How a plane flight helped me improve my self-care and be a better parent
May 04, 2017
How many of us still listen to the flight crew’s safety instructions? I fly several times a year but can honestly say I really did not “hear” them until this past summer, when a flight attendant said: “If the cabin should lose pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. Please put your mask on before assisting someone else.” I was in an immediate parenting crisis!
Could I really ignore all that I knew about parenting? Could I put myself before my child?
We took off from Seattle and had an excellent, uneventful flight to sunny San Diego. My 5-year-old was excited about what was to come, but I was preoccupied by worries over what I would do “if the cabin should lose pressure.”
As a parent, I knew that my child would need oxygen right away. I also understood that, if I put my child’s mask on first, I might lose a window of opportunity to place my mask. What would you do?
I sat with this challenging question for the rest of the day. I tried to study it from all angles, and I came to conclusions that I did not expect:
- Putting my child first is not always the healthiest choice for me OR my child! This was a hard concept to assimilate.
- I love my child very much, and much of my world is centered on him. But failing to care for or to focus on myself could be detrimental to both of us.
As a chaplain who works with families, I thought I was an “expert” on caring for others and myself. I failed to realize that along the way I had started putting all of my energy into others. I had to stop and ask myself: “What exactly is self-care, and what does self-care look like for me?”
What is self-care?
Across many fields of study and publications, self-care is defined as a very active and powerful choice to engage in the activities required to reach or maintain optimal overall health. This includes not just physical health, but the psychological, emotional, social and spiritual components of an individual’s well-being. Using this definition, I did an assessment of who I was, where I hoped life would take me and how I could be a better parent, friend and coworker. This was eye opening, and I was not thrilled with where I was or the direction I was moving in. I realized I had allowed myself to become a low priority.
Self-care in action
I made a commitment to myself and my family, and I shared that I needed to make some changes. I made a plan and put it into action:
- I started going to dinner with friends (without my family!).
- I started spending time alone at home. (It was so quiet I couldn’t even bring myself to watch TV – I didn’t want to ruin the moment!).
- I started focusing more on my spirituality and became more involved in my faith community.
Do you know if you need to take better care of yourself? Have friends or family been encouraging you to take better care of yourself? Have you felt a lack of happiness or fulfillment, or is something else missing but you can’t quite figure out what? What does your gut instinct tell you about your self-care?
How do you rate?
Do this quick self-assessment:
- Take a few quiet moments away from all distractions and focus on just your presence in the space.
- Consider all areas of your life: physical, emotional and spiritual.
- Ask yourself how you feel about each area and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Ask yourself what area needs most attention and how you would like to nurture this part of yourself.
Can you identify one area of your life that you need or would like to improve? What would your self-care plan look like? Would it be accepting the invitation of a friend who has been asking you to dinner for weeks? Would it be a quiet time of meditation?
Here are some suggestions for each category of self-care:
- Get moving! Whether it is a walk around the block or hitting the gym, when you move you feel better.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Look at your current health. Make an appointment with your primary-care physician to discuss concerns large and small.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Give yourself a break. So many activities pull our children (and us!) in different directions. Take a moment to tune out the world and just sit down.
- Allow yourself to experience emotion. It’s OK to tear up at a romantic comedy or feel frustrated at work. By experiencing the emotion in the moment, you are lowering your stress!
- Spend time with others who bring you love, enjoyment and freedom. This might be eating with friends, spending time with your significant other or hanging out with your dog. Be with people who encourage you and cheer you on during life’s journey.
- Find a new hobby that allows you to express yourself. Have you always wanted to learn to paint or make pottery? Find a class or join a group. Not only does this allow for self-expression, it connects you to people who will support you in your interests.
- Find time to connect with something bigger than yourself. Take a walk in nature or spend time in a place of worship that fits your understanding of our world.
- Take a few moments every day to mediate or pray.
- Keep a journal of your wishes, hopes and dreams for the future.
- Explore your values. Ask why a value is important to you and how you embody this value to those around you.
- Be in touch with a project that stirs passion within you. Maybe it is volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, hosting a book drive for a school, engaging with your faith community or finding an underserved organization that needs support.
This summer I will fly again with my child, now 6. This time, I will “hear” the flight attendant’s instructions. And should “the cabin should lose pressure,” I will put my mask on first and then help my child.
I will be caring for myself and, in turn, caring better for those who mean the most to me.
How do you care for yourself? Share your tips in our comments section.