14 June, 2013

The Spoon Theory

I ran across The Spoon Theory recently, it is a way one lady used to describe what it was like to live with chronic illness, especially invisible illness. It is a wonderful way to look at it. In fact I heard someone recently use "Back points" as a similar analogy to how much she could "budget" in a day for her chronic back injury.

Not wanting to diminish the terrible challenges of chronic illness, I think it is a useful metaphor for being a parent too, or even for life in general.

The truth of the matter is, everyone has different levels of energy, or, we start each day with a different "numbers of spoons". I just read a magazine article about Bec Hewlitt who admits that she has a lot of energy and often doesn't sleep much. She obviously has been gifted with "a lot of spoons". I have friends like that.

When we're young we tend to believe that we have unlimited numbers of spoons. As you get older you realise that isn't the case. For example, if you overdo it one day, you often pay for it the next day, as if you've "borrowed on the next day's spoons". So I guess you could say that as we age we "start the day with fewer spoons".

In my case, when I got married at 24, my husband perceived that I had a lot of energy, "ran rings around me", is the way he puts it. Once I had children that seriously diminished. You can visualise that with the spoon analogy.

Parenting kids "takes a lot of spoons" for me. In my experience, different children cost us different amounts of energy. I have one, for example, who has loads of perseverance. That was particularly difficult as a 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old, especially because he often chose "negative perseverance" i.e. "NOOOOO." He costs me fewer spoons now most of the time, because for example, he'll persevere at his homework or anything he sets his mind to (which is more often becoming positive, helpful things). As the boys grow and mature they're requiring less of my spoons, so I have more energy to devote to other things. I'm really happy about that!

Dealing with an emotional situation also uses up lots of spoons for me. For example, a serious disagreement with my kids, or worse, with another adult, costs me many spoons and zaps me of my energy.

Anything can be factored in here: illness, pain, stress, socialising, language barrier, cross-cultural living, conflict, change, relationships, hormones, roles, activities of daily living (Occupational Therapy talk for stuff that you need to do to take care of yourself and others in your life) etc.

Don't you think it is a useful way to think about things? I can wish I had as many spoons as others, or that what costs me spoons was different. And then there are others who would like my handful of spoons. But in the end I am who God made me to be, with all my weakness and strengths. Somehow I need to come to terms with how many spoons I have and what uses them up. Not forgetting that God indeed is our strength (read: "our source of spoons"). Sometimes it feels like I've run out of spoons altogether and how could I possibly do any more. But you never know when God's going to give you another spoon!

Hmmm, somehow I don't think that would pass as the best theology: The Spoon Theory, but it does helps me in thinking about daily life.

There are times when I can freely offer to do things, because I know that I have a lot of spoons in hand. There are other times when I know that a lot of my spoons are already accounted for and I need to be more careful in how I use them.

At this time of the year my spoons are used up faster than usual, because the boys are on holidays. I have to factor that into my life. So right now, it's just after lunch, I think I'll go and take a short time to chill out on my bed with a book.


Hippomanic Jen said...

I find that a helpful analogy, and who says spoons can't be good theologically? Jesus is my guru of the practical, earthy parable! I like the concept of asking Jesus to help us to know when to guard and when to give away our spoons.

A second thing, and I only say this because you're a writer (and knowing that mentioning it makes it certain that this comment will include a grammatical or spelling error of my own). "Less" is used for amount and "fewer" is used for number. Fewer spoons = less energy.

I had a flute teacher, who had been an English teacher prior to retirement, and once referred to having "less books in my bag this week". I was the startled recipient of a 10 minute English lesson. I've not made the mistake again... ;)

Wendy said...

Thanks Jen. It's a mistake I find myself making too often, and I shouldn't, as a writer and editor! All fixed now (unless you can find more mistakes).

Hippomanic Jen said...

I know what you mean about the mistakes that you keep making. For me it is affect/effect. I have to look it up EVERY time. Grrrr.

Sarah said...

I love that theory and I love this post, too. I had the Spoon Theory shared with me when I was first diagnosed with arthritis two years ago. From that time on, my number of spoons diminished and since becoming a mother and having PND, they have decreased a lot more. The hardest thing I find is getting spoons people with more spoons to understand that I have less when they think I should be doing more.