In parenting, I think it’s important to practice what I refer to as the “airplane principle”.
You know how in airplanes, the safety video talks about oxygen masks should the pressure drop in the cabin? It always says “adjust your own mask before assisting others”.
Whilst it might sound very selfish, and counter-intuitive especially to the parents it addresses (who instinctively feel that in such emergencies they should attend to their children first), I have come to realise how much wisdom that simple principle contains.
The logic is straightforward. Make sure you have enough oxygen, so that you are in a better state to help others. Specifically in this case, children probably deal with this situation better than adults, who require more oxygen, and could expire more easily. So self-care so that you can care more for those who need you, is key.
It could be applied in small ways such as eating before your kids if your kids are not hungry at all, and happy to continue with whatever activity they are doing (say playing with their kiddy friends at a friend’s home). Whilst I usually do try to ‘settle them’ before settling my own growling tummy, there is nothing wrong in eating first if you truly are hungry, and they are not. Then you have more energy, and a better mental state overall, to be patient with them, feeding fussy eaters as necessary without blowing a short fuse (exacerbated by your grumpy-cos-hungry self).
And it could be applied in larger ways too, in a broader sense of day to day life.
This is so important for all mums, but perhaps especially for mums who are with their children 24/7. Many a time we lash out at our loved ones, feel overwhelmed, that we simply cannot continue, or that we were not made for parenthood. I think the underlying cause most times is exhaustion. It is not that we are terrible parents, or lack some innate ability to parent… it’s just sheer weariness that brings us to breaking point.
So as I like to say ”休息是为了走更长的路“ – 因为休息是为了做个更尽责的妈妈，休息不是偷懒，不是敷衍责任。连机器也需要休息，添油，何况是人？如果维修工作不做好，抛锚了，是谁的错？往往得先照顾自己 – 这不是自私，而是负责任。身为母亲，我们有责任把我们最好的一面献给孩子。给于他们的，不应该是精疲力竭，脾气暴躁的我们。之所以我们要刻意的，在情况允许之下，照顾自己。
I read an article recently that made a lot of sense. Whilst it might not be feasible for everyone to take 48-hour vacations every quarter in the year, I think starting small, such as with an entire afternoon per fortnight, will restore our souls and perspectives in unimaginable ways.
As I read it, I felt that those in my situation, who don’t even spend much time on weekdays with one’s children, may not be ‘entitled’ to such rest. But if we look at work as not “vacations” from our children (since strictly speaking they are not, just another platform where our energies are occupied in contributing to the economy and such), then FTWMs also qualify for such time-outs, to recharge, to recontemplate, to refocus.
I’ve heard from Singaporean mums who have done it, taken some time out to just be ALONE, and how changed they felt after that, and how ready to take on their world and all the myriad responsibilities they have in it. Thus far, what I have done (that makes me feel slightly less guilty – where does all this guilt come from?!) is to take leave when I feel that I need to treat myself to a day out. Not everyone has the luxury of doing this, but for those who can, I highly recommend prioritising this, since it is also a gift that will keep on giving, to your family and all around you.
I have always believed that an irritable me is of no good to anyone around me, even if I am physically around. Having a resentful self, present in body but exhausted in spirit, is of less use to all, in contrast to having me for less hours that day, but where I am able to be present and to give of myself wholly.
So dear mummy, carve out some time for yourself, to spend an afternoon walking in the park alone, reading a book in the library alone, doing nothing in particular if that helps you. Because it is in so doing, it is in prioritising care for your own weary soul, that you can then do full justice to your family.