Parents: Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First!
In the event of an airplane crash, you’re supposed to secure your own oxygen mask first before attending to your children. The same advice applies to parenting.
Parenting is challenging, no doubt. Kids are incredibly skilled button pushers, from remarkably young. Sometimes that’s accidental on their part; sometimes it’s intentional. But regardless, staying calm and grounded yourself is pretty much a prerequisite.
So how do you do that when it feels like the plane is going down, every day? 1) Meet your own basic needs.
I know, this might seem odd, because if needs are basic, we must be meeting them, right?
But think about it. Are you getting adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise? Are you getting time to yourself to recharge when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Do you have the support to step away and attend to your own human requirements?
For most of us, the answer to at least one of those questions is no. If the answer to all three is no, then no wonder you’re struggling.
The reality is, some needs probably need to be sacrifices at least some of the time. But we need to be thoughtful and strategic about what we’re giving up, and how often. It’s time to recognize that you’re running on empty, and in that state, you have less adaptability and less tolerance (and that’s what you’re likely modeling for your children.)
2) Give yourself a time-out when you’re getting triggered.
Very few parenting situations require instant intervention. Sure, we don’t like that our kid is doing a certain thing, but it’s not necessarily a safety risk. If they’re making a mess, it can be cleaned up later. If they’re doing something you don’t like to the point that you’re feeling like you’re about to snap, then it’s better to discuss it later.
Yes, with small children, discipline is best in the moment. But if you’re not in any condition to handle discipline in an effective and calm way, then better to let something go by and wait for the next moment. Because it’s actually better to let them get away with something this time than to yell ineffectually anyway (which means you’re modeling a lack of self-control, and your children are going to focus a whole lot more on that than they are on their supposed transgression.)
When you lose it, you abdicate your authority. You don’t teach what you think you’re teaching. So giving yourself a time-out–and telling your children that you’ll be dealing with the subject or the behavior later–can be your best move.
3) Go big picture.
What I mean is, discipline should be a small part of your overall parenting plan. And if you don’t have a parenting plan, this is a great time to develop one (in conjunction with your partner, if you have one.)
Parenting plans should be based on what you value most. What do you feel you most want your child to learn? What can you not just say but do to move your children closer to those cherished ideals? Are you living in accordance with them yourself? Are you the role model you want to be?
Redesigning your way of parenting–no, not just parenting, but living–might seem like a tall order. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stepping back and being thoughtful will serve you; you can start making the right changes instead of the same mistakes.
Parenting mindfully is the best thing you can do for yourself, and for your kids. It doesn’t necessitate a giant overhaul, but increased awareness, and that can start right now.
***Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda (http://hollybrownmft.com/ ). She’s also the author of–what else?–psychological thrillers (http://hollybrownbooks.com/ ).
Brown, H. (2017). Parents: Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First!. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 29, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bonding-time/2017/03/parents-secure-your-own-oxygen-mask-first/