Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I’m running behind
These lyrics by Jackson Browne aren’t just a throwback to the ’70s. They ring true even today, as life gets busier, things fall apart, and the gas tank runs low. And if there’s anyone who can understand how it feels to “run on empty,” it’s a mom of three kids. Whitney Fleming of Playdates on Fridays is one such mom.
Fleming recently shared an image of her gas tank on Facebook. The needle was dangerously close to empty, and frankly, so was Fleming. She shares in her post:
“The warning light came on as I backed out of my driveway.
‘You are almost out of gas!’ it screamed at me.
If I had a gauge like this on all aspects of my life right now, the warning light would be on.
Relationships: running on empty
Job performance: close to empty
Parenting: hanging-on-by-a-thread empty
Taking care of myself: dead empty.”
And moms everywhere nod and say me too, girlfriend. Me. Too.
Between back-to-school schedule changes, sports practices and games, and adjusting to whatever new phase of childhood or adolescence our kids are currently wading through, the days can become too busy and too exhausting to function. Then throw in a leaky roof, a broken down car, or a sick kid, and you’ve met your max.
“I constantly run on fumes, hoping if I can just make it to the next place, do the next thing, I can possibly fill up my tank,” Fleming writes in her post.
But therein lies the problem — when does that ever happen? “Fill your cup,” we often hear. “Take care of Mom — you can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.” To those people, I sat this: When is there time to fill our own damn cup?! When will we actually be able to fill up our own personal tank when there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all?
And that’s precisely why Fleming chose to share this story. She tells Babble that she knows this struggle is something most moms can relate to, regardless of how old their kids are, how many they have, or whether or not they work. We’ve all felt that running on empty feeling. And it seems 2017 has really put Fleming through the ringer.
“The past year I have felt completely overwhelmed, like I just can’t keep my head above water,” she shares. “I’ve gone back to work and my three daughters are in middle school and extremely active with sports and other activities. I also volunteer for a few non-profits and our school district. When everything goes according to plan, it seems to work, but lately, my mojo has been off.”
Fleming says her laptop recently broke, which got her behind with work. Then the kitchen sink clogged and the plumber took a few days to fix it, which left her unable to cook and with a sink full of dirty dishes.
“The school bus was coming way early and my kids missed it,” she continues, listing off the myriad of things that have suddenly become all too much. “The kids have had extra assignments or activities because of back to school. First world problems, indeed, but the stress has been building. My plan was to be extremely productive this morning and I had a to-do list ready to tackle, but when I looked down and saw that I forgot to get gas the night before, I realized my head was just not on straight. And I just felt empty, just like my gas tank.”
And it was then, as Fleming looked at her empty gas tank (literally and figuratively), that she knew she had to do some self-care. Or she would truly run out of gas. So after filling her car, she put aside the stress of the clogged sink and insurance paperwork, and filled up herself instead. Because, “Like finding the nearest gas station, we have to seek out what makes us feel full, what makes us feel complete,” she says in her Facebook post.
How then, did she fill her own tank? “I ordered school supplies for victims of Hurricane Harvey,” she shares on Facebook. “I cooked a breakfast I actually wanted to eat. I made dinner reservations for my family this weekend, ensuring we would spend some quality time together. And I write. Just for me.”
Fleming also tells Babble that it helps, on stressful days like this one, to have some perspective.
“Although I felt empty and beat down this morning, I also know that my family is currently safe from a hurricane, my kids are healthy and I have a job I love,” she explains. “That’s why I did something for someone else today (donating to a charity) and for myself. I can’t be so self-absorbed that I don’t realize that my problems are minor but I also realize that this is a very ‘busy’ stage of life, and self-care is also important. I think most of us — particularly frazzled moms — try to have gratitude for all that we have, but sometimes the little things in life can wear us down. And that’s okay. Just as long as we don’t let those things keep us down.”
Fleming ends her post by cautioning the rest of us to watch for the warning signs — the flashing lights and alarms that shout “You’re running low!” and listen to them before it’s too late.
“I know I didn’t,” she says. “And I almost ran out of gas. Take care of yourself today.”