I’ve taken dozens of airplane trips and heard that infernal safety shpeel way too many times. But one day, it hit me differently.
I was traveling with one of my babies, and the flight attendant recited the part about putting on your mask first and then assisting anyone around you who might need help. This time however, my brain distinctly envisioned those masks dropping down, me grabbing one and immediately putting it on my baby first.
That mental vision surprised me. It seemed that no matter how many dozens of times those flight attendants had reminded me to put my own mask on first, my mom instinct was going to ignore it all. In case of emergency, I was going to forget that nonsense and give my precious baby that oxygen first.
Why? Because that’s what moms DO. We sacrifice ourselves to give our children the best chance at life and happiness.
Isn’t that fascinating? It was only recently that I learned that those instincts are managed by a much different part of our brain than our conscious thoughts. All too often, that primitive part of our brain (the brain stem) kicks in and has us doing things that our rational brain (controlled by the prefrontal cortex) knows is the wrong decision.
That primitive brain cares only about survival of the species, so we can understand why it makes us act in certain ways. It is incredibly powerful to acknowledge when and where that primitive brain can get in the way of our creating the highest and best versions of our life.
You come first
So what does this mean for us on a day to day basis? It means that sometimes we’re going to be fighting our actual mothering instinct in order to care for and improve ourselves as women. It means that it’s normal to encounter fear, guilt and stress when deciding to put your needs and wants ahead of those of our children.
Am I suggesting that we run away to the circus and abandon our children because we think that becoming a trapeze artist is our best chance at true happiness?? Obviously not. But I am suggesting that allowing your guilt, your children, your husband or society dictate when and where to put yourself first is a really bad idea.
Only you can do that for yourself, mama. And I highly recommend you do.
But, you may be asking, what does putting myself first even look like?
You have to do what no one else can
There are certain tasks in your life that no one else can do for you (and no, it’s not folding a fitted sheet the “right” way). It’s basic self care.
No one else can sleep for you. If your body is exhausted, you have to be the one to take a break and rest or nap. That’s not always easy to prioritize.
You are the only one who can manage your thoughts and emotions. Learning how to become an emotional adult and take full responsibility for your feelings is your job alone.
No one else can develop your relationship with your loved ones and with God. You are the only one who must put in the work to connect with your children, your husband and your Creator.
No one can educate your mind. Others can teach you or try to inspire you but the actual learning, understanding and retention is completely up to you.
And while technically someone could feed, shower and clothe you, chances are good no one will (unless you’re physically incapable of it). So that’s another few jobs that are yours alone.
That sounds like a lot, right? That’s because it is. It’s a lot of work to care for a human being; we moms know that better than anyone! But have you considered that you have a priority above your precious babies?
That priority is YOU.
A time and a season
Here’s the caveat. There are many seasons in life when it simply won’t be possible to hit every area of self care and personal cultivation. Like when you have a bunch of tiny babies or when you’re struggling with a mental health crisis or you have an ailing parent.
But that list up there (sleep, thought work, relationships, education, food and hygiene) is the gold standard. Beware of going too long without getting all of those in. If there’s one you’ve been neglecting lately, make a plan to bring it back into your life.
The areas I see exhausted moms neglect the most tend to be, well…all of them, depending on the time of life. Sleep is a struggle for the postpartum moms, education is hard for those who never get a quiet minute to themselves and feeding oneself (leftover mac & cheese does not count, my friend) can be a struggle at any stage.
So take an inventory of yourself and your effort to show up for YOU. How are you supporting that beautiful, amazing woman in the mirror? Do you even see her as a woman anymore? Or is she a little bit lost in the chaos of preschool snacks and carpool lines?
I know it can seem impossible, but it is completely within your power to take back some time and energy for yourself, each and every day.
I highly recommend sitting down with a notebook and jotting down 25 ways you’d like to invest more in yourself. It might take some thinking (for some reason it can be hard to remember what we want from life when we’re surrounded by screams for more fruit snacks), but I promise it’s in there.
Once you’ve written down your 25 wants, make a plan to implement 5 of them over the next month. The more you do this, the easier it will get!
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
- make yourself a delicious salad for lunch and eat it while reading a novel
- take a bubble bath while watching a dramatic TV show
- watch a YouTube hair tutorial and try a new style
- buy a daring lipstick color and wear it on date night
- carve out an hour to paint with watercolors
- go for a walk (alone) while listening to an inspirational talk or podcast
See how fun that was? Now go make your list and start creating more of what you need and want, every single day.
The cool thing is that this exercise will inspire your children to care for themselves as they see you exemplifying it, teach them that your time and energy is valuable and show them how to honor it.
But best of all, this will remind you to honor your time and energy and to save some of it for the most important person in your life – you.
If you need more help finding time in your busy life for you, let me send you a free 5-part email course that does just that! Grab it here.