Put on your own oxygen mask first

I’m not a big fan of unsolicited parenting advice. It makes me uncomfortable, annoyed, and even anxious. Does that stop me from receiving it? No. Does that stop me from doling it out to others? No. It’s a sickness. As soon as we become parents (and sometimes before even that happens), we want so badly to help each other in the trenches that it just falls out of our mouths before we can stop it. Everyone means well. Even if their advice is moronic.

Recently though, I was given some advice that changed the level of happiness in our home. Actually, it’s mostly just my happiness, but whatever. That stuff filters through us all.

Some friends were over at our house for dinner and I was lamenting over the days when I got to eat my food when it was still hot and didn’t get interrupted every two bites for drink refills and requests for more noodles. That’s when our friend Palmer shared his own personal parenting philosophy: Put on your own oxygen mask first.

What the heck is that? He explained it as such: Just like they tell you on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first. If you’re breathing fine, then you’re more able to help your child. Therefore, eat your dinner first. Get your drink first. Take care of you FIRST. Then, tend to your children.

My head spun. To be honest, I thought it was an incredibly selfish way to parent when he said it. What was my purpose on this Earth as a mother if it wasn’t to take care of my children’s every need? They were my first priority and I couldn’t possibly be happy if they needed something.

He went on to explain that as a parent, if you’re starving while you’re running back and forth to the kitchen at your kids’ every whim, chances are you’re cranky and irritable. You’re probably not being the best parent. In other words, you’re hangry (angry + hungry = hangry). So, if you instead fix your plate, eat and then call your children to the table, you’re in a much better position to help care for them. It made sense, but I wasn’t quite sold. Dinner was our family time. I hated the thought of segmenting it out.

I ate cold food for two more weeks before I tried it out. I swear, the heavens opened up and shined down the day I did. My food was hot. It was delicious. No one bothered me. The girls were happily watching A Bug’s Life in the next room and were oblivious to the fact that it was dinnertime. When I was done, I called them in. They ate and I was able to enjoy them and help them without the tiniest bit of irritation. My husband took notice of the difference and was instantly a fan. He now has even started taking the girls into another room many days so I can eat in absolute peace before they join me.

My fears of it ruining family time were unwarranted. I’m able to finish my meal and then sit and enjoy our time together without concern for scarfing down my food before the next request. It’s been such a great change for us, that I’ve been slowly implementing this advice to other aspects of our life. I used to use every gift card or coupon we had on the girls. The result was that the girls had an overabundance of clothes and stuff while I scrambled to safety pin straps back together on my own clothes. These past few months I stopped doing that. I used the gift cards for me. The girls also used to get the good quality lotions while I would buy off-brand moisturizer for myself. Last month, I splurged on myself and used the cheaper stuff on them. Their skin looks the same and I finally got rid of the flakes I’ve been cursing for years. I’ve also recognized that for me to be happy, I need to schedule time for me to do something I enjoy, not just run them around to activity after activity. We now share our “fun” budget with things for me and my husband as well as our children.

The whole dynamic in our home is shifting. I’m getting happier, and my mood is rubbing off on the rest of my family. My friend is a genius. I wish I’d adapted this philosophy sooner. Of course, there are times when I still struggle with feeling selfish.

And then I remember just how much I like hot food.

Sometimes a large beer helps too

Sometimes a large beer helps too by Megan Spreer

Tagged: parenting


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