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The “Spoon Theory” Story: A Story for the Overwhelmed Mom

Updated: Mar 31

There’s kind of this thing happening on TikTok and Instagram reels right now….”Tell me you’re x without telling me you’re x.”

For example: Tell me you're a nurse without telling me you're a nurse.

Bloody noses aren't a crisis.

I buy bandages - and stickers - in bulk.

I hear breathing patterns without thinking.

I've complimented a stranger's veins.

Or: Tell me you’re the oldest without telling me you’re the oldest.

· I buy all the gifts for my mom from my dad for every major holiday

· I plan to go early to help mom for holidays and bring 3 home-made things to contribute. My sister is only told to “show up when she can.”

· I do all laundry before traveling home from college so I can pack what I need. My younger sibling brings home 8 loads and takes up all the trunk space in the car.

Let’s do a mom one: Tell me you are completely overwhelmed without telling me you are completely overwhelmed.

● Sitting in the driveway/parking lot is the most relaxing part of my day.

● I've contemplated the idea of calling in sick just to nap.

● The idea of making one more decision makes me nauseous.

● I welcome doctors’ visits because they are legitimate reasons to leave work.

One of the hardest parts about being an overwhelmed mom is detecting where to offload the overwhelm. I mean, just about everything is easier if “I just do it.” But that leads to this cycle of just being so constantly worn out, and so close to the edge, and just unable to do literally one more thing.

So, how do you even start to get people to understand? Especially the people whose help would be impactful if they did understand your level of overwhelm? Well, see if this story helps at all.

Christine Miserandino suffered with Lupus, a chronic condition that does not seem to have any obvious physical manifestation. For this reason, Miserandino wanted to communicate to friends and families that she physically felt limited in terms of what she could accomplish in a single day. She created Spoon Theory, a metaphor to better explain her abilities for the day. Have you heard of it?

The idea is simple: Miserandino explained that every morning she started with a set amount - say 20 - of spoons. Different tasks required a different number of spoons. Calling and arguing with the insurance company might take four spoons; standing and doing the dishes might take another three spoons - multiplied by three meals, that is 12 spoons! By this count, one might only have four spoons left!

Two wooden spoons. The spoon theory is a metaphor overwhelmed moms in St. Louis can use to communicate about their stress. For therapy for moms, call Marble Wellness today to get started!

For you, some tasks may take away different energy depending on the day. That's okay! It's unreasonable for a mom to expect a consistent approach across the board. It probably depends on sleep that night; if you had any fun recently; where you are in your cycle; and so much more! So, if you do adopt this, know that it can fluctuate a bit. It's more about giving you a way to conceptualize, and almost more importantly, communicate about your capacity.

And here's the thing. When it comes down to it, we really all have a finite amount of energy to accomplish various responsibilities. We feel stress--or sometimes more sneakily: overwhelm-- when we feel like our responsibilities exceed our capacities - or our number of spoons.

Mom playing with son. Overwhelmed moms in St. Louis can come to Marble Wellness for counseling for moms. Call today!

If you have been trying to work from home while also facilitating learning, you are also probably down some spoons. If you have experienced existential dread due to a global pandemic, you are also probably down some spoons. Likewise, if you battle with PTSD, ADHD, depression, a chronic health condition, or any other kind of mental health issue, chances are good your default is simply a lower number of spoons.

But this is not just to remind you of your limitations. This can open a way for you to honestly discuss your needs. Imagine if you could explain to your partner that you cannot decide on dinner. It certainly is not that you want to skip dinner; rather, the thought of making another decision is overwhelming. But if you had the vocabulary to tell your partner, "Hey, right now, I do not have the spoons needed to make that decision. Do you mind taking over for dinner?"...would that help?

Three moms in park with strollers. Marble Wellness offers therapy for moms in St. Louis, MO. We can help overwhelmed moms feel less stressed, more capable, and happier. Call today to start with one of our in-person West County therapists!

Would it be easier to say no to others if you could quantify your energy into units? Could you say no to the PTO board if you knew you only had the energy to send a donation? Would it be easier to accept an invitation from friends if you knew it would replenish your spoon supply? Would you prioritize the gym if you knew it would create more spoons? Would you end up being a better decision-maker for yourself if you could implement something like this?

There is no shame in having these boundaries. There should be no shame in saying them out loud, either. Fair warning, though: it might be naïve to think everyone you encounter will respect them. (That's a blog post for another time. But TL;DR: people who don't respect those boundaries----that's more of an indicator of some unhealthy stuff they are bringing into the relationship.) Critical to you, your functioning, and your path to being able to thrive: establishing those boundaries internally.

If you pressure yourself into biting into more than you have spoons to eat, others do not feel obligated to do more for you than you yourself will do for you. The first step then is to establish boundaries for you, by you - lead by example. It's truly a way to open your world, though it may seem like you're closing it.

Go ahead, give it a try. You're already an overwhelmed mom, what do you have to lose?

Talk to you soon!

gold lotus with navy words that say Marble Wellness. Marble Wellness is a St. Louis counseling practice that provides in-person therapy for depression, anxiety, maternal mental health, relationships, and more. Reach out today to get started!

Additional Counseling Services at Marble Wellness

Counseling services designed to help set you on a path of living a more fulfilled, calm, and happy life. We specialize in anxiety, depression, grief, chronic illness, therapy for men, couples, and maternal overwhelm. We can also help new moms with various postpartum concerns, moms in the thick of parenting, and moms with teens. We can also chat from wherever you are in the state with online therapy in Missouri and