Running on Empty

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I want a vacation, even a long weekend, all by myself with no one else to clothe, no one to come to the bathroom with me or to ask to nurse in the middle of the flower store. Maybe it’s the developmentally appropriate but exhausting conflicts that come with having a 2 1/2 year old. Maybe it’s that the last three years have been hard ones full of lay-offs and other money concerns, health challenges and innumerable other setbacks that add up over time. I’m sure there’s not one cause.

What I do know is that I need alone time and big sleep. I need to attend to my own needs. I just can’t seem to do it in a way that has any lasting effect. We used to go to playdates and the park, but as kids have moved into toddlerhood and hit each other or grab toys or yell, my sweet and sensitive son has become more and more resistant to being around other kids. That park and playdate time gave me space in my day to recharge, to talk to other mamas going through the same things we were, to feel less isolated and more supported, to get ideas.

It’s not like I don’t have help. My mom lived in an apartment close by through this past winter and hung out with my son two or three afternoons a week. The time they were together was never enough for me to get recharged. I was just catching up. My husband and son will hang out for five or six hours on a Saturday so I can run errands, write, garden, sleep in or read. It’s not enough.

I’m missing the pre-mama days, when I could browse at the library for as long as it took me to find books or I could sleep in on a Sunday morning and go to a movie in the afternoon, when I could give myself a break if I needed one. It used to be that after a few months of working 50+ hour weeks, I’d start counting down to Friday’s end of business. I’d spend Sundays dreading going back to work the next day. When I’d start feeling like that, I’d schedule some vacation days and whether I was leaving town or not, I’d  give myself some extended time to just take care of myself. Now I don’t really have the option of giving myself that kind of time. We’re breastfeeding and co-sleeping and my son’s not quite ready for school. And that’s all okay. I don’t want to stop doing those things.

But I don’t want to be counting hours until nap or bedtime. I don’t want to spend the time I’m with my son wishing for a break. So, I’m looking for suggestions. How do you renew yourself when you’re out of fun re-directs to avoid a conflict or you lack the energy to come up with new games and give your days some variety?

I know it will be years before my son is ready to be in school every day or he’s ready for a slumber party or sleep-away camp. In the meantime, how do I get back to being the happy, fun, engaged mama I like to be?

Sonya Feher is a mama and writer living in Austin, Texas. She blogs at

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Author: Sonya Feher

Sonya Fehér is mama to Cavanaugh True. She is the leader of the S. Austin chapter of API and is a professional organizer with spaceWise Organizing where she helps individuals and families create space for how they want to live.

9 thoughts on “Running on Empty”

  1. I can so relate! My DS has been very high-needs since birth. It wasn’t until we night-weaned at 2 when he finally started sleeping through the night. Then, at 2 1/4 he gave up his nap and there was a transformation. He started chilling out in the afternoons and going to bed earlier…so, while I’m not solo mid-day, the days as a whole are less intense and now there’s the bonus of him going to bed early enough that I can spend some time with DH and for myself (before I’d just go to bed when DS did). For myself, I run…as soon as DS goes to bed, eat quiet dinner with DH, then craft, blog or read at night now. Still, I’d love a true, solo, vacation but this shift has been enough to keep me off the ledge ;-). Wishing you peace in this journey.

  2. I have no advice, but just wanted to say I am on the same page as you and will be watching the comments section eagerly for ideas!

  3. I think we all get to this place…several times (or more!) during our parenting journey. Keeping the long-term picture in focus is a near-impossible feat, but i swear that these days will pass and slowly evolve into a totally different type of challenge! Now that I have a baby again (after raising a 20 year old, a 14 year old and a 5 year old) I totally miss the days of just falling asleep when i am tired instead of doing the entire mom-of-four-bedtime-routine! Once upon a time I would get to the same place with work and simply schedule a long weekend and fill it up with things I loved to do! How refreshing! And how unattainable now that my 14 month nursling is so dependent on me!

    So, do I have any suggestions other than the usual take a bath, take a walk, schedule a date with your hubby stuff (a date? with who? my hubby? hahaha. Like we have the energy to leave the house) Not really. Of course, Connection Parenting always takes me to a place where I can feel better about parenting. A fellow momma friend just suggested the Buddhism for Mothers books by Sarah Napthali. And I know that Attached at the Heart has some great info and resources about momma burnout…and simply being reminded about why our choice to AP is so important (and worth it!) can help to get the big picture back into focus.

