It is hard to put the oxygen mask on first

Maybe I can’t be 1st — but how do I get on the Waiting List?

Guest Author Post

By:  Anna Paravano

I’m going to be completely honest here.   Whenever I go to a presentation, participate in a discussion group, or talk to a psych, and someone says, “Remember, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child,” I just feel like decking them. In truth, my first thought is, “Do you even have kids?!?!” and then I want to deck them.

Sorry. I know this is wrong. I didn’t start out feeling this way.  At the beginning of my mothering journey, I really bought into the idea that it was important to take care of myself.  But my child’s needs were so overwhelming that I couldn’t seem to catch a break. I figured that my turn at being 1st was going to come sometime later; you know, when things settled down.  Although my turn never seemed to arrive, well-meaning folks kept insisting self-care was an absolute priority.  It was brought up so many times that I started to feel like a failure.

So, I began asking questions. “How!?! How do I put myself 1st?” The response – “Oh, I just think parents like you are amazing! I don’t know how you keep going! But it’s essential that you find a way to put yourself 1st! It doesn’t really matter how.”

Being a naturally compliant person, I attempted to follow this sage advice.  I looked at my schedule, energy and finances and managed a couple hours of wishfully wandering around Marshalls, Michaels, and any other store that began with the letter “M.” Naturally, the whole time I’m putting myself 1st, I was also checking my phone every other second because the sitter kept texting me.  And then I got the text that my child had decided to get a ladder and climb up onto the patio cover “to think” (really!?!?) while hurling insults at the sitter who was still on the ground.

It was at this moment I decided that my turn at being 1st was over, and I went home.  As soon as I walked through the door I had to face the wrath of the little one who’d come in 2nd for way too long (at least in his opinion) and the apologetic sitter who was still trying to figure out how/when he lost control of the situation.

So the next time I saw the Psych, my questions became more specific.  “Where is this mythical oxygen tank? How do other parents do this? How do you do this? And will you watch my child while I take a hit from this magical tank of replenishment?”
Her reply, “I admire parents like you so much! Yes, putting yourself 1st is one of the most difficult things for any parent to do – I applaud you for trying!  I know I’ll probably face the same challenges when I become a parent.”


And there it was . . . the moment it dawned on me that her advice was just another theory, and that it was up to me to figure out how to make this work in my own life.

My portion of the ATN blog is focused on sharing this journey with you: learning how to put myself on the list of people that I take care of.  I’ll be sharing what’s worked for me and others in the hopes of encouraging our community of amazing parents to turn this theory into a personal reality and a daily practice.



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