How To Improve Your Emotional Wellbeing As An Overwhelmed Parent

How full is your jar?

Growing up did you ever have a set of jars where you added a bit of loose change or money from an allowance or doing chores? This was your savings jar and it was so exciting to see it get filled.

When it was full, the possibilities were endless. 

I remember I would get a dime every time I did my household chore (mine was emptying the garbage cans around the house). While I didn’t get an allowance, I was able to save up from birthday money and those precious dimes. 

I remember setting a goal of having 100 dollars by the time I was 10 years old. If I had one hundred full dollars I would be rich!! Holy crap!

I kept the money in my clothing drawer and it was so cool when I met my goal.

I have no idea what I spent the money on. 

Candy most likely. 

I’m still spending my money on candy. And I still have about 100 dollars. Being an adult is expensive, yo! And apparently you can’t get away anymore with only offering a dime to your kids when they do chores. Times have changed. Inflation gets you every time.

Luckily, today we aren’t talking about money. I’m clearly NOT a financial advisor (but I have some great recommendations for afternoon snacks). 

Today we are talking about your emotional savings jars. The jars that need to be regularly tended to and filled so you don’t go into emotional debt. And you know what that debt feels like because you have been there and it sucks! Think overwhelm, breakdowns, crying over the things that normally wouldn’t set you off, screaming at your partner or kids, having a super short fuse and just not being your best self. It’s a mess. 

Let’s figure out how to prevent that from happening again.

Here are the types of emotional jars that we have as adults that we need to fill:

Feelings Jar
Relational Jar
Mental Health Jar
Energy Jar
Jar of Trust 

and Jar Jar Binks. Obviously. 

Your feelings jar is the jar you pull from when you need courage to get through trying times or to have the strength to be vulnerable. Think: those times where you need to let your partner into your heart even when you are so angry at them. Or when you need to scoop up your son and hug him and validate his emotions even though he’s on your last nerve and quite frankly, is being a jerk to you.

Your relational jar is the one you pull from when the kids get too much and you need to remember going on a date and getting away from the kids is just as important as parenting them.  

The mental health jar is the one you fill by practicing self care and putting yourself first. This jar is typically pretty empty for parents who give and give and give and forget to replenish themselves. You need your mental health jar for the day to day stresses that pile up and overwhelm and bog you down so that streams do not end up breaking camel’s backs. 

Your energy jar is also crucial for day to day survival. When things are too much, you need boosts of energy to help you by. The energy jar is filled every time you find little moments of joy throughout the day. It’s small things like your kid laughing at your joke, or a good cup of tea. It may also be taking time to exercise or eat well (do not look to me for advice on eating well, as I’ve made abundantly clear I cannot help you). 

Finally, let’s talk about your jar of trust! This is a shared family jar and it gets filled by each person in a relationship. You have a jar of trust between you and your partner/co-parent, you have a jar of trust between you and your kid. You even have jars of trust between you and your kid’s teachers or coaches or school. 

Every interaction we have with each other can either deplete or fill our jar of trust. While you aren’t going to be perfect (seriously, you won’t! Do not try to be perfect. Mistakes are allowed), you do want to ensure that your jar of trust is more full than empty. 

How do you fill your jar of trust? 

For your tweens and teens, the jar is filled when you are present with them, when you validate their feelings, when you show interest in their life, when you let them explore (and make mistakes) without shaming them, when you sit with them as they cry over a mistake that “they should have known better” and you don’t tell them they should have known better, when you let them feel their feelings without trying to fix them, when you do provide them structure and boundaries and accountability, when you teach them life skills, then when you give them space to show you those life skills. Simply put, your teen’s jar is filled when when you trust them!

But hold on, don’t they have to earn that trust?

Sort of. 

Here’s how it works. When kids are younger you need to take the lead on filling the jar more than them because they don’t yet have the currency to do so. Your role is to model trust by behaving in a way that tells them you will be there for them as they try to explore and navigate the difficult teen years. Parenting means you are always filling the jar slightly more than your kids will because they need to look to you to be their safe haven.

By now you are wondering whether I am saying you should just never have guidelines or boundaries and that they can get away with attitude and back-talk and all sorts of unpleasant behavior. 

No. Definitely not. 

Trust isn’t about letting them do whatever they want and hoping for the best. Trust is about proving to them that you will be there, without judgement or scorn, when they don’t do their best. 

Then supporting them with what they need to make better choices next time. 

Kids do the best they can with what they know and have. If they aren’t behaving well, it is because they are struggling with something like an emotion, a mental health concern, a social or romantic situation, or even a worry that maybe you aren’t there for them. if in the past your have not been able to validate their emotions or support some of their needs they may have trepidation about being vulnerable with you.*

When tweens and teens don’t feel they can be vulnerable, instead they get protective and defensive. This is what we consider back-talk or attitude. Projections of fear that need soothing not reprimanding. 

However, trust also comes from providing them developmentally appropriate boundaries, structure, and accountability. 

*It is NEVER too late to make repairs. Remember EVERY interaction can add to the jar of trust and fill it up again. 

A few weeks ago we talked about responding to fact with fact and I suggested that kids can 100% learn how to employ these healthy conversation strategies, they just need to be shown how. I also suggested that they can do this without sacrificing their need to express themselves. Because teens truly need to express themselves. 

Why? Because developmentally they are at an absolute prime time in their life where they need to figure out assertiveness and the impact they have on others. It will be clunky and awkward and painful for them and you. It will feel like your once-loving bond has flown out the window. But for them it is trial and error and what they need is guidance from you. 

Too often when we see bad behavior we try to talk the teen out of it without getting to the root of why they are behaving that way. We say “don’t be rude”, without asking why they are exploding all the time over the most minute things. 

Trust me, your teen doesn’t want to take that attitude with you. But they don’t know alternatives for getting their emotions and needs heard, felt, and organized. 

Being a parent means being wiser: being able to see beyond the behavior and into the persons inner state. Then working with them to help regulate their inner state so that behavior (the symptom) improves. 

How? Yes, of course I am going to remind you about the absolutely amazingly helpful roadmap laid out in the MHFA course. 

We also help by modelling. If you want your teen to respond to fact with fact? You do it first. If you want your teen to validate emotions and listen? You do it first. 

You helped them walk, you helped them talk, you taught them about cars on the road and wearing their seatbelt, and why they have to eat some veggies. They learned it from you. They learn their emotional and behavioral regulation and communication styles from you too. 

Modelling the interactions you want to see helps fill the jar more and more each time.