Bucket-Filling Mom Hacks for Self Care

Exhausted parents, it's time to give yourself some grace. These bucket-filling mom hacks for self care will help you regain your balance when life is tough.

To Exhausted Parents: Give Yourself Some Grace!

I am exhausted.

The fatigue I’ve been feeling lately has only been getting worse, not better, as parts of the country slowly start to lift their stay-at-home restrictions. And I know a lot of my friends are also feeling like exhausted parents right now:

  • Supervising virtual school has been a nightmare. No one – not teachers, not parents, and certainly not students – was prepared for this.
  • If you parent a child with a learning difference, take the challenges of virtual learning and multiply them by 10 or more. Kids need structure, especially those who learn differently. Trying to rebuild school’s built-in structures at home, in isolation, is darn near impossible.
  • For those with “essential worker” family members, the fear that they’ll bring home a deadly virus to the rest of you is always there.
  • Or if you’re lucky enough to still be working remotely, you’re balancing your own work with monitoring that of your kids. 

  • For those without access to reliable broadband access at home, or school-provided tech on which to do virtual school, add in the complications of sharing whatever devices you can get your hands on. Not to mention spending your days in parking lots trying to access an internet hotspot.
  • The worry and stress of paying rent/utilities, feeding your family, etc. that are part of many families’ lives (thanks to pandemic shutdowns) are enough to stress anyone out; on top of everything I’ve described above, it’s almost too much to bear.
  • And as if that weren’t enough, black and brown parents continue to live with the stress of trying to raise children with the constant knowledge that they can’t necessarily trust those in power to protect them.

Can you relate to any of this?

And all of this is in addition to being cooped up at home, all day, every day.

For literally weeks now, I’ve been in survival mode, just trying to get from one day to the next, put out one fire after another.

And no matter how much I sleep – when I can sleep – I never seem to wake up refreshed.

It’s one thing to complain to my mama on the phone when she asks how I am. Or commiserate with friends far away, on the phone, late at night after our kids are asleep. 

It’s another thing to try to figure out how to move beyond this “stuck” feeling – the feeling like you’re slowly drowning.

How to Get Unstuck and Give Yourself Some Grace:

It’s been really hard for me to write the past few months, which is why you haven’t seen me posting as much as usual.

Like many exhausted parents, I’ve felt so overwhelmed by this – all of this.

To put it a different way, I’ve felt as if I’m always running on empty. Or to borrow the bucket-filling metaphor my kids learned in preschool, there’s nothing left in my bucket.

And it’s easy to want to blame someone else – anyone else – for the mess we’re going through. 

Because this whole situation is unfair to everyone, and it makes us angry. When we’re angry, we want to direct that anger at someone.

This whole situation is unfair to everyone, and it makes us angry. When we're angry, we want to direct that anger at someone.Click To Tweet

We’ve all been doing it.

It’s one of the five stages of grief

I’ve started to realize that there are several problems going on at once here. If you want to stick with the five stages of grief model, which often doesn’t proceed neatly from one stage to another, it seems a lot of parents I know – myself included – are stuck in several stages simultaneously:

  • We’re in denial. Whether constantly thinking, “This can’t be happening! I’m going to wake up soon and find this was all a dream” (I think that at least once a day!), or denying that there’s any real need to stay at home, social distance, etc. “We’ll be OK if I go out, if I go out without a mask, if my kids play with all the other neighborhood kids,” and on and on.
  • We’re angry, and want someone to blame. The president. The governor. The mayor. The police. The citizens and/or leaders of another nation halfway around the globe. Our neighbors who won’t social distance. Our local leaders who won’t reopen the economy already.
  • We bargain with ourselves and the situation we’re in constantly. “I’ll just make one more trip to the store.” “It’s OK if I don’t wear my mask, just this once.” “Just one play date won’t hurt.” “Just one more glass of wine – it’s been a rough day.”
  • Every day we feel sad, even depressed. The inability to sit down and concentrate. The near-impossibility of getting into anything, let alone finishing it. The constant exhaustion that never goes away. Being short-tempered with our kids/spouse/both.

If any of these sound familiar, you now have a word for those feelings:

You’re grieving.

Grieving for a life we cannot live at the moment, whether it’s that lost job, or lost freedom of movement, or even lost time away from our home and our 24/7 life with our family.

I love my husband and daughters dearly. But sharing my work-at-home existence with them for the past three months has been a huge adjustment, for all of us.

And until you can get from all those unpleasant feelings to the final stage – acceptance – and even one step further, finding meaning – you’re going to be stuck in this uncomfortable in-between place.

Self Care Tips for When You’re Stuck At Home

As a parent, it sounds and feels selfish at times, but I’ve realized I have to refill my own bucket – take care of myself a little more – if I’m going to be there for my family.

To help you with the steps below, I’ve put together a FREE worksheet you can download.  CLICK HERE to get your copy!

As I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this, I’ve determined several things I need to do differently, and tried to start implementing them in my daily life a little more:

1) Step back from the news

With the recent weeks of peaceful protests against police violence, and sometimes not-so-peaceful outcomes, I’m finding myself glued to the news cycle again, just as I was in the early days of the pandemic.

