By Heather Deveny-Leggitt
When reviewing safety procedures on an airplane, the flight attendant always reminds passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before securing others. This is a helpful metaphor for parenting. Our best intentions often tell us that we need to put our children first, even to the detriment of our own well being. However, as we deal with daily stress and spread ourselves too thin, or when we try to ignore our own feelings in order to manage our children’s, we often get in the way of our own self-care. When stress takes over, or when we fail to acknowledge and care for our own feelings, we downshift to the lower centers of our brain. You may find yourself parenting in ways you thought you never would, even when you know it’s not effective and later feel guilty.
In order to access the high centers of our brain, we have to first calm our own minds and bodies before we can effectively calm our children. We can do this by implementing both long-term and short-term self care strategies. Long term self care includes things that may take more time and need to be scheduled out in advance. For example, setting aside time to work out, watch a favorite TV show, taking a bath, or spending time with friends. These are important for our overall well being. It is also important to cultivate short term self-care strategies. These are things we can do in the moment when we feel stressed or when our child is pushing our buttons. One of the most effective forms of self-care is to simply take three deep breaths. It is not only okay, but encouraged to take a small mental break before turning toward your child (as long as there isn’t a pressing safety concern). Tell your child, “I’m going to take a break and calm down and then I will help you.” You can then implement your short term self care. In addition to deep breathing, you might try walking around the house, listening to music, spending a few minutes in a quiet room, or stepping outside for some fresh air. This models positive coping skills for your child, as well as giving you time to calm down so you can parent as your best self.
Parenting is hard work! Be sure to give yourself space and time for the self-care you need to parent effectively and joyfully!