The oxygen mask.

Photo credit: Erin Leonard Photography

They say in an emergency, to always put on your oxygen mask before your children’s. This is one of those oft-quoted analogies that has become a bit of a parenting mantra. I know, I know. I am the millionth person to say it. Even having heard it repeatedly, though, I gotta say I still take comfort in a well-timed reminder once and again. The whole premise has often helped ease the (completely disproportionate) guilt many of us feel when we take some (very essential) time for ourselves.

At the core of it is such an important message I think we all need reminding of sometimes. To me, it means that not only are we are all worthy of self-care, we MUST take it. Our children NEED us to take it, ok. When we do, everyone in our lives benefit. Especially those little beans who need us the most. It is amazing how transformative doing something solely for yourself can be. Sometimes all it takes is 30 minutes alone to change your whole outlook. But if you need more–like hours, days, weeks (if that’s available to you)–that’s ok too. I went away for a week when Leni turned two and it was the kindest thing I could’ve done for myself at the time. I think I needed it badly in part because I wasn’t being as mindful of my needs on the regular. And that’s another thing. I want to be modelling that kind of behaviour for my little beauties too.

Thankfully I’m with a partner who has really helped encourage me to ask for what I need. I’m still learning, of course. He was actually the mastermind of that week away. One of his most generous acts was downplaying the extra work it would require for him and his mom while I was gone. With his help, I’m getting better at listening to myself and at articulating what I need.

I was just musing over this practice that we’ve unwittingly fallen into. Usually on Friday after Jose gets home from work, we discuss what we’re doing for our two precious days together as a family. After we have an idea of our plans, we ask one another what’s on our wish list for ourselves. Most weekends, we each like to do some exercise. Other common requests include a sleep in one morning (me, repeatedly) or to go meet a friend, read, do some pampering. You get the jist. Sometimes all we want is to simply be together and nix the less pressing errands. Sometimes we want to do those errands in one fell swoop while one of us entertains the kids elsewhere. Bless them, but dragging kids around on a Saturday to do errands makes everything about 40 times harder. That’s just the proven mathematical reality there.

As I’m writing this, Jose is at his mom’s house with the kids for dinner. He was in Quebec City all last week and I was up with Finn every 1-2 hours each night. He has a cold and a new tooth, poor thing. So I opted for some much-needed time alone to just relax. When I asked to stay back, Jose didn’t make me feel like I was being selfish or burdening him. He got it. In fact, he was like yas queen and asked if I wanted him to take the kids early to give me some extra time. Ok so maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit. Point is, sometimes the kindest thing you can do is just say yes and accommodate each other. It almost always means more work for one of you (obvi), but there is usually a way to make it work, right? And hopefully it’ll be easier to reciprocate the next time.

Carving out time for ourselves amidst the daily demands we all face is fucking tough sometimes. With or without kids. I have to really work at it. I’ve put exercise at the top of my me time list. It serves the dual purpose of nurturing my physical AND mental health. Two for one. As great as that is, I’ve fallen short in other avenues. Making enough time with friends (sans kids), prioritizing my writing when I have a spare moment, involving my husband more in the sleep rituals with our son so the onus isn’t only on me and my boobs. Ok that last one is a BIG one. And a lesson I obviously didn’t learn very well the first time around with my daughter. Tougher still can be prioritizing time alone WITH Jose. That could fill a whole post.

And you know it’s rarely as simple as, gee, I’m just going to start doing yoga on Tuesdays and see my girlfriends once a week. An example that comes to mind is a recent trip I took to the salon. After many moons without, I gave myself permission to get my highlights done. I do this about twice a year (thank you ombré!). In order to make it happen, I had to ask my MIL to watch Leni for the day. This required Jose to take a detour in rush hour traffic to and from work to get her there and back. Next, my friend Katie kindly met me at the salon to entertain Finn so I could still nurse him. And, finally, my mom leant me her car so I could get myself there. That’s four people I needed to ask for help just to carve a few hours out of one day. It’s not always easy to call in those favours, especially for something that feels somewhat indulgent. Of course not everything requires that kind of coordination, but there’s a good chance you’ll need to lean on your community/partner/family a bit. You work your whole life towards self-sufficiency only to find yourself asking for a hand so you can poop in peace. Parenthood, amiright?

But you know what? The more I practice asking for the things I need/want, the better I get at understanding the things I need/want.

Here’s to putting ourselves at the top of the list on the regular so we can parent fully oxygenated.





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