Many students are in their first few days or weeks of school in the Washington, DC metro area. As a family therapist who also works with couples and parents, I’m often meeting with parents this time of year and reminding them how they can support themselves as they help transition their children back into school routines. I’m also a mom of three (1st, 3rd and 5th grades) and have spent some time thinking about how to be especially kind and supportive to myself during the start of this school year.
I remember long before I became a parent, I heard about the oxygen mask analogy from my sister-in-law who was already a parenting pro in the trenches with 3 school aged children. I was hoping and thinking about becoming a mom and, of course, was I interested in her experiences, role modeling and parenting stories. Does everyone know this analogy? It is a popular one, but I’ll recap it quickly for you. When we listen to safety announcements from the flight attend on an airplane before taking off, we always hear that parents should put on their own oxygen masks before they assist their children. Parental instincts resist these instructions at first—why wouldn’t I help my child first? But when we think logically, we realize that if a parent loses consciousness then there is really no hope of being able to help his or her child.
This is a great analogy for emphasizing the importance of parents’ prioritizing self-care in the midst of their parenting responsibilities. As a mom, I have always struggled with how cliché the advice was—You have to take care of yourself! You have to make time for self-care. I’m a master organizer and competent working parent, yet I’ve often dashed through my day in an attempt to meet everyone’s needs in my family first. And then the day is over, and I’m exhausted with nothing left to give.
This year, I’ve been especially aware of the notion of putting on my own oxygen mask first. When I mean first, I don’t mean that I ignore my children’s requests for breakfast. I mean that I start the day with this notion in mind—-How am I going to care for myself ABOVE AND BEYOND what I will do to care for others? I know it is totally selfish—but, I’ve come to learn that it is selfless, too. For example: I don’t think about how I’m going to get the house cleaned; I think about how others can get the house cleaned. Even though I love to cook, I expect others to cover dinner unless I’m really in the mood to cook. I plan my workout and social schedule for the week before I tackle my “to do list” for the family or look to my task list for the office. Why? Because what I’ve realized is that I have more to give and less to vent about when I’m well cared for. This year, don’t wait around for someone to know what you need or want. Don’t just prioritize self-care, make it your most important priority for a period of time. Here are 20 ideas for amping up your oxygen mask technique as your kids settle back into the school year.
- Buy a subscription to your favorite theater to be sure that you have fun events to attend.
- Sort through your closet and treat yourself to some back to school shoes or an outfit.
- Insist on your morning walk with your dog or close friend.
- Go to bed super early and cuddle as much as you can with whomever you can.
- Find Fun! And do it even if you are tired and not in the mood.
- Take 5 minutes, and read something novel.
- Schedule your long-forgotten doctors appointments to be sure that you’re maintaining good health.
- Take a bath daily using your favorite essential oils or bath salts.
- For a day or two, eat only food that makes your body feel clean and clear—my favorites are pureed soups and juices.
- Start or resume therapy or counseling just because it feels good to reserve time for yourself.
- Try a new exercise class—one that you wouldn’t normally do.
- Make time for a hike in the woods with your favorite people or even go solo.
- Give yourself a social media break—There’s nothing nurturing about Facebook or Instagram for me.
- Browse in your local library and check out a couple of cookbooks or books.
- Hire a home service that is a splurge and feels like a luxury.
- Go to a museum by yourself and look at art.
- Take a city walk for no particular reason.
- Call or write a friend whom you haven’t spoken to in years.
- Buy yourself a fancy outfit and take yourself out on a date.
- See a matinee by yourself or with your favorite movie fanatic.
What are your favorite ideas for putting on your oxygen mask first as a parent?