You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

If the saying “you have to put your oxygen mask on first” drives you crazy then read on as  Jodie Thornton shares some of her parenting experience from life as an Australian.


I really do worry that my eyes might roll right outta my head when I hear “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.

As if I don’t realise that having a full cup is more fun than being exhausted and exasperated.

Or perhaps that the sleep deprivation or parenting overwhelm might have wiped the very idea of self-care from my memory.

And I’m sure as hell it implies that I’m just not using my time well enough to make space for meditation or massage or manicures.

The phrase leaves me silently screaming over the web to the Super Judgey Parenting Expert that while you don’t know me buddy, I can assure you that I actually do like to look after myself.

These neat little servings of guilt in the “fill your cup” advice sneak their way into nearly every parenting resource.

Every time I came across it, I would search for a way to squeeze some more time to do the things that fill my cup.

But so often when I took time out it made things harder.

I would spend time with a girlfriend and then not have the laundry done and someone’s clothes for school or work weren’t clean or dry.

Or I’d take a long bath and fill that needy ol’ cup all the way to overflowing.

Then somewhere between leaving the peaceful bath and being greeted with yoghurt handprints on my beautiful pyjamas my cup was back to empty.


Like some kind of torturous Groundhog Day.

I couldn’t escape this crap-nugget of advice.

Even when I was looking for parenting advice that was completely unrelated, there’d be an article or paragraph about how you just needed to make the time to fill your cup by letting your partner do more, accepting that it’s not going to be done the way you like it, blah blah blah.

But you see, addressing my perfectionism and managing my anxiety through control is a big ass project and I’m not sure if you’re picking up on a theme here but…


Never wanting to let an expectation go unmet, I focused on making the cup bigger, so I could last longer between refills. In theory.

I took up meditation, read all the advice about how it was so unnecessary to have a short temper with small children because the behaviour is developmentally appropriate, made daily mindset commitments – it’s exhausting just remembering it all.

Everywhere I turned, there was a list that went on and on about how the problem was always me.

That my kids could never be fulfilled if I wasn’t.

It was my inability to stay calm or my inability to make time for massages or my lack of knowledge about normal childhood behaviour, that my mindset was off, that I wasn’t grateful enough.

I realised the truth eventually.

There isn’t a finite amount of water for everyone’s cup.

It isn’t a zero-sum game.

Our cups aren’t filled by someone else’s cup being emptied.

Best of all, the fullness of my cup – or stark emptiness, as the case may be – did not make a single iota of difference to my ability to raise my kids with full cups.

I fill my kids’ cups by meeting their needs.

And empowering them to meet their own needs.

And supporting relationships with their siblings and relations and friends – all fantastic cup-fillers.

I finally learned that the choice isn’t limited to either their cup or my cup.

Sadly, it can also be neither.

And thank fuck it can also be both.

So many parenting experts implied or stated outright that parents simply must learn how to help themselves first.

And yet, I found that sometimes when I was profoundly sad that I had no freaking idea what I needed – just for me – that I STILL had the power to see what they needed, provide it for them and watch their cups fill alllll the way up.

Sometimes my cup is filled from seeing theirs fill. And sometimes it isn’t.

I am keenly aware that the more I learn to deeply know myself that I have more and more ability to help my kids to deeply know themselves.

At the same time, I also see that my kids aren’t as dependent on me modelling self-connection as it might be assumed.

Because I do a fucking good job of protecting their self-connection in the first place.

We’ve grown up in different times, with different attitudes to emotional awareness.

I have better parenting advice at hand than my parents did.

Their self-connection isn’t waiting for mine to be healed because it was never broken in the same way that mine is.

I sure am on my way to knowing who I am, what I need, how to serve myself and how to openly receive support.

My kids aren’t waiting for me to get there.

They’re further up the road, walking their own paths, at their own pace, in their own way.

And we’re cheering each other on.

Jodie Thornton is the Founder of Through It All. Her work is focused on connecting people to their power to change the world by knowing who they are, what they want from life and how to make it happen. Jodie works with parents and young people to provide them with the self-connection, communication skills and support they need to lead potent lives.


Jodie lives in Canberra, Australia with the love of her life and her four children, who are 18, 15, 3 and 1.