Brian and I are tired. Beyond the normal responsibilities of adulthood and parenting, we’ve been taxed by the additional duties of working through grief and trying to adopt our girls. Add in the exhausting demands of a teen and tween who expect our entire existence to revolve around their whims and desires and we are beat. So we decided to tackle one of the major issues and talk honestly and intentionally to our girls about the strain their self-centered behavior is putting on our energy reserves and our emotions.
The girls came home from school today to a table filled with glass jars–10 empty small ones and 2 slightly larger ones filled with water. The water-filled jars represented the finite supply of energy Brian and I have, while the small jars represented the tasks and obligations which require us to use our energy. In front of each empty jar was label:
- General Parenting/Family
- Foster/Adoption Tasks
- General Tasks/Other
- Bean’s Name
- Peanut’s Name
- Advanced Parenting
- Our Marriage
- Personal Growth
- Friends and Other Family
We explained to them that our energy is required for myriad tasks, obligations, and challenges throughout the day. To help them understand, we read off a list of items which would fit under each individual heading and poured water into the respective jar to symbolize the energy spent.
When we got to their names, we talked about energy-zappers like snarky or unhelpful remarks, bad attitudes, breaking rules, not apologizing when they’ve done something hurtful or harmful, being ungrateful and showing a general lack of appreciation, expecting us to drop everything and pay attention to them right this second!, and asking us to do things for them which they could do themselves if they just put in a bit of effort. As we talked, we poured the water, the energy, into those jars. By the time we’d made it through the list, my energy jar was in the danger zone of near depletion.
After spending what little energy I had left in my jar on our marriage, I had nothing left for personal growth, friends, or family. Brian had a bit more energy in his jar because his has been less depleted by the grief and subsequent healing following my dad’s death, but by the time he reached Friends and Other Family, he was down to mere drops.
Once we illustrated spending our energy, we talked about ways they could help us keep our energy reserves up. We filled our jars from the small jars of their names while we talked about how they could work on being more helpful, showing more appreciation, respecting our boundaries, having better attitudes, apologizing when they’ve made a hurtful or harmful choice, trying to do something on their own before asking us for help, and generally being a bit more focused on the others in the family and a little less focused on themselves. By eliminating the energy expenditure on those things, Brian and I both moved well above the danger zone and suddenly I had enough energy to spend on personal growth, family, and friends, with energy to spare.
It is easy to bemoan how difficult it is to be an intentional parent. It is a tough job, and I’ve been tired for weeks. But it isn’t optional if I want my children to grow into kind, compassionate, respectful, responsible adults. Empathy and compassion have to be taught and reinforced. Most children aren’t inclined to see their parents as regular people with feelings, emotions, and needs, and that’s not their fault. They are children just learning how to live in this world. It’s my responsibility as an adult, as a parent, to do my best to teach lessons just like this one to them. It’s my job to lead by example, to be authentic and vulnerable, to set clear expectations, and reinforce healthy boundaries.
I don’t know yet if this lesson will take hold, if they will understand and use what they saw to make positive changes in their behavior.I don’t know if they will look back in their adult years and be a bit ahead of the self-care-as-a-parent game because of what we tried to teach them today. What I do know is that Brian and I are (in part) responsible for the adults they learn to become and we take that responsibility seriously. So we’ll love our girls through every single bump in the road and even have more after school specials in the future, if they’re necessary.
Additional Note: Setting the jars in order of how we prioritize each category showed us just how far down on the list our marriage came. Although we both recognized we’ve had less energy to spend on each other recently, it was a bit shocking to see so clearly why this is the case. With our relationship being the foundation on which everything about our family rests, this was a wake-up call to shuffle some priorities around and make sure we keep our foundation strong and solid.