Last week my daughter and I took a quick trip to Los Angeles to visit a friend. On the flight down, the flight attendant gave me the usual quick talk about how, if we were in an emergency situation, I should put on my oxygen mask on first then help my child with hers. Externally, I nodded in a respectful response. Internally, I was thinking, "Are you kidding me? If I were in a situation where there was no oxygen, am I really going to put a mask on myself first and let my child sit there without enough air to breathe? I don't think so."
Despite my emotional response, I've been thinking a lot about the image of a parent putting the oxygen mask on themselves first and then on the child. It makes sense. If the parent passes out or is incapacitated, the child isn't in a very good situation, is she? Ethically, a parent has a responsibility to put themselves in a situation where they will actually be able to help their child. Otherwise, trying to put the child first could actually be endangering the child.
I attend a monthly meeting for parents of special needs kids in my church. We call our little group Extreme Parenting. It has been a life line for my husband and I as we navigate life with Josh. We talk about the image of putting the oxygen mask on ourselves as a metaphor for what we are trying to do when we make/ take the time to meet with other parents, pray, vent, share, reflect on how scripture speaks to us as parents, and process the challenges of our lives together. We are taking care of ourselves so that we can be best equipped to take care of our kids.
It seems to me that there is a great need for parents in general (and, especially parents of kids with special needs) to take care of ourselves. My observation is that depressed, isolated, overwhelmed, angry parents of kids with special needs are not exactly what one would want for these kids. Yet, why is it so difficult for us to take care of ourselves so that we can best take care of others?
It's a new year. In 2010 I want to do the following things so that Josh can have the best mommy that I can be:
1. I want to keep going to Extreme Parenting and to give myself to that community.
2. I want to make sure that I am having regular date nights with my husband.
3. I want to go to the YMCA at least twice a week to exercise.
4. I want to keep writing on this blog at least a few times a month to process what is going on in my head.
5. I want to blow dry my hair and put on make up once in a while so that I'm not just living like an overwhelmed mom who meets needs all day long all the time.
If anyone reading this post has any other ideas, I'd love to hear them!