For moms (and probably dads, too) who fly with their kids, the safety orientation has one truly disorienting moment: when you’re told that, should there be a terrible calamity and oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, you should not take care of your children first. Your first action has to be putting the mask on yourself.
From a logical perspective, this makes so much sense. If I can’t breathe, I can’t put a mask on anybody; without air in my lungs, I am useless.
And yet, there is that emotional tug that a parent knows in the depth of his or her soul: I will always put my family first. My children must be my first thought, in every moment.
Long before the days of airplanes; before the days of playground monitors, safety scissors, and those little covers you put on your electrical outlets; hundreds and thousands of years ago, mothers might not have had this attitude. In our distant past, the thought of food and shelter—the things that would keep the entire family alive—were most important. Children sometimes had to be left to their own devices, because parents had survival on their minds.
But now, as I sit in my kitchen and watch my boys play with their Legos, my will to protect them from any and every danger is fierce. It is overwhelming. In the modern world, when we are surrounded in safety and comfort, somehow it can feel that children are even more endangered than they were in the past.
This is not logical; it is purely emotional, and it is a feeling that parents of young children know best. But is it right to allow emotions to take over our lives? What if the survival we are fighting for now is not the survival of our bodies, but of our minds?
When I was putting everyone else’s happiness before my own—when I felt that indulging or pampering myself was somehow “wrong” or “greedy”—I became unable to care for anyone. I simply wore myself out. Every day, I see moms around me doing the same. We drive ourselves toward an unattainable goal of perfection, and slowly, we become exhausted in the endless chase.
The more tired and worn out we become, the less we can take care of our families.
The oxygen mask, in our everyday lives, is an important metaphor. If you are out of energy, out of time, out of sorts—how can you summon any energy to take care of others? The reality is that you can’t.
We truly do have to take care of ourselves, as mothers, so that we can do the very best for our little ones. This is how we will protect them from the dangers of a modern world: by showing them how to be healthy, happy and whole. It all starts with our own happiness and health. We have to put ourselves first.
This is why, as I watch my boys play with their Legos, I take a moment to breathe. In these moments, I remind myself: everything is great. We are all happy. It is okay to rest and relax.
And then I schedule a spa day!
With Love and Mommy Hugs,
Photos courtesy of Flickr.com and freedigitalphotos.net. Pictures have not been altered in this post.