Before setting off on a plane journey passengers are made to sit through a safety briefing. During the briefing it is made very clear that in case of emergency, when everything is shaking around you and those oxygen masks fall down, you should put on your own mask before helping others. You need to take care of yourself first. That goes for everyone; strangers, husbands and wives, parents and children. The reasoning makes perfect sense – once you have taken care of yourself you are in a better position to take care of others. If you do not take responsibility for taking care of yourself first you are more likely to get hurt or require rescue. It all makes perfect sense. Until you have children. Until you become a mother.
I’ve often wondered whether I would really be able to put my mask on before attending to my kids, if I was ever unfortunate enough to find myself in that position.
Truth be told I don’t think I would. To do so would require overriding my mother’s instinct, that powerful force that took over my being the moment my son was born and which dictates so many of my daily decisions, a force that goes into overdrive whenever we find ourselves in dangerous or unknown territory. It has proved so accurate in so many situations that it would be difficult to override it in a crucial moment.
Of course my head would know that I should take care of myself. But we mums don’t always listen to our heads do we. We are genetically programmed to put our kids first, before the rest of the world and certainly before ourselves. Motherhood doesn’t come with a safety briefing. There is no one stood at the front showing you how to take care of yourself when things get rough; explaining how important it is that you make sure you are ok before you help others, even your children; telling you that you need to take care of yourself so that you can properly take care of others.
For a mother, putting yourself first can feel selfish and unmotherly. We grow up hearing about all the sacrifices our parents made for us and so, when we become parents, we accept that that is what it means to be a parent – to sacrifice ourselves for them, at least while they are little, then maybe we will be able to get back to some semblance of former selves, our old hobbies, our previous interests, when they are older. And we are completely happy to make that sacrifice and more. There is no love like that of a parent and there is nothing we wouldn’t do for our kids.
So that’s what I’ve done. For the last 4 years I have put my kids first in everything, it has come naturally, I have done it happily, out of love and enjoyed every moment of it (ok, maybe not every moment, no one can say then enjoy being vomitted on at 3 am or 4am emergency room visits or being kicked in the face by a squirming toddler… I could go on). My children are the lights of my life, I would do anything for them and they make my world a wonderful, wonderful place to be.
But I am tired. Exhausted. Drained. Over the last four years I’ve used up all my energies looking after them and I haven’t looked after me. I haven’t been wearing my oxygen mask.
I try to make sure they get enough opportunities to run around outside, to swim, to play, to develop those muscles and practice their motor skills, but I haven’t made time to exercise myself. I stand on the sidelines and cheer my son on in his basketball and football sessions but my own love of team sports has been sidelined with me. For the kids I buy organic fruit and vegetables, cook meals from scratch so I know they are eating wholesome food and go to elaborate lengths to make healthy and interesting snacks; seeing my daughter’s wonderful progress through baby led weaning has made me so proud. But I rarely cook a proper meal for myself and I spend too much time snacking on processed junk food or eating take out. I plan crafts and activities for the kids and love watching them discover new things and get creative. But my own hobbies and crafts are packed away in storage boxes waiting for me to have time to myself. Every night I fill a bath for the kids to relax in after a hard day’s play and then slather them in moisturising cream to keep their skin nice and soft. The last time I lay in a bath was the day before I went into labour with my son (not so relaxing with a nine month pregnant belly, let me tell you), since then the most I manage is a quick shower and some face cream.
My days revolve around the kids’ sleep schedules and yet I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over four years.
I am tired.
I am running out of energy.
I need my oxygen mask.
I understand now. I know now that I need to look after myself. I am beginning to realise that I need to be a fully functioning version of me in order to be the best mother I can be to my kids. Taking care of me isn’t selfish. It’s a gift to my family, it is a positive example to them. It is the only way I will continue to be able to help and look after everyone around me as well as I want to. It is also my responsibility. I am the only one that will be able to make this happen. I need to give myself a break, to believe that other people will be able to take care of my kids as well as I do while I take a little time to look after myself every now and again, to refill my own tank. Me burning out is no good for anyone, especially not my kids.
With credit to my husband, he has told me to take time for myself, to go out, whatever I need, but it has been so hard to give myself a break. I am going to try though. This year is going to be different, it needs to be. I am going to try to give myself a break, to take a little time for myself every now and again. Maybe do a little exercise, maybe sew, maybe paint. Perhaps read (something other than a parenting book). Definitely eat better, hopefully sleep better.
Looking after myself will not be at the expense of my children, I can look after my children and look after myself. I think I will probably look after my children better for looking after myself too.
So that’s what I will do this year – this year I will wear my oxygen mask. And I will not feel bad about it.
What will you be doing differently this year? What do you do to look after yourself? Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you.