Recently, I was traveling alone and was getting comfortable for my flight. I was noticing all the sights and sounds around me and watching people walk past and settle in. Once everyone had taken their seats and the flight attendants were giving their speech about procedures, I noticed one particular fact that really stood out in my mind. They always tell you about what to do in the event of the oxygen masks dropping. Parents are strongly advised to put their oxygen mask on first before placing one on their child. This point is so important, that the walk through the entire plane and reiterate this information to each parent with a child.
After the speech was completed, a father in front of me asked the flight attendant why he wouldn’t put the mask on his child first to keep him safe. The flight attendant explained that by putting the mask on the child first, the parent would be in jeopardy of possibly passing out before being able to care for the child. I’ve put a lot of thought into this since returning home and well, here I am talking about it.
I remember seeing this particular quote many times over the years. While I think that the original intended sentiment was one that is describing a caring mother, there is a small part of me that does associate that quote with an attempt to instill guilt upon the mother who decides to eat the pie. I think that we are taught from a very young age that we are always supposed to be selfless and put others first. I am in no way disparaging the quality of doing for others, as it is quite admirable. To always put oneself first would indicate that the firefighter would never rush into the house to save the trapped person. So I wish to be certain that I am presenting the topic in the context that I intend.
When I was a brand-new mother just out of my teens and then found myself a single mother, my mother made a statement to me that has stayed with me for many, many years. She had a very strong opinion that from that moment forward, I was a single mother and that I should basically consider myself “married” and unavailable for dating. I had made “my choice” and that my life was now dedicated to being a mother and raising my child. There would be no time for socializing or doing anything that one might consider fun. She was extremely serious about this opinion as well. While this is not the post that I will get involved with the complexities of my relationship with my mother, I do believe that this is where the seed was planted that made me think that I could never put myself first.
As time went on and I found myself married to a misogynist, a cruel man, the concept of myself never being first was reinforced on a constant and daily basis. My thoughts drift back to an evening were I was suffering from some form of a flu-like virus, and I was terribly ill. I was home with my young son, and I knew that I would get no help caring for him from my husband. What shocked me even further, was his announcement that he was heading out for an evening of fun with his friends. My son was very young at the time, and parents know all too well how rambunctious a toddler can be. Parenting doesn’t stop because you have a fever or you haven’t had any sleep. All these years later, I can remember the way that I felt that night. I knew that how I was being treated was terribly wrong, but I felt that I had no way out. Now, almost 7 years a widow, I have forged an independence that allows me to make better and sound judgments for myself and utilize my strengths. That ill woman sitting on the couch that night no longer exists.
There are things that parents do on a daily basis that are just a part of “the job”. However, I grew up with a mother who did everything for us. Sure, we had chores and we did things around the house to help, but she saw herself as the caretaker and the overseer, putting her needs and wants after the needs of her family and her husband. It was just the way things were back then (at least from my point of view), and there are many people who still think that way. I am just not one of them anymore. Since it is just myself now, I believe that my children have a responsibility to pull their weight around the home and not leave everything to me. Sure, as most children do, they balk and complain about it, but eventually it gets done. (completely a work in progress!)
I also have learned that taking a day or an evening for myself to go on a date or spend time with friends is also something that I need; not just want. I also make sure to put myself as a priority when it comes to my rest and sleep. I take good care of my health and work hard getting and staying healthy. Learning that the more time that I spent working on myself and what it did to make me a stronger and better person has been a long journey. I’ve had to readjust my thinking to teach myself that spending time on me and working on my pursuits are worth every bit of the effort I spend. Then, when it comes time to spending time with my family and doing things for them, it becomes a joy rather than a chore.
I am far from figuring out the process of putting myself first. My journey has been and probably always will be a long and complicated one. Determination and strong will have guided my thoughts for several years now and allow me to see my role in my life from many different perspectives. I am not just a mom, a girlfriend, a lover, or a woman. I am unique, as is my journey. My goal is to teach my children a way to find balance between caring for themselves in the best possible way and caring for others without sacrificing their peace and happiness. I have my work cut out for me.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha