I pretty much consume any content by Brene Brown, #noshame. Her work on shame, vulnerability and whole-hearted living is game-changing – research-based, easy-to-understand, and universally relatable. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, learn more about her hereIn one of her podcast episodes released in March, right as the world started closing due to COVID-19, she talks about the family gap plan.

Basically, the goal is for her family to be operating at 100%. If she’s at 20% and her husband is at 20%, they have a 60% operating gap. One of her specific examples was coming home exhausted from work travel and speaking engagements, only to arrive home to a husband exhausted from managing the household solo, both of them in need of a break and hoping for that refuel break from the other. Gridlock.

So what do you do when you’re both feeling depleted but life and parenting must go on?

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For Brene, when her family is not operating at 100%, they have developed household rules to help manage the family gap plan:

  1. No harsh words
  2. No nice words with harsh faces
  3. Say you’re sorry
  4. Accept apologies with a “thank you” (as opposed to “okay,” which can sound frosty)
  5. More knock-knock jokes and puns

This is coupled with getting sleep, moving their bodies, eating well and limiting news to fully recharge and get back to 100%.

When I listened to this episode about 100 light bulbs went off. I thought of the times I’ve come home from traveling, for personal or work reasons, and arrived home in need of refuel, only to find a husband in need of the same. Or on maternity leave, drowning from the day waiting for a baton pass from a husband who is exhausted from his work day and can’t immediately break into dad mode. Or what about sickness? That always kinks the pipe. So many more examples, and it makes total sense. 

One person’s depletion doesn’t mean the other person’s depletion is nonexistent or less-than, and having a common language to express that feeling is way more productive than resentment, internalization, faking it or competing for an arbitrary badge. Having a family gap plan means a quicker return to less stress and more joy.

I shared this concept with my husband, and while we’re not quite talking in percentages on the regular, we’ve adopted it enough to throw up a “I’m at 20%” or “I’m at 30%” when life is feeling a little heavy. It’s easy to then assess who can pull what weight and how we need to address the gap, without having to break it all down each and every time.

Our family gap plan rules (so far) are as follows:

  1. State your gap % and what you need 
  2. Technology is fine; no guilt over passive parenting
  3. Household chores can wait
  4. Skip cooking; grab takeout or something grab-n-go from the store
  5. Walk or run to help anxiety, drain kiddo energy, or reboot yourself
  6. When super low, the higher fueled parent can handle books and bedtime
  7. Baths can be skipped unless really needed

These rules are still a moving target, and at this phase in life – with toddlers – are more about minimizing household management. I am definitely guilty of having too much self-guilt when the house is a mess or I’ve clicked on the tv for my kid and am laying on the couch, but all of us benefit when we’re collectively recharged vs. dragging out the recharge process. Not every day has to be so perfect, and that will continue to be an underlying goal in my family’s gap plan.

Thanks for the idea, Brene.

What’s your family’s gap plan?

Photo Credit :: Lindsay Herkert Photography


  1. I just heard Brene’s podcast yesterday on The Family Gap Plan, and it really rang true for me, so I Googled it and found your take on it. I love your additions, and I don’t even have toddlers – my partner and I have 2 teens and 2 in college. I am a school teacher and she runs her own business. We get so caught up in doing all of the “good and wholesome” things for our family that we will both get plain burnt-out. Then the sparks begin to fly and everything goes to s—t. I think if we can learn to honestly communicate our current emotional/energy status (%), give ourselves that break occasionally (especially no-guilt passive parenting, and no-guilt take-out meals), and practice the necessary self-care – it could do wonders for our whole family. So, thank you for expanding on this concept!


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