The Mothering Oxygen Mask- 4 Steps To Breathing Normally Again

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography, Portland, OR.

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography, Portland, OR.

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?


Nurture the Nurturer: A Multi-Sensory Approach

by Monette Chilson

Nurture the nurturer

Every time we fly, we are reminded to put our own oxygen mask on before we help our children with theirs. But how often do we heed that advice in our earthbound lives? At some point, we’ve all fallen into the trap of doing for others (usually our children) until we collapse exhausted, like a fish gasping for breath on the beach. How did we end up beached, and more importantly, how can we unbeach ourselves?

Parenting is inexorably intertwined with acts of nurturing, but what kind of example are we setting for our children if we neglect ourselves in the process? With Mother’s Day fast approaching, there is no better time to reflect on your own presence in the world and seek out way to be more fully engaged in the life-giving opportunities that fill our days.

One goal of mindful self-care is to fully connect with our inner life, so that our outer life can be enriched. Nurturing implies a sustenance that is sensory in nature, one that feeds our souls on many levels. With that in mind, let’s take it one sense at a time.

Seeing… We take in more visual stimuli in one day than people a hundred years ago did in a year. Unfortunately, much of this stimuli is in the form a digitized reality. To counterbalance this virtual reality of ours, we must intentionally notice the simple profundity of the actual world we live in. We can do this by stopping to cultivate just one moment each day to acknowledge the beauty we encounter in our everyday ramblings. How much easier could this first exercise be? No need to do anything but open your eyes and appreciate what’s already there.

Your vision of simple beauty can be related to your parenting life, nature or anything that strikes your fancy. You can meld your online world with your real one by snapping a photo of your moment and sharing it on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #simplethings. If you have so lost touch with what constitutes a moment of simple beauty for you that you find yourself at a loss for where to start, take a peek at what other people have hashtagged as their simple things. You’ll find everything from children’s feet to a single exquisite orchid blossom, the perfect cup of coffee and plenty of sunsets.

As Glennon Melton so eloquently conveyed in her blog post Quit Pointing Your Avocado At Me that captured the attention of moms everywhere, your day doesn’t need to be chock-full of these moments. No one’s life is like that—contrary to the sugar-coated lives spun on social media. And please do not feel guilty about that! One moment of simple beauty a day will suffice. The rest of your hours may be complete and utter chaos. Find your one moment and see it. Really see it.

Hearing… We have experienced a proliferation of sounds that rivals that of visual stimuli. We can plug in and tune out so easily—maybe too easily. Earbuds, Beats and Skullcandy are all super-hip, cool ways of insulating with a self-selected soundtrack. A little like living in our own little individual juke boxes. No more communal, “What station do you want to listen to?” “What’s on the radio now?” Try this little retro activity on for size. When you’re in the car with the kids, play your own version of Name That Tune, humming a ditty while the others try to guess what it is. Or if you want to tune in together, play the bumper sticker game where you tune into whatever station you spot first on a nearby bumper sticker. We listened to some awesome classical music that we would have otherwise missed while playing this one recently! In those non-carpool moments when you’re out in nature, solo or with kids in tow, play the quiet game for five minutes, bringing your awareness to all the sounds you hear that you wouldn’t have noticed in the midst of life’s usual chatter.

Tasting… We will take a page from the Slow Food movement for this assignment. Pick a food, any food. Do not eating it standing up. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t eat it while chasing after a toddler, dog or other wayward creature. Don’t multi-task while you do it. That’s right. No scanning your emails. No swiping of counters between bites. No throwing a load of laundry in halfway through. What’s the point in this lavish gift of dedicated nourishment? It’s to learn how to nourish yourself. To make the time. And to remember that you’re worth it.

Smelling… Seasonally, you just hit the jackpot on this sense. The fragrance of nature is at its strongest right about now. Just walk outside and inhale. The smell of new beginnings is intoxicating. Do this regularly and you’ll begin to discover olfactory nuances that will plant you firmly in the here and now. You’ll reacquaint yourself with the summery smell of fresh cut grass, fall’s slight pungentness and winter’s invigorating crispness, so clean in its absence of aroma.

Touching/Feeling… Though the fifth sense is usually interpreted as touch—as in the sensation we experience when we touch something—I interpret it as a kinesiological experience. Nurturing ourselves via this sense means doing things that feel good to our physical bodies—going for a walk, doing yoga, sitting still, dancing around your living room or turning a cartwheel. My kids have an agreement with my mom that they will never consider her old as long as she can turn a cartwheel. She still can, much to their delight. So, keeping turning cartwheels, metaphorical or literal. Keep doing whatever it is that makes your body sing like no one is listening.

Use this Mother’s Day as a starting point for a new sense of self-nourishment rather than an isolated day in which nurturing the nurturer is allowed. Go out into the world ready to see it in new ways that go beyond what your eyes typically take in. Listen to it. Smell it. Taste it. Feel it in your bones. Your will feel more alive, and so will your children. They are learning from your actions so much more than they are from your words. Teach them well.


Monette ChilsonMonette Chilson is the author of the award-winning book Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga (Bright Sky Press, 2013). She is a contributor toYoga Journal, elephant journal, Integral Yoga Magazine and Christian Yoga Magazine. You can find out more about her melding of yoga and faith at