You put the oxygen mask on yourself before others.
We hear that lesson reiterated often. But in practice—when a parent thinks their child needs help—what is their gut instinct?
Self-care for parents is a challenging issue, and yet parents need self-care to be their best self. Balancing work and home life with a career, socializing, financial issues, a marriage or relationship, and raising kids makes being a parent a difficult juggling act.
How can parents find time for their own wellness amidst the hustle?
Balancing Work and Family
My fiance brought back a story from his recent military officer training that stunned me with how relevant it is to this issue of parenting and balance. His trainer used this analogy for family life:
“Imagine you are juggling three tennis balls. If you’re good at juggling you can probably keep all the balls in the air. Now one of the balls turns into an egg—it becomes a little trickier. That egg is your family life. Now one of the balls turns into a bowling ball—things become nearly impossible. That bowling ball is a big life issue, like deployment, a move or a job change. You cannot balance it all and something has to drop. Do not drop the egg!”
To hear that coming from a military setting, where you’d think work and country trump all, took me aback and pleased me!
The point is this: it is a balancing act. In balancing work and family, you have to have your priorities straight.
The thing is, it’s tricky to reflect on priorities and balance while you’re trying to juggle a bowling ball, a tennis ball and an egg.
The best parenting advice might be to step back and assess before the metaphorical bowling ball hits. You know that when that stress happens (the metaphorical oxygen mask dropping), you need to be clear. In order to be clear, you need to be solid in yourself, connected to your own heart and soul, and empowered to take the right action.
Related reading: "Self-Care Is Foundational to a Healthy and Happy Life."
Why Is Self-Care Important?
In order to be all those things—balanced, solid, connected and empowered—you need to take care of yourself.
We all know or have seen it happen: the haggard parents don’t have time to sleep or eat or exercise because they are running between soccer practices and the dinner table, the office and errands, school drop-offs and prescription pick-ups. May of us have been there, so full of love for another person that we barely notice ourselves.
So what can a parent do? You don’t drop the egg, but you also have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. This gets complicated!
Consider this poem by Kahlil Gibran:
by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.
Perhaps the best answer is, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” You need to be strong and stable so that they can fly. You are there to catch the egg when it falls but not to grip it tightly. You are there to provide the oxygen, so make sure that you’re resourcing yourself well enough to be the provider.
The best parenting advice is to take care of yourself—self-care ensures that you can give wholeheartedly to the challenging job of parenting.
For support, check out our parenting resources.
(For some helpful advice on family wellness, check out our blog on Why Exercising as a Family Makes Good Sense).