My mom used to tell me when my kids were little that I needed to “put my oxygen mask on first.”
I don’t know where she got that, but it was her theme – her mantra – pretty much every time she saw me trying to juggle small people and sippy cups and diapers and my sanity.
She would give me this sort of sad smile and pet my head and say the thing about the oxygen mask, and I’m going to tell you, it started to really drive me nuts.
Telling a mom of small kids that she needs to take care of herself first is like telling a firefighter not to go into a burning building because (s)he might get hurt.
Yes – in theory, it’s sound advice, but it’s not what we signed up for.
Our job is to take care of these small people we love – people, who, for the first several years, really can’t take care of themselves.
I mean, it’s essentially 24/7, trying to keep them from drinking bleach and sticking their hands in the toaster.
Eventually, if we do our job well, kids learn not to drink things with skulls on them and to be careful around electricity, but there is still responsibility – and if we choose to homeschool, there’s a whole lot of it.
It’s enough to wake me up in the middle of the night sometimes. I will lie there trying to talk the stress elephant into getting off my chest and letting me go back to sleep.
“Nope!” the stress elephant will say. “Algebra! SATs! College admissions!”
I really hate the stress elephant.
He follows me around in the daytime sometimes too – he whispers in my ear:
“It’s all on youuuuuu …”
And “What’s for dinnnnnnnner?”
And so, this is where the oxygen mask comes in, of course.
It turns out my mom was kind of right. She was right because she had been there herself.
I remember. I remember her putting us first time and time again.
Because self-care isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes commitment.
It takes energy when you don’t have any.
But here are a few ways to make it a priority.
Making Self-Care a Priority
Self-Care Means Rest
My wonderful children have recently realized that they are night owls.
They’ve stopped going to sleep at night. Sure – they go to bed – but then pop up and down to get water, they read whole books, they knit scarves that can reach the moon, and then they come staggering into the kitchen the next morning bleary-eyed and asking why we don’t keep coffee in the house.
They are 8 and 11.
At first, I thought their newly realized night owl tendencies were just affecting them, but recently, I’ve realized that they are affecting me too, so I’ve started putting myself to bed.
I pour myself a cup of herbal tea, I curl up with my books and my lavender oil and 800 pillows, and I shut off the light.
(I tuck them in first, even if we all know they will be up and down, up and down.)
But Mama needs her rest, and maybe with enough rest, I’ll be able to figure out how to get them to sleep again.
Self-Care Means Moving
So we got this dog who had never been in a family before and has a few issues.
For a long time, I tried taking him on my morning walks, but he would do things like slip out of his collar and run away, or bark at moms with babies like they were monsters with baby monsters.
And so instead of continuing to walk with him, I gave up my morning walks.
And I don’t know – I started to feel antsy.
I did some yoga, but it didn’t fix it all.
And then one day I realized that I wasn’t really moving a whole lot.
Moving (which is my term for exercise because exercise sounds like something that involves machines or choreography) has a ton of benefits for us homeschooling mamas:
- It helps reduce stress
- It helps us sleep
- It gives us a time to focus on our own care
- It keeps us in fighting form and healthy
And so I’ve tried to start moving again. Good podcasts help.
Self-Care Means Pampering
I know. There isn’t time. There isn’t money.
There just isn’t when it comes to treating yourself.
But little things like enjoying a cup of your favorite fancy coffee, reading a good book for fun, or painting your toenails bright blue do benefit your family.
I know it doesn’t seem like it. I know it maybe even seems a little selfish, but remember that you are the heart of your little family. And you are powerful.
If you feel good and calm and happy, it filters down to your husband and kids.
And if you feel like you’ve been hit by the grumpy-truck, well – that filters down too.
Our instinct as responsible homeschooling mamas is to put our heads down and work, and not come up for air until everyone has graduated.
I know. I get it.
But if you take care of yourself along the way, you and your family will enjoy these years so much more.
So start today taking the steps to take care of you.
It’s worth it. I promise.
When you are on an airplane and the flight attendant gives the safety information, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first and THEN put masks on your children. The reasoning is that if you are not safe, you can’t help anyone else. I imagine that is where your mother got that saying.
Same as Lisa, someone told me that as well. I was like,no way would I put that oxygen mask on myself before the kids! In fact my own mother and I had a debate about it. (lol) I know shes right, self care is important or we won’t be able to be there to help our kids, but knowing and doing-ah the tricky part! Thanks for this post, loved it.
Kara, thank you! I’ve been in a season of self-recovery for a while and every reminder is helpful.
I’ve been struggling with the sleep issue for a long time. My kids shifted to later sleep schedules too and then I shifted later to stay on top of them and THEN have some quiet time afterwards. Now as teens, they go to sleep after I do, and I don’t get kid-free time after they go to bed anymore. But I still stay up really late to try to get some down time before going to sleep. But what I really need more than downtime is to get enough sleep—and I have to convince myself that I need that more than downtime staring at a tv or surfing on my phone.