If you’ve done the same after each unarmed killing of an African American, each school shooting, each terrorist attack, etc. in your adult life, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s hard to step away from the 24/7 news cycle we live in. But not only is this traumatizing for us, it’s also traumatizing for our children.

Eventually there comes a point where you have to step back and NOT pay attention anymore.

I know that seems harsh. But as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s the only way to stop re-traumatizing yourself (and your children, if they’re also consuming the images on TV) every. single. day.

2) Let yourself feel the bad feelings

Remember the Disney-Pixar movie Inside Out?

The main character, Riley, couldn’t move forward until she’d worked through her sadness. Only when she was able to experience sadness did she move forward again, and regain the ability to be happy.

A part of me thinks how fortunate I am in these uncertain times, how I have no right to complain. We still have food, we still have a roof over our heads, we are all healthy.

But I’ve started to realize that working through the denial, anger, and sadness is part of being able to a) accept this strange new reality, and b) move forward to finding meaning in it.

My kids are in the same boat. They know that none of this is “fair” to anyone. But they’re afraid to let themselves feel those negative feelings, because they’re afraid they’ll drown in them.

While I don’t want them to get stuck there – which is part of what we’re all afraid of when we try to ignore those negative feelings – I also know it will help them be able to a) let go and b ) move forward.

3. Figure out how your bucket got empty

It’s helpful to start with the basics here: Are you getting enough sleep, healthy foods, and exercise?

RELATED POST: What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop

This is NOT an exercise in beating yourself up for coming up short. Remember, we need to focus on giving ourselves some grace.

I’ve been doing pretty well in the healthy eating department, trying to keep the junk food cravings/consumption at bay. And even though I seem to need a lot more than usual, I’m also working on getting enough sleep.

RELATED POST: Why Mama Needs More Sleep (And What She Can Do About It!)

But since summer-like temps have arrived, I’m definitely not getting as much exercise anymore. That’s one thing I can fix.

But here’s the biggest reason I feel like I’m running on empty:

Between the end of the virtual school year, staying on top of the usual day-to-day household and family management tasks, and cramming several other postponed-two-months commitments and activities in, I feel as if I’m doing overtime taking care of everyone else’s needs these days.

Helping the girls get through the end of the school year virtually, in particular, has been challenging. Especially for our kiddo who learns differently, and needs constant monitoring and help with schoolwork-at-home to stay on task.

4. Figure out what you need to refill your bucket

I realize this can be a controversial idea, so let me clarify:

The problem for many parents (especially mamas) is that we’re so good at caring for others, we forget to take care of ourselves.

And when we’re completely run-down, we are no good at caring for others – and THAT is when we end up dipping into their buckets instead of filling them, by unintentionally being selfish or saying hurtful things out of sheer exhaustion.

Sound familiar?

That’s why figuring out what self-care ideas can refill our own buckets is crucial.

And the ✅ free printable worksheet that goes with this post can help you do just that.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • For those of us who are creative, this may mean creating.
  • If you’re not sleeping well at night because you aren’t getting your regular workouts, figure out a way to squeeze those workouts back in – even if it’s just a short daily walk or run.
  • For those of us who are extroverts (like my mama), this may mean reaching out to friends for a socially-distanced coffee date outdoors.

In my case, I definitely needed to find a way to put some “alone time” back on the schedule.

I crave time alone and space alone, so I can write – that much I know. While the writing is important, it’s also about reclaiming some time by myself, with my own thoughts, without having my brain divided ten different ways between kids’ online commitments,

RELATED POST: (Virtual) Family Schedule Organization Tips & Hacks

I’m used to having the house to myself for a good chunk of the day, while I do my work and everyone else is at school/work. Being around other people 24/7, much as I love them, was really dragging me down. Especially when you combine it with constantly doing things for others, at the expense of anything that would fill my own bucket.

Even something as simple as not being able to play my usual background soundtrack on the radio was really wearing on me, I started to realize.

5. Do what’s necessary to get what you need

Which is often easier said than done – but doesn’t need to be impossible.

Here are some techniques I used to create more time for me to fill my own bucket:

  • I talked to my husband about how burned out and exhausted I was feeling. I started, first, by checking in on how HE was doing. Because about a month ago, he was the one who was burned out and running on empty, when he finished his online teaching for the spring.
  • I discussed with him how we might split supervising our kids’ schoolwork into shifts better, so that (now that his active teaching is done for several months) I am no longer the “default parent on duty” keeping our child who struggles on task.
  • I set up several systems to turn over more control and responsibility to the rest of the family for managing the girls’ online appointments.
  • I experimented with getting up/going to bed at different times than the rest of my family, using earplugs and fans, and going to different parts of the house than where I usually write, so I could get some time and space by myself.
  • I also began scheduling this time/space to myself, and telling my family of my plans. Planning to spend the morning sleeping in (or the afternoon writing in the basement), works better if Dear Husband and the girls know that I want to sleep in (or do some writing uninterrupted).

You’ve got this!

I know, all this sounds easier said than done. It will definitely be easier if you work through things on paper, whether in your bullet journal or through the free printable worksheet I made.

