Most of us who have flown anywhere will recognize this -“If you have a child or person next to you who requires assistance please ensure you place the oxygen mask on yourself first…..”.
As a parent this goes against instinct. It also goes against commonly held societal expectations in many families and cultures. We give up a lot for our kids and if it came to it – we would give up our lives.
Of course there is an essential need for the instructions above. If you pass out for lack of oxygen, you are no help to your child at all.
The quality of our parenting is directly connected to the quality of our well being. A tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parent is in danger of producing tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parenting decisions and attitudes. In contrast a parent who feels energetic, healthy, calm and happy is more likely to reflect this in their day to day relationship, attitude and decisions with their children.
Exhausted and at the end of your rope, you walk in at the end of an overloaded work day to discover your 10 year old has been stood down from school. Frazzled and frustrated from a day at home with 2 kids under 5, endless piles of washing and no adult company, the final straw is when you discover your 2 year old got into your make-up. Juggling bags of groceries you realise you forgot to collect your prescription at the chemist but only have 20 minutes to get the tea ready – you choose the tea over your prescription and get no sleep that night.
Life happens. The best we can do is, well…. the best we can do. A wise person once said to me (with regard to decisions I had made as a parent) “You can only do the best you can , with the information and knowledge you have at the time”. This is true. It is also true that at the times I believe I could have done better, there would have been something impacting on me. Something life threw at me – or something I threw at myself.
If we as parents take care of our own needs first, we are wisely parenting. We must take what we need in order to give what we would like. Eat well. Get some exercise. Feed your mind. Feed the part of you that isn’t a ‘parent’. Fill your emotional tank. Get some quiet, some fun and some interaction with peers. Choose commitments well. Paint. Dance. Take a drive. Fill up so you have something to give out. It’s not good enough to say “I’m too busy for me”. It’s not good enough because if your kids indeed come first, they deserve the best you can give.
We ‘choose’ consciously and unconsciously in every moment of every day. We choose to stay in jobs, relationships, courses or clubs – or we choose to stay out of them. We choose to work through lunch or let friends slip to the bottom of our to do lists. What we don’t always realise is that a ‘selfish’ 5 minutes in the garden or lunch with a friend may be just enough fuel to take us through the next parenting moment in our day more joyfully, calmly, gratefully or sanely than if we had never made those choices at all.
This article was originally written for The Guardian Newspaper and Parentline.