When We Have to Conserve the Spoons: How to Prioritise Self-Care without Neglecting our Teens and Family

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Are you passionate about saving the planet and being environmentally friendly? Well, here’s a new project for you: protecting your home ecosystem by conserving spoons!

No, we’re not talking about the kitchen utensils (although those are important too). We’re referring to the Spoon Theory,. The theory suggests that each person has a limited amount of spoons, or units of energy, to use throughout the day.By conserving these spoons, we can better manage our energy and accomplish our goals and build stronger relationships with each other. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore what “conserving spoons” means for parents of neurodivergent teens, why it’s important, and how to do it in a sensitive and effective way.So, let’s explore how conserving spoons can benefit both our relationship between parents and teens and the health of our planet!

Spoon Theory in practice

As parents of neurodivergent teens, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities and challenges on a daily basis. From managing appointments, therapies, and medications to dealing with school issues, social dynamics, and meltdowns, our plate can quickly become full and overwhelming. 

This is where the concept of “conserving spoons” comes into play. Coined by Christine Miserandino, “conserving spoons” refers to the idea of managing your energy and resources strategically, so that you can accomplish what’s most important to you without depleting yourself to the point of exhaustion or burnout. 

It’s a metaphor that describes the limited amount of energy or “spoons” that people with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or mental health conditions have to spend each day. Every task or activity, from getting out of bed to cooking a meal, requires a certain number of spoons, and once they’re gone, there’s no more energy left to do anything else. This can be a difficult concept to grasp for people who don’t experience chronic limitations, but it’s essential to understand for those who do, especially parents who have to care for their children whilst dealing with their own health challenges

Parenting with our own challenges

As a parent with a chronic illness or disability, you may find that you have to conserve your spoons carefully to manage your symptoms, prevent flares or exacerbations, and maintain your well-being. This may involve making some tough choices and trade-offs between your needs and your family’s needs, especially when you have limited support or resources. You may have to skip some activities, delegate some tasks, or say “no” more often than you’d like, which can be hard to do without feeling guilty, selfish, or inadequate.

Family Dynamics and You

Moreover, you may have to navigate the dynamics of your family, especially your teenagers, who may not understand or appreciate your limitations or may resent the changes in their routine or expectations. They may feel frustrated, angry, or worried when you can’t do what you used to do, or when you have to cancel plans or withdraw from activities. They may also feel neglected, unsupported, or burdened when they have to pick up the slack or adjust their own behaviour to accommodate yours.

Tips on Conserving your spoons

So, how can you prioritise self-care and conserve your spoons without neglecting your teens and family, or causing conflicts or stress? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Communicate openly and honestly: Be upfront and clear about your limitations, needs, and expectations, and listen to your teens and family members’ concerns, questions, and feedback. Encourage them to ask for help or express their feelings, and validate their emotions and experiences. Try to find a common ground and a mutual understanding of each other’s perspectives and priorities.
  2. Set realistic goals and boundaries: Be realistic about what you can and can’t do, and set boundaries that respect your limits and values. Prioritise the tasks and activities that are essential for your well-being and your family’s health and safety, and delegate or eliminate the ones that are less critical or can be done by someone else. Be flexible and adaptable to unexpected changes or emergencies, but also be firm and consistent in enforcing your boundaries and saying “no” when necessary.
  3. Use self-care strategies that work for you: Experiment with different self-care strategies that help you recharge, relax, and cope with stress and pain. These may include physical activities, such as exercise, yoga, or massage; creative activities, such as art, music, or writing; mindfulness practices, such as meditation, breathing, or visualisation; or social support, such as talking to friends, joining a support group, or seeking therapy. Choose the strategies that fit your personality, preferences, and goals, and make them a part of your daily routine and your family’s culture.
  4. Involve your teens and family in your self-care: Encourage your teens and family members to participate in your self-care practices, either by joining you or by finding their own ways to take care of themselves. This can help them understand and respect your needs, as well as their own, and foster a sense of mutual support and cooperation. You can also use self-care as a way to bond and connect with your teens

To conclude:

Conserving spoons is not a selfish act, but rather an act of self-care and survival for many people, including parents of neurodivergent teens. It’s important for parents to prioritise their own well-being and understand that they have limitations and boundaries that need to be respected and communicated. 


By being honest, compassionate, and proactive, parents can create a more supportive and harmonious family dynamic that benefits everyone. Remember, it’s not about being perfect or having all the answers, but rather about being present, flexible, and open to learning and growing together. 

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed or depleted, take a moment to pause, breathe, and remind yourself that you deserve care, respect, and understanding just as much as anyone else in your family.

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About the author: Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar

With a passion for improving the emotional wellbeing of young people, adults and parents, she is  the founder and creator of Polyvagal Teen®, she has developed an innovative approach to helping teens recognise and manage stress and anxiety through becoming “Polyvagal Aware”. In addition, Yasmin is also the founder of World Let’s Stop Shouting Day, which aims to promote peaceful communication and reduce conflict and aggression in our daily interactions. Neurosloth™ and The Hearts Whisper®

She also runs a small private practice providing counselling and neurofeedback  to young people and adults in North Yorkshire.

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