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For the Parents: Put Your Own Mask On

By: Counseling staff at 360 Youth Services

When I travel, I am struck by one phrase that the flight attendants always state during their introduction, “Put your mask on first before assisting others.” This phrase must be included each time because, in the case of parents, internal instinct tell them to do something very different. When crisis hits, most parents want to shield their children, put them first and sacrifice to any length; our instincts tell us to help them avoid pain at all costs. This is all very honorable and automatic but it could potentially leave those same precious lives vulnerable if their parent doesn’t have oxygen pushing through their own mask first.

During this time, parents will have one or more little, (or not so little) lives that are depending on them. These young people will need your help as they weather disappointments, loss, reduction of freedom, uncertainty and boredom. The temptation will be to prioritize their comfort and want to reduce their stress by putting them first, every moment of every day. This can lead to burnout or additional conflict when we forget to take care of the caregiver.

Let’s reframe what I’m saying this way: Caring for yourself IS caring for your child. Prioritizing your self-care as you are juggling the intensity of this situation, the instability of family finances and the extensive list of unknowns actually gives you a better possibility to care well for your children.  It is not selfish to prioritize your own care; it is necessary to weather these circumstances well.

Self-care will look different in this season and many lifegiving options that are part of your regular routines may not be available. Remember that being at home doesn’t mean you can’t call a friend, do some online yoga, go for a socially distanced walk or sit in the sun in the backyard, breathing deeply for a few minutes. You will have to be creative but as you intentionally and regularly carve out attention for yourself, you give yourself capacity to care much more effectively for your children. You will simultaneously model this caring, tender behavior for your children as they are actively learning ways to manage this new level of stress in their own lives. As you find a bit of relief from the tension and pressure yourself, you will catch your breath.  You will find yourself being able to offer them a different kind of parent in this difficult time.

Putting your mask on first is the most loving thing you can do for your family and for you.

360 Youth Services in Naperville, IL provides substance use prevention education and counseling for youth and families, as well as housing for youth experiencing homelessness.

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