In your daily life, how often do you put on your own oxygen mask first?
In preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants show how to use oxygen masks in case of a loss in cabin pressure. Passengers are instructed, “If you are traveling with a young child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first before helping others.”
The reason for this seems obvious. If you lose consciousness, you will be of no use either to yourself or the person with whom you are traveling who depends on you.
In the case of such a dramatic high-altitude emergency, no one questions the wisdom of prioritizing yourself first. Certainly, no one would dare call it selfish. But what about the much less dramatic, yet always ongoing, day-to-day responsibilities that all mothers share?
In our society, women are conditioned, encouraged, expected, and glorified for putting others’ needs first. That goes double for mothers. That goes triple for mothers of children with challenges.
To be certain, there is a need for this. Babies and children need someone to take care of them, to raise and nurture them. Loving and diligent mothers willingly and happily take care of these needs.
Being a mother, especially a mother of a special needs child, is a long-term proposition. We are in this for the ultra marathon, not the sprint. In order for a mother to remain at her best—meaning eager, enthusiastic, and giving from a willing place of love—her own personal well of energy, the fuel that feeds her soul, must remain high. Giving-giving-giving all the time depletes this personal well. If the well runs dry, feelings like exhaustion, anger, depression, bitterness, resentment, and begrudging obligation set in. That’s when a woman starts to go through the motions of life while no longer experiencing the wonder and joy.
A mother’s well of giving from a place of love inevitably runs dry unless it is replenished on a regular basis.
There was a time in my life when I had given-given-given to my family for so long, while ignoring my own needs—believing that was the noble, strong, stoic, responsible thing to do—that I essentially became a walking zombie. Oh, I still functioned enough to check off the gazillion To Do’s on my list, but there was no lightness in my steps, no sparkle in my eyes, no joy in my days. Ironically, in trying to be superwoman, I ended up reducing the quality of both my own life and my effectiveness as a mother.
Have you ever experienced this?
I kept waiting and hoping for someone or something to come fill up my well. For a long time, I thought my husband should fill up my well for me, but he was unable. It took me years to realize the folly of my thinking. The only person who can really, truly refill my personal well of energy is me.
It is your job to fill up your personal well yourself, no one else’s. Don’t wait for someone else to notice that it is getting low and to help you fill it up. It is imperative that you prioritize self-care, as challenging as that may be to fit into your schedule.
Let’s be real—prioritizing self-care may sometimes require not fulfilling someone else’s needs while you take care of your own. Don’t impose guilt upon yourself (we mothers are so good at that) or allow others to impose guilt upon you for this. As long as the other person’s needs are short-lived and not critical, that’s okay.
Ultimately, you and everyone in your family will be better off if you take time to take care of yourself so that you remain physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
I was raised to believe that paying attention to your own needs is selfish. I now know that far from being selfish, prioritizing self-care is an act of self-love and self-respect. It is a wise investment in the quality of your life and your family’s life.
What does self-care look like? Let’s talk about that next time.
In the meantime, think about your daily life. When you’re feeling depleted—meaning drained physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually—how often do you put on your own oxygen mask first?