You’ve heard these words on every flight of your life:
“In the case of an emergency, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”
Having become a parent in my early thirties, I had plenty of years under my belt where my main concern was simply me. James and I chose to start a family soon after marriage, so I went from completely single to married to mom in about two years. And when I say single, I’m talking over ten years—most of my twenties and barely into my thirties—single.
That said, it’s been a huge learning curve, discovering what it means to be a good partner and a good parent. Obviously I’ve only just begun these lessons, but after four years of motherhood, one thing is abundantly clear: when parenting, apply your own oxygen mask first.
Motherhood requires laying down your life every day, and sometimes every second. But that does not mean you just roll over and let life happen to you. Over and over these past four years the image of a flight attendant has entered my thoughts, oxygen mask in hand.
When I put on my own mask first, I’m thinking more clearly and responding more appropriately to what life throws my way, whether it’s a threenager, a cranky toddler, unexpected visitors, sickness, or simply an overbooked schedule. By making myself a priority in this way, I’m closer to the ideal mom I want to be. And when I’m a better mom, I’m raising better, more emotionally stable kids.
Here are a few of ways I choose to—usually—do this:
Put on your oxygen mask by waking first.
Waking first isn’t always fun, and I don’t always follow through on this. But I’ve found that my day and my attitude are much better if I have a few moments of quiet to wake up before putting on my mom hat.
During a business training, I heard someone say that we must wake up before our small children; otherwise we will end up resenting them for waking us up. And sister, I’ve only found truth in that statement.
Obviously there are ramifications to this. In order to be capable of waking early, we must go to bed at a decent time. If something prohibits this, do what you can to make up for the lost sleep: take a nap if possible, stay hydrated, or drink an extra cup of coffee.
Put on your oxygen mask by making self-care a priority.
What is it that you know makes your day go well? Is it exercise? Quiet time to read and reflect? Coffee on the porch?
Exercise is a priority in my life. Well, it usually is. Exercise releases good endorphins and just sets you up for a better day. While it’s a struggle, I set my clock for 5:15 and meet Jillian Michaels in the living room at 5:20. I don’t like it, but I like myself so much better as a result.
Another priority for me is having time to be still and quiet. Some days this means reading the Bible or another book, journaling, praying, or just sitting. Every mother knows that once the kids are awake, stillness and quiet are unattainable. This is why, even though getting up 15-30 minutes early is my goal, I really try to get up at least 90 minutes before the kids. That way I can take care of myself in these two ways. (Note: the Miracle Morning makes achieving this easier than ever before.)
Self-care also means maintaining healthy relationships with other adults, especially James. And while I don’t have time to do a girls’ night every week or even every month, playdates with my friends whose children are close in age to mine help, as does sister art night. I also have friends over who are willing to put up with the noise even though they don’t have kids of their own. The Sisterhood and I have a continuous text conversation going all the time, so I’m plugged into some of my best relationships right there. Thankfully, my line of work enables me to spend time with fun women several times each week, but if it didn’t, quick coffee dates would be a priority.
Put on your oxygen mask by showing yourself grace.
We have big expectations for ourselves as moms. Before I was a parent and then when my oldest was an infant, I determined that my kids would not watch TV. Then it was they probably wouldn’t watch TV. Now the goal is to limit how much TV they watch.
Parenting is hard work, whether you work full-time, part-time, from home, or your main job is parenting. It’s exhausting. For me, the TV and independent playtime are tools I use so that I can grab some time for myself or my work in the middle of a busy day. Grace towards myself means determining what an appropriate use of the television is, making that my goal, and using a timer to stick to that goal.
However, grace plays into everything. We mess up. I mess up several times each day and wonder just how much I’m damaging my kids. Some days I wonder if I’ll get any aspect of parenting right.
Whatever you do, just put on that mask.
While the ways you put on your oxygen mask may be different from mine, the point is this: in some ways, it’s okay and even vital to put ourselves first. Recently a friend told me what her pediatrician told her: if you’re worried about being a good mom, then you’re being a good mom. The other moms don’t even give it a thought.
So give yourself grace. And while you’re at it, give yourself credit by sharing with us how you put on your oxygen mask. That way we can all benefit.
This post was published in its original version in June of 2014.