Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: How Taking Time for Yourself Can Make You a Better Parent
If you have ever travelled by plane, then you are familiar with the the idea of putting your oxygen mask on first. If you have not, I’m talking about making sure that you, as a parent, are tending to your own needs so that you may have more to give to your children and those you care for.
Parenting is one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences we can have as humans. It stretches us to our limits of love and sanity and is filled with many unknowns and can be wrapped in doubt. I work with parents daily who are discouraged or burnt out, and while they bring their children to every appointment, soccer game, and piano lesson, they have little to give their children emotionally. It’s not because they aren’t good parents or don’t love their children, it’s because many of us do not take the time to deeply care for ourselves as a way of helping our children thrive.
We have made parenting so hard in so many ways in an effort to give our kids the most well rounded and fulfilling lives possible (3 Birthday parties in one day, no problem) that we have neglected to ask ourselves, “What do I need to be my best today?” This is a general question I ask of parents often, and I cannot count how many times I have heard “I’ve never thought about it.” I not only want to give you permission to think about that question but I encourage it! Make a list of your most basic (hello H2O) and not so basic (coffee break with a friend) needs that are not getting met often enough.
It can feel impossible to take care of ourselves when there are so many demands on our time and energy, but I will let you in on a secret; the “to do” list never gets done. If we do not purposefully think about and plan for how to get our own needs met (physically, spiritually, emotionally) then we are going to continue feeling like we are running on empty, never having enough or being enough, and whether we are conscious of it or not, this will be projected in our parenting.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Parenting, Patience and Perseverance all start with the letter ‘P.’ These three are the best of friends, and if asked what traits you need to hone in order to parent effectively, patience and perseverance are at the top of my list! Cultivating patience comes from allowing yourself to have some down time to reflect and recharge before responding. We have to not only forego the guilt of taking time for ourselves, but learn to see caring for ourselves as an integral part of caring for others. This may mean taking an extra long lunch break and walking in the fresh air for 15 minutes, calling a friend on your way home from work, or spending time reading a spiritual text. If we are running on fumes, there is no patience left. We lose our tempers with our children and our partners and then we feel guilty in return.
Perseverance, like parenting, is a long game. We can’t give up on our children, and it takes mental and emotional fortitude! One of the ways we can insulate ourselves from caregiver fatigue to is care for ourselves. Take time to breathe, drink water, and continually remember to ask yourself if you are “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired” (HALT) before reacting to your kids. If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of those questions, take care of yourself in a healthy way first, and then come back. The challenges of parenting will be there when you return, and you will be a better parent for it!
If you are feeling overwhelmed by parenting or having a hard time putting your own oxygen mask on first, schedule a parenting support/coaching session. You are not in this alone!