My Cup Runneth Over: Early Parenting Myths

What do you need? Right now, what is missing from your days? How do you know you’re being cared for? When do you take a moment to witness all of your growth and change and hard work? How do you find your rest? How do you fill your cup?

These questions are applicable in most moments in life, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m looking at you, new parents. I can see the smiles, the glances to the floor, the soft nodding of the head. It’s almost a joke, the idea that there are needs beyond the baby’s needs. By the sheer nature of their sweet-smelling heads and utter helplessness alone, they are doused in your focused, loving, attention.

As parents, our brains and our bodies become very quickly hard-wired to tend to and protect our tiny ones. It’s difficult to know where we end and they begin. We keep pouring and pouring and pouring; filling our babies up with love and safety. And when it gets hard, when our cups run dry, we berate ourselves for not having more, not being more

Convention tells us over and over, that our babies, just by their very existence, are a deep source of joy and that, with diligent, loving parenting, our cups will run over. I’m calling bullshit. Joy and health are not the same things. When we aren’t cared for and we care, without reprieve, for others, we become depleted. Our cups run dry. 

The cultural story mapped out above only serves to shame us when, as parents, we need help filling our cups so that we have more to offer to our babies and our lives. 

Help can come in a number of different ways. It can be that supportive partnership or loving grandparents. It can be a 5-minute shower or a cup of tea. Maybe it’s a walk, maybe it’s a weekend away to regroup. Maybe it’s making choices for your baby’s sleep patterns to support the balance of the household. Perhaps it’s scheduling and upholding (best you can) an hour or two a week that are only about your needs; needs for exercise, adult connection, massage, a nap. 

Listen, I’m not about to say that it’s easy striking this balance in early parenthood. It would be great if we could just place our proverbial cup under a spout of unending energy (many of us call this coffee) and have that cup full and ready for all of our family’s needs. It’s an art form developed with time and grace. Sometimes the cup ends up bone dry before we realize that we need a refill. With time, and loving attention, we can begin to feel the subtleties of how our energy is being siphoned into others’ needs and we can respond in kind. It’s particularly difficult to keep our sensors sharp when it comes to our children’s’ needs. It can start to feel like we’re sharing a cup with our children, which can give us greater motivation for learning to keep that cup topped up. 

I’ll disclose here that I’ve found great support in learning the nuances of cup volume by speaking with my therapist every week. I know, I know, shameless plug. But, truly. This has been one central part of finding myself in the wild ride that is early parenthood and I can endorse it completely. Talking with someone who is there just for you is a great start in learning how to find your brim and overflow again.

Learn more about the author, Juanita Sawyer MA, LPCC, CPD, here

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