First, Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself – Then, Help Your Child

Tags: Self-Care, Parenting, Children, Anxiety, Depression

Written by: Dr. Cathy Moser

      These are the wise words spoken by the Airline personnel when instructing you on what to do in the event of an emergency. Think about it – if you don’t give yourself the oxygen first, you might pass out before you have the chance to take care of your child. Hopefully, we will never experience that scenario on the plane. Unfortunately, we regularly experience a change in pressure in our day to day lives. It is critical to remember those instructions – take care of yourself first, and then you can begin to care for your partner, your child, your community. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to properly care for others.

      Mothers are particularly vulnerable to depleting their own resources in order to give to others. I’m not sure why – probably because of that natural instinct to protect our children and to care for others. I don’t usually say this (as my husband will attest to), but this is one area where the guys have us beat. I remember when I went back to work after having my children. I had an hour for lunch, and in that hour – boy, did I accomplish a lot! I went shopping for groceries (thank god for parcel pick-up at the end of the day), went to the bank, and picked up the drycleaning. Lunchtime was one more stressor instead of the refreshing break that it was meant to be. While I was rushing around town like a mad woman, my husband was having a leisurely lunch at my favorite restaurant with his buddies. Was I a little resentful? Absolutely! In retrospect, was I an idiot? Absolutely! Had I gone for a leisurely lunch and sent my husband out for groceries after dinner, the whole evening would have played out differently. I would not have come home from work starving, exhausted, and cranky. I would have had more patience for my children when they were fighting over who was racing their imaginary race cars faster. I would not have been seething with jealousy (and just a bit of resentment) when my husband told me of his lunch date at my favorite restaurant. And, I would not have been asleep when he made those amorous overtures that I snored through.

      I see many women who are anxious, depressed, and burnt out. When I ask them what they do to care for themselves, I get this deer in the headlights look. Often, they have children with special needs, and they have very good reasons why they can’t go to the gym, out for coffee with a friend, or out on a date night with their partner – we don’t have a babysitter that can look after the children; my child refuses to go to sleep if I’m not home; my husband can’t take care of all three of them; I’m too tired by the end of the day; I have to get ready for the next day……..yadayadayadayada. I’ve heard every excuse in the book. And they’re all good ones. However, there are even better reasons why the reasons to go out and care for yourself override the reasons why it is critical to stay home.

      Trust me, if you are exhausted, depleted, anxious or depressed, there’s no way that you are going to be the best parent that you can possibly be. In fact, you are likely to sabotage your parenting by feeling guilty over parenting mistakes you make as a result of your exhaustion. When we feel guilt, we tend to overindulge our children, or to give in to their unreasonable demands. And buttabing, there you are – trapped in the vicious cycle of guilt and poor parenting.

      It’s not like this is rocket science – but somehow, we just don’t get it. I myself was warned to take care of myself. In spite of these warnings, I have gone through times in my life where I have neglected myself and slowly sank into the depths of Depression. Trust me, if you haven’t yet experienced that – it is not a place where you ever want to be. And once you get there, it’s like a black sink hole. You can’t even see your way out. Fortunately, I was thrown a rope and was able to reach out and grab a hold of the rope. Unfortunately, there is no one that is strong enough to just pull you up. You have to start climbing out with the help of the rope– one little step at a time.

      When my third child was born, I thought to myself – Cathy, if you are going to be fast enough to run after three kids, you better get yourself into shape, real fast. That is when I started jogging, and I was absolutely right on. It helped me make it through those challenging times when my children were young and energetic. I remember the Petro-Canada commercial at the time – children don’t run out of energy, countries do. For me, the slogan was ‘children don’t run out of energy… parents do’. And I was thankful that I was in good enough shape I could be to keep up. Then, life happened - sports injuries, illness, and family crises that interrupted my self-care regime eventually wound up depleting my resources to the point where I was down there in the black hole. My savior has always been the support of my family and good friends, exercise, prayer, and hope. A talk by Dr. Neal Crayton on Women’s Health and Spirituality that I recently attended stressed the importance of self-care. Failing that, Dr. Crayton passed along a mantra that he picked up along the way. It goes like this: adversity leads to character; character leads to perseverance; perseverance leads to hope; and hope never disappoints. So persevere, never give up hope – and TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

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