Spoon Theory & Parental Stress

What you want more of:

  • Patience
  • Energy
  • Resilience

These are our most precious resources, and how we use them in our days defines how we live our lives.

Most of my clients come to me because they are frustrated about what happens when they run out of patience, energy, or resilience. They get Stabby. Cranky. Snarky. Yell-y. Resentful-y.

We beat ourselves up for our behavior because we ran out of inner resources. We are angry that we don't have more. We feel inadequate. We want to punish our way to having more to give.

But Patience, Energy, Resilience - these are finite resources. We are humans, made of soft flesh, and we can't just give these resources away without replenishing our stores.

You see, you only have so many spoons.

You wake up with some number of Spoons each day, and you are responsible for how many you give away, keeping stock of how many you have left, and knowing what you need in order to replenish your Spoon Supply.

This Spoon Theory comes from Christine Miserandino, who lives with chronic illness and has come to think of her energy and inner resources as Spoons. Taking these vague, elusive concepts - patience, energy, time -  and creating a concrete analogy of Spoons has helped her explain her limitations, to herself and others.

She explains:

I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. . . I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my “spoons”.

When I first read about Miserandino's Spoon Theory, I knew that it didn't just apply to chronic illness.

Getting clear About the reality of our limitations is crucial to healthy parenting.

Every single parent I work with asks, in one form or another, "Why don't I have the abilities that normal parents have?" And if we're all asking it, then having our unique limitations is the most normal thing in the world.

Not only does appreciating and managing your resources (patience, energy, resilience) help you prevent stress, it is a priceless skill to teach our children. When your introvert child is out of school, he may be all out of Spoons and need to come home and read. Your more extroverted child may have plenty of Spoons left and she can play outside on the trampoline.

When we know and accept our Spoon Supply we protect ourselves and each other from all the nasty consequences of burn out.

If you know that your partner's out of town and you'll be using more Spoons than usual, maybe you make sure to get to bed on time, not wasting any Spoons on late night scrolling.

If your child knows she uses a lot of Spoons when she has a playdate with that friend, she can assert her need to snuggle with you afterward to replenish her Spoon Supply.

Your Spoon Supply changes from day to day, and is likely different from every one else's in the world. Only you know how many Spoons you have in this moment. Only you can decide the right way to spend your Spoons, and when to conserve them for a later date.

If you've been hanging out with me for any period of time, you know I'm an analogy/metaphor junkie. I can't really think without them. So this Spoon Theory has been revolutionary for me. I can feel my Spoon Supply. I know what it feels like to be out of Spoons and be a total Prickly Grouch.

I don't want to be the Prickly Grouch, so I count my Spoons, spend them wisely, and stock up on sleep, good food, big laughs, and warm hugs.

Wishing you a day of mindful Spoon Spending.

With love and optimism,

Dr. J