This past weekend, after I took Saturday to write (which included drafting this post), I found myself in the kitchen on Sunday afternoon, baking cookies and cooking a more complicated meal for my family than I’ve made in months. As Kimmie passed through, she said, “You’re spoiling us!” It was obvious to her – and to me – that I felt like a different person after a day of much needed self care.

As exhausted parents, refilling our own buckets through a little self-care will help restore the energy we need to take care of others. I can’t wait to hear about how you give yourself some grace and refill your own bucket!

And don’t forget to grab your own bucket-filling self-care worksheet for exhausted moms (and exhausted dads!) by filling out this form:

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28 thoughts on “Bucket-Filling Mom Hacks for Self Care”

  1. Yes! We all need to make sure to find time to do what we need to do to keep our buckets full. I’m with you on needing alone time, the quiet is SO refreshing. Take care, mama!

  2. This was a great read! I can totally relate. I think we all have those burn out days so it’s super important to take the time to ‘fill our own buckets’ too! let’s face it, you can’t pour from an empty cup, it’s impossible. Eventually, burnout will find you. I learned that the hard way so now I make self care a priority. It isn’t anything too crazy, just a little me time daily with small things that make me feel human again – ex. a little reading before bed, 10 minutes of meditation or just having 5 minutes a day for my skincare routine.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Cendu! My biggest challenge this past spring has been just all the upheavals to our normal routines that the pandemic has brought on – I had a pretty good sense of balance before things like virtual school started, but I’ve had to find a new balance amidst the chaos…

  3. These are some really useful tips! Totally agree with the fact that we need to fill up our bucket first. Sometimes I allow my toddler some extra screen time to catch up on my sleep, which I think is important for me

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Absolutely! If you can get yourself some more sleep, it will definitely make everything else go better! 🙂

  4. You are so right. I never thought about it, but we are grieving for the many many things that have changed, been canceled, etc. I just got home from a weekend trip to visit my family and THAT was exactly what I needed. I hadn’t seen my mom since February and my dad or sister since November.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Oh, that is so wonderful, Stephanie! (and I admit, I’m a tad jealous!) We are hoping and praying that come July, we AND where my mama lives AND all the states in between will have lifted restrictions enough that the girls and I can drive to see her for a few weeks (I kid you not, there have been points this past spring where at least one of the states we’d have to travel through has been stopping cars with out-of-state plates at the border to limit COVID spread!…)

  5. I so agree with you regarding sharing space with hubby and kids. I love mine too and it has been a huge adjustment with the college kids home. Not to mention, my monthly grocery bill has been scary. We do need to give ourselves some grace.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Yes! The grocery bill! (And all those things like toilet paper, water, electricity, etc. that are now being consumed at home vs. in workplaces and schools…) (Especially the toilet paper!)

  6. This is really amazing! Thank you so so much for the great tips! I definitely need to take a break from the news, this is really weighing on me…

  7. As long as you live in the USA and have school age kid(s), this is you and all these points are relatable.
    Unfortunately, we used to allot school time to our Me Time and when the pandemic broke out we were all threw off balance. We survived it one way or the other, and since summer programs are not looking good, we just have to plan our new normal with the kids involved.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Well put – I just hope that employers recognize how much the struggles are real, and DON’T hold it against their employees (especially those who are mamas). Traditionally, women get “dinged” more on performance reports for needing to tend to their families (not to mention the fact that so many of them “opt out” of the formal workforce more often/for longer stretches to care for family members) – whereas traditionally not only do men NOT suffer for taking time to care for family members, but everyone from society to bosses praises them for doing so. This double standard has to end.

  8. It’s been hard on all of us. But I truly feel that you are a strong brave woman to be going through all of these. I am a teacher and virtual classes haven’t been easy, I can imagine that for parents even more so. Mu husband works with children and adults with learning difficulties and I can only understand how much attention they need. It will get better soon, we can only hope for a better future. Have hope!

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Aww, *thanks* Monic :). As a former teacher married to a current teacher, much as I miss the classroom, I was SO grateful that there was only one of us trying to teach remotely this past spring – I did not envy my husband one little bit! (I just wish my teaching background were more closely aligned with what my daughter needed this past spring! – I’m used to teaching students much older than she is LOL…)

  9. I think all of these are so very helpful suggestions on how to fill our bucket when it’s gone empty. I’ve been learning to do some of these and the suggestions really do help. Funny because in the picture you have time in the basement and that’s where I go too!

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      True confession: the basement/laundry room are about the only places my family does NOT regularly go to find me LOL!

  10. It’s so easy to get upset with everything we’ve got on our plates, but it’s important to learn how to deal with our emotions. Love that you’ve mentioned the importance of self-care in a time like this.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      The peaceful protests were the last straw that drove it home for me how much we are ALL struggling right now. I called up one of my best friends from college to see how he and his family are doing, and among other things, he mentioned how he is worn-out tired of being the token black friend/colleague everyone asks to (in this case) make a public statement in their mostly-white community, and how right now he’s just trying to take care of his own and his family’s mental health – that was when it dawned on me how much we ALL are struggling right now, for a myriad of reasons.

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