Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First


If you’ve ever flown, you may remember hearing the flight attendant give the instructions, “In the event of an emergency…pressure will change…oxygen will be available…put on your own mask first…” The first time I heard these instructions as a parent, they seemed to go against my parenting instincts. Should an emergency arise, I thought, I will take care of my children first! But I quickly changed my line of thinking when I heard the reason behind the instructions: “so you have what you need to help others…”  Of course I need to put my own mask on first, otherwise I won’t be conscious to help my children. The stewardess’ instructions were totally in sync with my parenting instincts!

We parents hold full-time caring positions and wear many caring hats: cook, counselor, chauffer, play date planner, maid, nurse, taxi driver, teacher, tutor, etc…, sometimes simultaneously! With all our to-dos, the one thing that often doesn’t make it onto our lists is self-care.

Though the oxygen mask thing served as an “aha moment” for me, I still struggled with the idea of taking care of myself first, especially when I was newly divorced and a single parent. Seeing my struggle, my then boyfriend, now husband, put it to me this way, “You’re the goose that lays the golden egg. If the goose dies, what happens to the goslings?”

And he’s right. As much as we want to do for and give to our children, we can’t pour into them when we’re running on empty. Every once in a while, and definitely more often than most of us do, we need to fill our own buckets. This looks different for each of us – walking, exercising, reading, writing, scrapbooking, Zumba – whatever it is, I’d encourage you to just do it! And not feel guilty about it.

You may be thinking, That’s easier said than done. Trust me. I get that. The challenges are real: time, money, energy. But so are the pressures that come along with parenting. If you can work through them, it will relieve some of that pressure. Doing so is worth it and valuable not only for you, but ultimately for your children. You’ve heard the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, Mama can be substituted with the care giving title that fits you.

Take it from someone who’s allowed their tank to get fairly low in the past: It’s vital that you connect with other parents who can serve as a support system. Building these relationships builds resilience. Knowing you’re not alone can give you much needed strength.

I experience this at the hair salon. My stylist has a client for life, not just because she works miracles on my hair (it reacts to my stress levels), but because we share a parenting connection. At times I’ve gone to her exhausted and literally bedraggled, and she’s encouraged me to make time to come in more frequently. Some would argue that she just wants the business. But I know her mommy’s heart and believe she wants me to take care of myself so I’ll be at my best for my children.

I want the same for you. So please heed the instructions, which come straight from my mommy’s heart. Put on your own oxygen mask first! Self-care is not selfish. It simply enables you to breathe.

– Tammi

8 thoughts on “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

  1. Thanks Tammy for sharing, this is just the right time for me to hear your suggestion!

  2. Very well said! I take care of a mother with Dementia, which is like taking care of a child…..I think this is very important advice and I will take it! Thank you Tammi!

    • I’m so glad. That’s exactly what I meant when I said, “Mama can be substituted with the caregiving title that fits you”! You’ll be better able to care for your mom when you refuel your own tank!

  3. So true, Tammi, we mothers often are running on empty & when we run out of gas & get sick or discouraged, we can’t care for them very well. Great analogy to the oxygen mask!!!

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