Our Capacities Change.

By: Jen Shoop

I was talking to my brother the other day, and we had a long conversation about the recent-onset moodiness of our respective six-year-old daughters. It was wild, because my niece lives around the globe, and yet her behaviors were a mirror image of my own daughter’s! We were musing about the reasons for this, comparing hard-gotten hypotheses. One big one I threw out: this is a big year of academic transition for them, and they’re now a few months in and things are really clicking. First grade is decidedly different from Kinder: more rules, more academics, higher expectations, homework — and less play, less looseness. There are also burgeoning and complicating social dynamics. I have watched from afar as my daughter has shed certain friends from last year and gained new ones. This is to be expected, but all of these transitions and newnessnes mean that she comes home and needs to let it all out, and sometimes “letting it all out” is not particularly pretty. Anyhow, we are working through it, but one thing my brother observed was that some days (and even more narrowly, some times of day), he finds he’s more capable of working through the emotional melee, and others, he’s less. “If she has one of these outbursts on a Saturday morning while I’m lazily making eggs, I’m good. But on a weeknight, while I’m already angrily cooking broccoli on the stove? No.”

Our capacities as parents change day in and day out.

This is such a simple but astute observation, and it ladders up to our conversations about becoming an expert in yourself. Are there ways to anticipate and cushion when I’ll be at my lowest? Are there ways to lean into the harder parts of parenting when I’m more energized? For example, I know that when my daughter is very upset, I’ve learned that it’s not the time to try to trot out advice. She wants to rage, and she needs to let it out — not be instructed. (This may or may not be the case for yours — but when my daughter has a meltdown, I’ve learned the best path forward is to try to sit with her until it blows over, fully, and then slowly coax her back into a conversation.) In those situations, I often tell myself, “When she’s calmed down, I’ll have x conversation with her.” But my brother’s point made clear that it’s important to plan to have those conversations when I’m at my fullest and most giving as a parent. So — for me, and probably many of us — not between the hours of 6-8 p.m. at night. Of course there are times where something needs to be addressed immediately, but there are also instances where I want to talk to her when she’s in a calm frame of mind about how we could have handled something differently, or when I want to reinforce something in quiet, 60-degree-temperature chat. I’ve recently learned that I have a little pocket of good energy around 3:30, when my children come through the door, bursting with news from their worlds. I have had so many excellent and gentle conversations with my daughter right then. She’s decompressed (somewhat) from school on the way home or via after school sports, she’s happy to be out of her uniform, and she nearly always has something urgent and light-hearted she needs to tell me — “pizza day tomorrow!” or “I got a new book!” or “I made this in art class!” Just before bed, after she’s been read- and sung-to, is also sometimes a good time. We are both sometimes peaceful and wound-down.

I think back to the days when I had a baby and toddler, and geez! I wish I’d had more of this perspective then. Some days I simply did not have the capacity to, for example, let my kids play with paint, or involve them in a baking project, or take them on an errand. Sometimes I did not even feel like I could deal with cleaning up after serving them a dinner involving orzo or rice — it was just too much! (I remember weeping one morning as I picked bits of scrambled egg up from the carpet on my hands and knees.) Other days, though, I could handle these undertakings just fine. I wish I’d paid more attention to the differences between these days. Because when I pushed myself to move forward with something on a low-energy afternoon, I’d find myself cringing my way through — and what was that for? Who was I serving? Not myself or my children. It would have been better for me to feed them waffles (I remember a friend of mine responding to my scrambled egg sob story with: “that’s why I feed them waffles in the morning” — I think of her every time I put an Eggo in the toaster) or plop them in the bath with some Duplos instead. (A Magpie mom once told me that her key strategy as a parent to really young children was: “put a fish in water.” They love it, it’s an instant mood re-set, and sometimes you can get away with “sit-er-vising” — e.g., supervising while sitting on the floor of the bathroom without needing to do anything at all. Water play, preferably outdoor, is also a great “put a fish in water” solution.) Anyway, hindsight is 20/20, but I know I was not fully in tune with my own fluctuating capacities at that time. I’d just truck on through, like an 18-wheeler on fumes.

One of the big challenges of parenthood, though, is that our children are not in sync with our capacity meters. They might (often) ask a lot of us when we’re running on low. And that’s just how it is. We’ve got to muscle through and do our best in those moments. But to the extent that I can take my own temperature, I can learn to put off the things that can be put off until I’m in a better headspace, or at least see that I’m having a particularly difficult time mainly because I’m being asked to do a lot when I’m already over-stimulated/over-exhausted/over-everything-ed. And sometimes just seeing that lets a little air out of the bag, you know? Like, yes, this is really hard right now, because you’re being pulled in twenty directions and you’re a human being. Give yourself grace. Let yourself slouch a little. Forgive yourself for not being 100%. You’ll be back in the saddle soon.

Curious if any of you have any thoughts or intel on how to navigate these peaks and valleys?


*Image above from our first NYC apartment. Mini was 18 months or so and I was expecting micro. Mr. Magpie snapped this photo and I love it, right down to the rain boots I’m sure we could not get our daughter to stop wearing that day.

+Motherhood is a surfeit.

+Maintaining wonder as a parent.

+All the wonders.

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Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+I did order one of the Chantecaille bronzing tints (<<20% off here if you spend over $200). I keep hearing such good things. I hear its less like skincare / provides a bit of coverage vs. Drunk Elephant’s popular D-Bronzi drops. (BTW, when I was sick earlier this week, I obviously did my favorite “secret single behavior” thing: watch beauty TikTok-ers. So many of them contour in ways I’ll never be able to replicate but I find it so enjoyable and relaxing to watch? The bronzing tint from Chantecaille is my way of dipping my toe in the pond.)

