I think just about everyone has heard the expression, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” The first time my therapist said it to me, I had to hold back an eye roll.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I need to take care of myself first. I get it. I bet you’re gonna tell me next about the airplane mask analogy. We have to put on our masks before helping others … blah blah blah.
I’m an exhausted mom of two, a wife, a business owner, a psychologist, and an author. I’ve heard my share of the “you gotta take care of yourself, mama!” talking points. So, having my therapist toss out the old empty cup analogy didn’t mean much.
Until he said the next thing.
“Amber, it’s not just that you need to fill your own cup. You need to let it overflow. Your cup should be filled so excessively full that it’s brimming over the edge, then spilling out onto the cups that are held out underneath it. You give to them from the abundance of your cup.”
He explained that if I am taking proper care of myself, my cup will never run low. The goal is not to get my cup just filled up enough so that I have something to offer my kids, my husband, my job, and my friends and family. The goal is to take such excellent care of myself that my cup overflows. I pour into the cups of the people I love from the abundance of my cup.
I’ll be honest, this threw me off. I grew up learning that moms like me are supposed to put themselves last — to give everything they have to the people in their care (including their adult husbands). Was I really allowed to put myself first? To seek my own needs and THEN seek the needs of my family? My therapist’s way sounded better, but old teachings die hard.
As I started putting his instructions into practice, I wondered how I had ever believed it should be any other way. I started taking care of myself, insisting on time to shower every day, to exercise, to see friends and to make time for my hobbies. Yes, it took some of my time away from my children and my husband. And for a little while, there was some push back. But I kept at it, and eventually, everyone settled into the new normal.
I am a better mom when I am taking good care of myself. I have more energy for my kids, more patience and willingness to play. I find myself seeking them out instead of counting down the hours until their bedtime. And with a mom who has so much happy energy to give, their lives are better, too.
I am a better wife. I am less snippy, less inclined to complain. I’m satisfied, fulfilled. What is there to complain about when I am busy taking care of my own needs? Our sex life has become spicier than ever, which has certainly improved my husband’s life.
I am more focused at my job, more present with my friends, and more dependable toward my extended family members. I give to them from my abundance, and as a result, we are all full.
Take time to take care of yourself. Good self care means making yourself a priority. It is not selfish to put yourself first. And you’ll find that by putting yourself first, you naturally become a better person for the people in your care.
Amber Wardell, Ph.D. is a business owner and author. www.amberwardell.com