Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First

“Ladies, we are cruising at an altitude of three feet tall, with tantrums, interrupted sleep, and contagious illness causing turbulence ahead. In the event of extreme whininess, an oxygen mask will be released from the ceiling. Please be sure to put the mask on yourself before assisting others.”

As moms, we often wait until we start to lose consciousness before we consider reaching for the mask. We don’t realize we need the life-giving air until we’re already sidelined, gasping for breath through physical aches and pains, anger, depression, emotional eating, and utter exhaustion.

Motherhood is sacrificial. We often put ourselves second (third, fourth, last) to the lives we created and the needs of our families and jobs. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one is well served.

I know you’re tired. You don’t have time for this “self-care” buzzword everyone is talking about. Here are a few ways to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

Eat and hydrate!

Sounds simple, right? Yet I hear from so many mom friends that they aren’t eating right or drinking enough water because they are busy making sure their kids are fed and hydrated. Make your meals a priority, too, even if they are simple.

Try this: Eat like a toddler. Model your lunch plate off their plastic divided one: cheese and chicken slices in the big section with whole-grain crackers, blueberries or grapes in the next, and something green in the third (my toddler likes to excavate the tiny insides out of snap peas, but you can eat the whole thing). All the food groups and minimal prep. And keep a massive, topped-off water bottle by your side at all times.

Extra credit: Taste your food as you eat it. I habitually look at my clean plate and realize I didn’t take the time to taste the meal I just carefully prepared.

Schedule regular health check-ups – for yourself

You stick to the well-visit schedule recommended by your kids’ pediatrician, ensuring they get their vaccinations and check-ups on time. Grown-ups need well visits, too. Annual physicals and gynecological appointments are recommended for most women, as are dental cleanings every six months.

Try this: Once you get your physical on the calendar, be sure to have the annual bloodwork done, too. These tests can uncover underlying health issues and drive lifestyle changes to stave off serious illness.

Extra credit: If you think you might benefit from time with a therapist (insider tip: I think everyone could), make the appointment. Ask a friend for a recommendation – more people seek counseling than you think.

Replace BUSY with REST

I cringe when I hear the word “busy,” whether it’s coming out of my mouth or someone else’s. It’s almost as if it is worn as a badge of honor, that busyness is an identity that makes us valuable and interesting. This overscheduling ultimately causes the whole family to be strung out. Yes, there are “busy” seasons with work, activities and commitments. But you have to make time to rest.

Try this: Just say no, even if it means turning down some activities you and your kids enjoy. Figure out what people and pursuits you truly love and those that make you your best self, and do the same for your spouse and kids. Prioritize those, and then start letting go of the extras. Once you say “no,” make sure you say “yes” to rest and to creating a space of renewal and connection for you and your family.

Truth: I struggle daily with turning down the good stuff. I want to be a mom of two small children and still say “yes” to all the social invites and local goings-on. Before marriage and kids, I used to spend an occasional Saturday volunteering in the morning, lunching with a friend, and taking an afternoon snooze so I could dance past midnight.

I remind myself over and again that I physically, mentally and logistically can’t do that anymore. And that’s ok. Having to make a choice shows me what truly brings me joy.

You know all this, right? Are you doing it? I hope you will, for you and for your family. Put on the oxygen mask, fill your lungs, and then breathe life into those you love.



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