+Random, but I was just reading a Reddit thread in which people were raving about a jar opener. Not a can opener — but a jar opener. This one looks to be the best, from a brand I trust.

+One of Mr. Magpie’s favorite kitchen things: his vac sealer. This is helpful when he’s using his sous-vide equipment, but also for stowing leftovers. He’s obsessed. This was a gift from our sister-in-law and it is deeply loved.

+This chunky knit sweater is absolutely perfect. Like the perfect cropped length to pair with metallic jeans (<<the pair I have, just restocked!; look for less with these) or a sequin skirt (<<20% off with code MAGPIE20) or just old Levis!

+Speaking of my VB jeans, VB is offering 20% off its sale section. Tempted by this fabulous jacket (they are the queen of outerwear) and this gorgeous summer dress. Included in the sale: my favorite blazer of the moment and this spectacular gown (now under $300).

+When I mentioned I was eyeing a lot of items at Mate the Label for elevated lounge, a few of you wrote to say that you prefer the fancy sweatpants from The Great mainly because they “hang better.” I’m very intrigued and contemplating ordering both and writing detailed reviews for us all. Are there any other competitors I’m not thinking of in the category of higher-end lounge?

+FWIW, I do still love my Gap sweats. They’re a bit more retro / less slouchy than The Great, and not quite as stylized as the Mate pair, but they have a great fit.

+At the other end of the spectrum: two really elegant dresses I found recently. This one for a mid-winter wedding and this one for a formal luncheon or even a meeting/presentation of some kind (dress code / context permitting).

+Most of Little English’s site is 30% off. I love their patterned turtlenecks for my son — good time to buy for next year, or even the winter still ahead! He has the toy soldier one for this holiday season. Too cute.

+Thinking ahead, I love Lila + Hayes pajamas for my son but also their dresses for my daughter — they’re all really soft pima cotton but have a traditional look (like a collar, or a drop waist). Something my daughter and I can both agree on. This is sweet for Easter, and this is precious for the spring season more generally.

+Two chic cover-ups to consider if you’re warm-weather-bound in the coming weeks: this Sea and this Natalie Martin.

+If my son didn’t already have a winter jacket, I’d be all over this one. SO CUTE.

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6 thoughts on “Our Capacities Change.

  1. Whilst I enjoy reading all your posts, I feel like some are an arrow straight to my heart in terms of the way they speak to me.

    If I had to estimate, there’s usually at least one post every few months that makes me feel this way, but you’ve now managed to do it to me twice in as many weeks – this and the ‘calling’ post have given me so much to ruminate over, in the best kind of way. Thank you Jen!

    1. Leigh! I’m so glad to hear this — thanks so much for taking the time to let me know. Sometimes when I hesitate to publish something, I think to myself: “But maybe there’s one person out there that needs to hear this today or is walking in this SAME path and we can together feel less alone.” It is so reassuring to know there are other women going through the same things as I am.

      Onward, friend!


  2. Love how you articulated this. Just “naming it” helps a lot! One evening recently I was supervising tooth brushing (my LEAST fave thing to do – I’m always irritated) and for some reason instead of rushing through it, I just noticed how exhausted I was. That helped. And then later I was able to uncover how much I judge having any energy left at the end of the day as WRONG and like I haven’t spent my time well. I used to play soccer, and we were trained to “leave it all on the field.” Meaning that we were to exhaust every last ounce of our physical, mental and emotional reserves in competition. I realized that I was subconsciously applying this principle to my SAHM days, feeling that it’s taboo to conserve the smallest ounce of margin – mental, emotional or otherwise – in my day. Not that there’s much margin to conserve as a mom – it all gets spent anyway – but it was a helpful paradigm shift just to realize that maybe it would be ok to take a tiny break before tackling the bedtime routine, etc.

    1. Ooh, Kristin – I love this insight. Such a great connection you forged there, too. This connects with some of my own thoughts this year about prioritizing rest. Like, why do I push myself to the very margin and specifically sacrifice my own sleep? It’s OK to let yourself rest!

      Thanks for the thought provoking note.


  3. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that seeing where you’re at lets a little bit of air out of the bag. I often find the same. Acknowledging what I’m feeling and essentially saying “I see you too” helps put a little wind in the sails…and here’s why: If your body/soul/system isn’t getting what it needs, it will rage like a toddler, getting louder and louder and more dominant until it is heard. If you can turn your attention inward, if I can turn my attention inward, just for a moment and feel my own pain, witness my own needs, it helps that part quiet a bit. Keeping my finger on my own pulse is so important.

    I love your prompt of thinking ahead of time…how full will my tank be? How can I make life easier for myself, bolster myself, prepare myself for the inevitable moments when my tank gets low?

    I particularly think of this during different phases of my menstrual cycle and approach myself differently then but I like the idea of thinking through different times of day too. Or even different seasons. I’ll be welcoming baby #2 in a few months and taking some time now to think through questions like “what can we do to make 4pm-7pm easier?” might help a lot.

    1. Hi Joanna — These insights and questions are so spot-on. I agree that giving attention to the way you feel is the way out — versus ignoring / muscling through / shoving that feeling out the door / etc. You need to feel it to release it, or at least work through it.

      Sending you so much love as you become a mother to two! Love your thoughtfulness / headspace as you approach the transition.


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