5 Ways to Love Your Kids When You're Running on Empty


My son, Caleb, has a new way of telling us how tired he is. He gives us a percentage.
“Mom, my legs are 35%, ” he declares in the middle of downtown Atlanta on vacation.
“Mom, my legs are 8%,” he warns in the line at the grocery store.
“0%. No power,“ he calmly states as he wilts into the ground at Sam’s Club.”

And when I see him there, a part of me thinks, “Me too, buddy. Me too.”

0%. No power.

I so want to love my children like my battery is at 100% all the time, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how in the world that could happen.

My mom did it. She managed to create an atmosphere of love and care in our home when she had to have been at 0% a time or two herself. Even now, my mom is still doing everything she can to remind me of how loved I am.

In a few days, it will be my birthday. My mom is a master of birthdays and holidays. She makes me feel like I’m are the only important person in the world. She tells me what she loves about me. She sends me thoughtful gifts. She asks to spend time with me, but she doesn’t demand my attention. She calls me and texts me and reminds my siblings to call and text.  And those are just what I get when I’m a thirty-five-year-old adult living states away.

My mom’s example is sometimes overwhelming to me. How did she find time to love us so well even one day a year? How did she do it day after day after day? How did she find the strength to pursue us when we pulled away, to listen to us when we weren’t making any sense, and to do just the right thing we needed it?

After reflecting a little myself, I think I’ve figured out how my mom loved me when I know her batteries were running low:

She listened. When chatter spilled from my mouth about friends and people and ideas and activities, she always made me feel like my story was interesting and important. She asked follow-up questions, made understanding faces, and stopped what she was doing to hear me.

She included me in her world. Whether it was a trip to the grocery store or a stop by the Dairy Queen, my mom always invited me and my siblings to come. Sometimes she made us go with her when we didn’t want to, but even though we were mad, there was something about being wanted and valued that made us feel important, and we never knew when a trip to the grocery store and a trip to Dairy Queen might be one and the same.

She told me. My mom was great at telling us she loved us, at praising us for our efforts and for our character. She noticed what I did and told me about it. I felt noticed and affirmed and loved.

She thought about me. My parents would often come home from a date night or a trip or an errand with an extra treat for us. Something about the way mom said, “ I bought those chips you like” sounded to me like, “I love you and know what you like and went out of my way to make sure you know that I was thinking of you today.” For all I know, chips were on her list, but it felt special to me.

She forgave me. I had a bit of a temper growing up. I can be direct. I am not the sensitive and thoughtful woman that my mom is. But every time I stepped out of bounds, my mom forgave me, most of the time before I asked. “There’s nothing you can do to make me stop loving you, but I love you too much to let you act this way,” she would say.

In our material society, loving our kids sometimes feels like so many tasks: making them elaborate Valentine’s boxes and taking them to the zoo and feeding them homemade bread and doing and planning and performing. These things drain my battery all the way to 0%.

But listening doesn’t cost anything, and bringing my son Nathan along to Sam’s Club to get frozen yogurt and have a conversation about nothing doesn’t take any extra time. Telling Isaac that I love it when he smiles and gives me a thumbs up or making sure Caleb’s burger has pickles on it—just the way he likes it—doesn’t take too much energy.

Letting my kids know that nothing they can do will stop me from loving them fills all of us with the energy we need to face a new day.
It’s not the elaborate tasks that charge our batteries. It’s the simple and consistent ones.


Originally written by Laura Wailes for Mothering Beyond Expectations.