Please secure your own mask before assisting others.

I have flown in a lot of airplanes in my life as my family has always been scattered around the country, and this particular instruction regarding the oxygen masks always confused me. For some reason I always thought it made more sense to help the person next to you first. Aside from the fact that it just seems like the nice thing to do – looking out for someone else’s needs before your own – it seemed logical that someone who can’t help themselves might panic if you don’t assist them right away.

Then one day it hit me that I would be of no use to anyone near me if I passed out for lack of oxygen because I didn’t have my mask on.

As a wife, mother and home manager I have a lot of balls in the air. Sometimes I can keep them all going effortlessly with various tricks and twists, but other times I drop a few. The problem is, all the balls are important, so when one of them drops it moves the Earth and leaves a giant crater. Many times this leaves me feeling stressed and overwhelmed because, in reality, this gig is 24/7 with no deadline in sight.

I wrestle often with the notion of self-care, especially as an Introverted mother of two energetic children and the wife of a busy entrepreneur. Motherhood is a sacrifice, for sure. But to what extent? When does the sacrifice become detrimental? And when does self-care become selfish?

happydanceI brought this up with my therapist recently, as I have been unable to see through the issue with any clarity. I feel it is important for me to have pockets of time alone to recharge my energy – sometimes only twenty minutes is all I need to be at peace again in my head, after which I can deal with all the demands of life. This means sending the kids outside while I unload groceries, or running a quick errand to the store alone, or stepping outside to weed a patch of garden for fifteen minutes. Most of the time it doesn’t take much for me to bounce back from The Crazy, but the trick is I need to be alone in order to recharge.

I find that when I’m not getting small pockets of time to recharge my energy, I start obsessing about being alone. I get grouchy with my kids just for standing in the room, I show disappointment that they are awake from their naps, I’m gruff as I rush them off to bed, and I find myself wishing Bryan was still in San Jose. I scratch and claw at anyone who asks something of me.

I’m not excusing my behavior, but I am becoming more aware of what triggers it.

Yesterday, as a long six-day travel week still looms in our recent past, I mentioned to Bryan that I would like to leave the kids when he was done working and run to the garden store really quick, as they close at six. Why don’t we all come with you? he suggested.

The disappointment on my face hurt his feelings.

He misses us when he travels, and keeps us close to him when he’s home. And when he’s home I like to take advantage of the dual-parent household to get out unattached, even if just for an hour. We bickered for a few minutes, strongly defending our individual cases, until we each adjusted our expectations. In the end, he was fine with me going, but after the kids both took good naps and I enjoyed an adult beverage on the deck for half an hour after cleaning the kitchen, I didn’t feel the need to get out anyway.

So I guess I’m learning the importance of securing my own mask first, of taking care of myself so I can be a better mother and wife – knowing that when I’m obsessing about being alone, it means I’m not getting the pockets of time I need to recharge my energy.

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