A photo with a cup of coffee in the background with an overlayed text box that says: can you pour from an empty cup? And two faux buttons. The one on the left says yes, the one on the right says no, but I have to.

Stop telling moms they can’t pour from an empty cup

Stop telling moms they can’t pour from an empty cup. They already know.

Can you pour from an empty cup? Of course not. We know this, and we even agree with it. That doesn’t mean that when we are struggling, maybe even asking for help that hearing “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is helpful.

It actually makes use even more depleted when we hear it.

Basically, imagine you walk past someone on the street and their leg is broken. Maybe you notice and decide to engage with them. Or maybe they ask for your help. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

Their leg is broken, and they can’t move.

You look at them and tell them, “wow, you cant walk on a broken leg”. Then carry on with your life.

Do you see how passively saying this isn’t helpful for a mom who is struggling?

Even though what you are saying is one hundred percent true. It does more harm than good.

I have my suspicions for why people say this so freely, and it’s based on when I have said it in the past.

We are also running on empty cups. So we have nothing more to offer, despite really wanting to help.

So an empty phrase make US, the speaker fell better, but not the recipient of those words.

We don’t know how to help someone who is proverbially drowning.

How do we dive down into the depths that is motherhood with someone? We can’t see their thought patterns, their schedules, the way they carry the weight of the world around with them.

And it’s overwhelming to explore that with someone. Because it’s uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable because we have some belief that if someone confides in us, or we see them struggling that we are responsible for helping or fixing them.

This is not true. Most people just want to know they aren’t alone, or crazy for how they feel.

You can just sit with them in the depths.

Here are some other alternative responses that aren’t “you can’t pour from an empty cup”

  1. Would you like to brainstorm ways you can support yourself in this? If I do this I always first make sure I have the time and energy to do this with someone. I don’t want to make offers I can’t go through with. I also make it explicitly known that “no” is a full sentence and they are welcome to decline my offer.
  2. Ask if you can offer your experience or advice. Make sure you get their consent first. Often times unsolicited advice or story sharing can feel like even more of a drain than a support. Again, let them know that “no” is perfectly acceptable.
  3. Can I do (insert specific form of support here) for you? Rather thank asking “is there anything I can do for you?” make an easy offer they can either decline or accept. Often times asking when someone needs creates more burden unintentionally because people don’t want to ask for what they really want, or they just don’t even know what to ask for.

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