by Jessica Martin-Weber
See those 4 darling little girls enjoying a magical tea party outside? They are precious and 4 out of 6 of the most amazing people that I get to have call me mom. I’m lucky enough to breathe them in deeply daily. I’m crazy about them. Crazy. Sometimes I’m crazy from them too. Sometimes I end up breathing rather labored because of them.
Sometimes I need to breathe in deeply away from them.
This is a little risky to admit. The internet loves to judge mother who admit they find, well, being a mother can be… difficult. Even more so loves to hate those that admit they don’t always like being around their own children all the time. But I’ll take the risk.
On commercial passenger airplanes, safety instructions are given each flight before take off on what to do in the case of an emergency. Flight attendants (or a video) explain that in the case of pressure changes, oxygen masks should drop down and passengers should place them over their mouth and nose and breathe normally. For those flying with small children or someone that would need assistance, instructions are given to secure your own mask before helping someone else with theirs. The reason for this instruction isn’t given but should you help someone else before securing your own mask, it is very possible that you could end up deprived of the oxygen your brain needs and pass out before your own mask is in place. Should that happen, you wouldn’t be able to help take care of anyone and worse, would be at even more risk.
Are you breathing normally?
Do you know where your oxygen mask is?
When was the last time you did something for you, truly for you? For many parents, particularly mothers, doing something for ourselves can be very difficult. It feels selfish, wasteful, extravagant, unnecessary, and laden with guilt. If we can pass it off as being for the whole family, such as a family vacation, then it is ok, but when taking care of ourselves really is just for ourself it can get much, much more difficult.
Parenting requires sacrifice, it’s true. We give up a lot for our children, getting in exchange such beauty and joy. But are we really able to care for our children if we can’t breathe normally ourselves? If we lose our selves? For a long time I believed that being a good mother required not only sacrifice but a sort of martyrdom, losing one’s self to build up one’s children. That was what I saw modeled for me in my own mother and what I thought I would need to do as well. Some women are able to do this and find it quite fulfilling, maybe even more in touch with who they really are. I was not one of those women. Losing myself, sacrificing so much I didn’t even know who I was any more, being constantly burnt out, led me into a deep and dark depression and instead of being a good mother, I was too lost to care for my children.
I needed an oxygen mask.
I needed to be able to breathe.
As admirable as it is that my mother gave up so much for her children, the truth is to this day I don’t really know her. What I know is the woman who loves me and did her best to care for me as a child even when she was constantly depleted of much needed air herself. As depleted as she was, she gave so much but often it wasn’t what my siblings and I really needed as much as it was what she thought we needed. She was too spent to assess what care was actually required. Our family suffered. Realizing I was headed down the same path, I knew something needed to change. I needed to nurture the nurturer.
My 4 steps to finding my oxygen mask
1) Change wasn’t easy. It would require asking for help. Asking for help would require admitting I needed help. Admitting I needed help would require letting others know that I couldn’t handle it all on my own. I saw that as failure. Failure to live up to a standard of motherhood of a perfectly decorated and cleaned house, perfectly cooked healthy meals, perfectly executed crafts, perfectly planned parties and play dates, perfectly perfect children, perfectly perfect family, perfectly perfect life, perfectly perfect me. This was hard, in fact, it ended up being the most important sacrifice I would ever make in my motherhood journey: sacrificing my pride in presenting a perfect facade by admitting I needed help.
2) Equally challenging admitting that the help I needed was so I could have a break. Time away from my children. Space to do something just for me. A break. In my head it sounded like I didn’t like my kids and the truth was, from my burnt out place, I didn’t. But it was way more than that, it was finally recognizing in myself that there really isn’t anybody I can be around 24/7 and not get tired of them and, for me, that though I seem like an extrovert, I actually get energy from being alone with my thoughts and having time to be creative by myself. What I would come to discover is that I actually really, really like my children but I needed some space from them from time to time to be able to truly appreciate that connection more.
3) At first I didn’t know how to make that space for me, I wasn’t even sure where to find my oxygen mask. With no family close, who could watch my children? My husband was more than willing to equally parent, it wasn’t him that was a barrier, it was me. I felt as though I was slacking, being a lazy mother to let him. Or that he wouldn’t do it as well as me. It wasn’t until I realized that he could parent differently and still not only be capable, given how burnt out I was, he was probably better. Now I love that we have different approaches and styles with our children, agreeing on certain non-negotiables and being flexible on grey areas. Beyond my own partner though, how could I find the space? We couldn’t afford sitters at the time, we didn’t have family near us, and we struggled to trust others. Eventually it was in intentionally finding and cultivating community, finding space for myself in friendships and gradually building trust. Today our family has several dear family friends that are like family, stay with our children for short and long periods of time, join us for meals and events, and swap helping each other find space as parents needing oxygen masks. This parenting thing isn’t meant to happen on an isolated island, being alone isn’t healthy, it isn’t what we would want for our children, we need to be aware of what we’re modeling for them in our own lives. Be it family or friends, we need to put effort into finding our tribe, not just online, but in real life.
4) Eventually I realized that my oxygen mask had some variety. There were big ones and small ones. Some were actually easily accessible right in front of my but I could only see them once I had a shot of fresh air. Making my own self-care a priority gave me the energy to grow as a person and a mother. The little daily hits on my oxygen mask rejuvenate me, giving me the clarity I need to care for my children in a sustainable way. Many of these 22 ways are a regular part of my self-care now.
Now, with my children, I teach them the importance of self care as well because there are times when everyone needs their own oxygen mask.
There is no one-size-fits all and what you may need during one season of parenting may change in the next season. Find what works for you and consider how you can be in community with others and help them find their’s as well. There is no firm how to use it or what it looks like for you, what’s important is just that you use it.
Your children will thank you one day and will know you not only as their loving, sacrificing mother, but as the thriving individual of value that you are.
Are you burnt out? Even as you love your children and enjoy parenting them, are you ever in need of a break? What steps have you found to making that possible?