    I know that for me, it is more about where my head is at then any real issue with my kids, or my family. Two identical days can feel vastly different to me because of my emotional approach to parenting. When my heart is in it, I feel connected to my kids, myself, and my family. I can see myself being the fun parent who snuggles, and laughs, and honestly enjoys the family she has created. But, man, when I am upset, or feeling used up, the very same day can turn into an endless day of sighing, saying “i guess i can do that” as I force myself to read yet another story to my kids in a humorless monotone, thrust the baby at my hubby the second he walks in the door and shriek some incoherent babble about “never getting to do anything that I want to do” and crying in the bathtub until someone has to come in and go potty (about 5 minutes, tops) 🙂 And I know all about not being able to hang out with your “local playgroup” because it is just too stressful to deal with the fallout of fighting toddlers who are not capable of sharing yet or keeping their teeth and hands away from one another!

    I hope that you find some small moments of peace everyday that help you feel renewed… I hope i find them, too 🙂

  4. My husband and I both work outside of the home, and we are right there with you! Sometimes it is all I can do to keep going, let alone try and be the supportive, loving mama that I know I am. Stress is a major factor in everyone’s parenting style.

    For a quick and easy relaxing moment, I grab a bag of Mint Milano cookies, a glass of wine, a good book, and head for the bathtub. 30 minutes in there does a world of good for my brain as well as my soul.

    I agree with Jumbleberry Jam that once your child begins going to sleep before you & your spouse makes a world of difference. Sitting on the couch, reading, knitting, or doing some baking are great stress relievers for me.

  5. As a momma of 6 whose oldest is 18 and youngest is almost 3, all I can say is try to find some regular time to refresh and don’t let anyone else tell you what that means. Think about your values and what recharges your battery. I find that it doesn’t take long to recharge if I know I can count on the time coming up….even once every two weeks.
    That said, it is getting harder to find that time amidst the needs of many children of varying ages. Try to soak up those moments of toddler sweetness – they are so very fleeting. There is no perfect answer and many moms will tell you what THEY did, but you have to find the right fit to really feel refreshed. Can your husband pitch in to give you some time off while also promising not to let the house fall apart while you are out? This was my own pet peeve. I needed the time to …try on a bra or bathing suit alone in a fitting room! without paying for it by coming home to a trashed house. But, I am a neat freak, so that’s important to me. If you are the praying type, pray for surrender to your vocation and grace to help you meet their needs while not feeling depleted yourself.

  6. I must admit that I’m new to motherhood and my baby is only 3 months old, so perhaps. I haven’t quite experienced the desperate need to recharge. But I can relate to the challenge and energy needed for AP. I am eager to hear other’s suggestions.

    One of my “must haves” for feeling refreshed is exercise. I am fortunate to have a husband that supports this need. So, no matter how few hours of sleep I get at night, I get up early and exercise. I exercise early (6am-ish), because let’s face it, as the day moves on, the less likely we’ll have time, energy or motivation to get it done. When I do this, I can relax knowing that I began the day taking care of myself

    I also am attempting to stay committed to my formal meditation practice – we’re talking 10 minutes a day – to keep me focused on the present moment. Easier said than done…

    May I also suggest a change in perspective? We went through several years of fertility treatments and a long and emotional adoption process. Every time I think about how I am tired, drained and lacking in personal space, I try to refocus on what I am grateful for. It is a true gift that I can even experience motherhood. So, today, despite all that I need to get done and all that I want for myself, I find myself focusing on a few things that I’m truly grateful for; like when our baby wakes up peacefully, smiles wide at me, sleeps for 4 hours straight, and most importantly, that I get to be his mother.

    Bloomfield, CT

  7. I feel as though you are harboring underlying unresolved issues. I have been there, done that, revisiting there, and so on. What has worked for me is learning to embrace what I hate? I know it may sound retarded but if you keep going against the grain other problems may errupt. Everytime I get overly stressed I find or think of somebody who has a more difficult situation than I. It really does work. I take responsibility for all. I no longer want to resent the idea of woulda, shoulda, coulda. I stay humble and understand it is not all about me. When a negative thought comes I override it with a good thought. You have to renew your mind. You need to find some inspiration and read it constantly until you begin to clean out the bad memories that are trying to overtake you. It can be tiring trying to get you back but if you dont what will happen?

  8. Oh I can so so so relate! I am at mamma burn out right this moment. My hubby is so good and tries and watch the kids while I get housework done but I need a day away to be refreshed. A pedicure a unibrow wax (lol) a shopping day to myself. Right now I am so burnt out on folding laundry and cleaning up messes and breaking up fights. I am running on empty,I am running on fumes. My hubby is such a hard worker and works all day everyday weather he has is at home or work. He watches the kids and is very helpful so I feel guilty that I am still burnt out but, I am still burnt out.

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