I expect you’ve heard the saying: ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first’? I’ve always thought that made perfect sense in the context of an aeroplane emergency but never fully grasped its significance in my daily life…until recently.
Business owner and home-educating mother
As a business owner and a home-educating mother of two girls, I lead a busy life. And by home-educating, I don’t mean lockdown-home-schooling; I mean we choose to home educate our children full-time – pandemic or otherwise. So, life is a constant juggle and to be honest, I’m not sure how (or even if) we manage but somehow we get through to the end of each day with our children and our home intact so we must be doing something right.
So, what does it mean to put your own oxygen mask on first? It’s something I’ve been pondering more and more of late. At the basic survival level, it means that in order to help others, we first need to look after our own needs: if I don’t eat or sleep I will very soon be unable to function at all.
On a less extreme level: if I’m tired or hungry or haven’t stepped outside for days on end, I get grumpy…and when I’m grumpy I don’t perform well – either at work or as a mother. What’s more, my grumpiness rubs off on those around me…and the ripple effect goes on and on.
Putting ourselves last
The thing is, as parents, we so often put ourselves last; we make sacrifices: we promise ourselves we’ll go for that walk later, we skip meals, we stay up late to meet a work deadline, we put off joining that yoga class or we cancel that call with our friend because we ‘don’t have time’ or there is something else we really ‘must do’.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to make sacrifices for others. But there’s a difference between willingly making the occasional sacrifice – out of love for a child or commitment to a job – and regularly shelving our own needs under the misguided perception we have no option.
It’s a habit that’s hard to break – and I can’t claim to have cracked it yet! But I’ve come to realise that on the days where I’ve looked after myself and prioritised my own basic needs, I’m more capable across the board…and I’m far more pleasant to be around! I’m a more loving and patient mother, more productive at work and genuinely get more done in less time.
So, what are basic needs? For me, it’s seven to eight hours’ sleep each night, three meals a day, around two litres of water, thirty minutes’ exercise (ideally outside), plenty of hugs and some quiet time alone to read, reflect, journal or simply chill out. This is the bare minimum I need each day in order to function properly and to give those around me what they need in order to thrive. It may sound obvious but it’s surprisingly hard to achieve consistently!
To be clear: by prioritising my own needs, I don’t mean that I just let everyone else’s needs fall by the wayside. Quite the opposite. One of our fundamental family values is that we all matter equally: we all have needs and we have the right to express those needs and to support each other in having those needs met. Essentially, it’s about fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect, empathy, support and collaboration. This may sound idealistic or even unrealistic (and it’s certainly work in progress in our household!) but it’s what I aspire to. And I know from experience that on the days when I’ve tended to my own needs, everything else falls into place far more smoothly.
So, if you’re feeling tired, stressed or overwhelmed with the home-school-work-life, take some time to consider your own basic needs. What do you need in order to feel happy and balanced each day? Start by making a list and then consider what actions you could take to get your needs met. Do you need to reorganise your schedule? Do you need to cut back in some areas? Could you ask for support from others? Would it help to have a conversation with your family?
Caution is required
A word of caution: when expressing our needs to our family, it’s easy to slip into demanding, blaming or complaining mode. This will likely result in resistance and bad-feeling. (I learnt this the hard way!) Instead, aim to approach it from the perspective of ‘we’: we all have needs; they are similar but different for each of us and may vary from day to day. When our needs are met, we feel happier, healthier and we get on together more easily – this all makes for a calmer, more harmonious family life.
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