Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First: The Necessity of Parental Self-Care

Updated: Aug 22, 2018



We've all heard the safety announcement on airplanes, and probably tuned it out at some point, about the importance of securing your own oxygen mask before helping your child secure his or hers.


We've also probably thought that it sounded selfish- like we would put our lives before our children's- who does that?!  But there is a very good reason for it. We cannot help others if we are not safe and in a position to act in their best interest. If we're oxygen deprived we aren't able to process problems, think clearly, or help them if necessary.

It may sound dramatic to compare self-care to a fundamental necessity like oxygen, but if you consider that stress is a primary contributor to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even obesity, it starts to make a little more sense.


One of the biggest challenges we as adults, and especially as parents, face is finding enough time to balance work, family, and all of our other responsibilities and commitments.  Sometimes it can feel impossible to find even five minutes to ourselves to breathe, let alone take a vacation, visit the spa, or squeeze in a trip to the gym. Despite how thin we may be spread, we wonder why we are so irritable, have little patience, or feel completely overwhelmed.  We are so busy meeting everyone else’s needs that we often forget about our own - to the detriment of the very people for whom we are trying to care!  We forget to put our oxygen mask on first and then are left gasping for air and feeling like we’ve got nothing left to give.


Putting our own needs first can be a physical and psychological necessity if only because it leaves us better able to manage the stress of parenting.  It MUST be a priority and cannot be an afterthought.


So then, how do we do it without letting all of the other balls we juggle fall?  We can’t add hours to our day, forgo sleep (which is also essential for healthy stress management), and most of us cannot afford the luxury of a household staff to grocery shop and get the dry cleaning.


The answer, simply put, is that we have to maximize our time, multi-task, and even find ways to enjoy the things we already have to do.  Examples include, but are definitely not limited to:

  • Splurging on a fabulous body wash (my personal favorite is Bath and Body Works Eucalyptus Spearmint aromatherapy) so that you can turn your shower into something that feels like one of those wonderful Herbal Essences commercials.

  • Grabbing your favorite latte as you stroll (or dash) through the grocery store during your weekly shopping trip.

  • Listening to your favorite mix tape from high school while you zip from work to day care and belting out every word of those lyrics you still know by heart.


The point isn’t always to add on multiple self-care activities to your already packed schedule, but to maximize the moments in our daily activities that could be more enjoyable simply by taking some time to consider how this might be possible.  No one (at least no one I know) loves to wait at the DMV for any length of time, but we have a choice.  We could use  that time to silently feel our stress and anxiety levels rise, or we can use those minutes (or hours) to catch up on a favorite blog or magazine we can’t find time to read at home between the Berenstain Bears and Percy Jackson books we’re reading to the kids.


So blast that Def Leppard or Christina Aguilera, linger in the shower for five extra minutes, and flip through that US Weekly with abandon.  It doesn’t seem like much, but those little pleasures do add up and counteract the stressors we manage daily so that we are calmer, more rational parents and can continue to give all of the love and energy we want and need to give our kids and partners.

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Jennifer Byrnes, LPC

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