When you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant is demonstrating all the things you need to do should your plane fall out of the sky and land on that island from the tv show Lost, one of those things is putting on an oxygen mask. They instruct us to put on our own mask before helping others, including our own children.
This isn’t because the airlines are trying to tear families apart. We put on our own mask first so that we don’t pass out and die before we can help those who really need us. Otherwise, nobody is getting their mask on.
This isn’t just good advice in the literal sense, but also in the figurative sense as well. It applies to caregivers in so many ways. Moms often fear that if we don’t take care of something, no one else will. It tricks us into taking on more than we can handle, which often leaves us burnt out and exhausted. When we constantly put the needs of our family before our own, giving everything we’ve got from the time we wake up until we collapse in bed (after we clean the kitchen, wash the towels, and finally get the baby to sleep, of course), what is left?
If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will.
It’s true. If we don’t see to it that certain tasks are completed, they’re not going to get done. But it is okay to just let shit go sometimes. Let the house get a little messy. Order take-out when you’re tired. Delegate a few errands to your husband, let your kids fend for themselves for an afternoon, or just drop some things altogether.
And then take that time you’ve made and use it for you. Being able to recharge and come back to the world a complete version of yourself makes you a better person, and helps you maintain your sanity while you tend to the needs of others.
When I forget to carve out time for myself, I end up tired, forgetful, resentful, and irritated. I can snap at my husband without cause, or lose my temper with my kids over things that normally wouldn’t set me off. But my 4-year-old isn’t going to stop me and say “Hey, Mom, you seem a little worn out. Why don’t you go take a nap and I will sit here quietly and not empty an entire sack of flour onto the kitchen floor while you sleep.”
Nope, not gonna happen. If I want that time, I have to take that time. And if it means skipping a play group or abstaining from afternoon chores, so be it.
Putting your family first at all times is not sustainable. You can only do so much for everyone, and be so much for everyone, before there is so little of you left that you fall into complete burnout.
When I’m putting everyone first but me, I see the evidence in every aspect of my life. Not having time to take care of myself in even basic ways, like showering or getting enough sleep, takes its toll quickly. I will take the time to cook my children a healthy breakfast in the morning before I grab a granola bar out of the pantry to scarf down in the car. I make sure my kids have clean clothes and clean faces before we leave the house but I fail to notice the yogurt splattered across my shirt for hours.
Self-care is vital.
No one is going to tell you to put down the dish soap and curl up with a book instead. No one is going to tell you to get outside for a run (like you used to enjoy but never feel like you have time for anymore). No one is going to tell you to stay home from a trip to the park with your family so you can give yourself a manicure, or work on that craft you haven’t picked up in months. No one is going to make that time for you except you.
It’s not selfishness. It’s self-preservation. And we could all use a little more of it if we’re going to come out of this parenting thing with our limbs and wits intact. So, get out there and do something for yourself. Without guilt. You freaking deserve it.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy