has it ever helped. (and no my children are not bigger raging banshees for it, and I am far LESS of a raging banshee mama).
  3. Find some way to pause the chaos and take a mutual “time out” if you can. For us, sometimes it’s putting on a Daniel Tiger or Super Readers for 25 minutes so I can actually pee, or going outside so they can be loud and destructive and it doesn’t matter how fast they run. I will admit that we aren’t big screen time people, but my point is, if you have literally hit the end of your rope, they, and you, will be much better for taking a mutual time out and doing a reset.
  4. Don’t take the behavior personally. I know, at first you might laugh at that. But when your whole world revolves around tiny people it can be frighteningly easy to think they really mean it when they act out at you. I found myself worrying the other day that they still loved me as they used to. Like I said, easy to lose perspective. But when your tiny child is screaming in rage because you turned off that Daniel Tiger you put on to give yourself 25 minutes of sanity, remember you are their safe place. They only know right now and all they know is, they liked that Daniel Tiger and you, mommy, turned it off. It has nothing to do with you, but that’s the only way they know how to communicate. Lately I’ve been really trying to stop and look at them and validate, “I know you’re frustrated, I would be too. It was fun, but now we are going to do x,y,z”. When they say “I DON’T WANT TO”, I have been saying “That’s ok. You can think about it and let me know when you’re ready”. Unless, of course, we absolutely have to leave that moment or something in which case I explain the situation and we have a learning moment. Sometimes, life doesn’t go exactly as we want to, and it’s ok to say that. Mommy still loves you.
  5. Choose something you CAN do that gives you any amount of rejuvenation. For me, sometimes it’s at the end of the day when everyone is sleeping and I can have a moment with some tea or wine and a snack (and really actually EAT the snack instead of sharing it ha). I personally love mornings best but my kids have been getting up suuuuper early lately and they hit the ground running. When they don’t wake up with me, I have a cup of coffee in peace and that’s my moment. I love showers, but with three kiddos in there with me it is NOT rejuvenating. So, I try to find other things. Sometimes it’s taking a walk, somewhere I don’t have to worry about them being run over or falling into a river. My point is, try to find one little thing every day, no matter how small, that you can look forward to and do for your mama heart.

And have grace for yourself. Take comfort in the grace our kids give us, and learn from that. The other night we’d have a particularly rough day, and at 1am my son climbed into bed with me, and in his sleepy stupor put his tiny hand on my face and mumbled “love you mama”. They love us so, so very much. Right now we are literally their world. I personally believe that validating that love and maintaining the joy in that relationship every day is most important, even when other things have to be let go, for that foundation is one they will stand on forever.


Published by

Robin Lloyd

Robin Lloyd is a Jesus lover, future Dr's wife, boy girl twin mama plus a new little babe, animal lover, pianist, teacher, coffee addict, and blogger who delights in pouring her creative energy into photos and posts. She spends her time loving on her kids, dreaming of new creative content, and supporting her busy hubby! Robin graduated with a BM in piano performance from Lamont at University of Denver (where she met her husband!), and now resides in Colorado.