People love to preach self-care to new mothers and almost always follow up with the line, “You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, you know.”
If we are trying to clarify how a mother should prioritize her life using an analogy, why are we comparing her current situation to the tragic emergency of a plummeting aircraft? If my life is that of a nosediving plane, I hope we are talking about more than a vague “self-care” ritual; we had better be talking intervention, institutions, bucket lists or some sort of profound life adjustments.
With oxygen mask analogies we are directly feeding into the culture of a chronic and dangerous stress-state. Motherhood is nothing if it’s not challenging, truth, but must we directly compare our situations to terrifying pending tragedy? Let’s give a mom an option for peace. My life is hectic, but I’m a grown-up with the ability to zoom out and gain perspective. Peace is possible in my day. Please don’t catastrophize me.
If however the objective of the oxygen analogy is to have a mother ponder how she may handle a fabricated emergency, I’m certain most moms would knee-jerk-reflex throw themselves in front of a speeding locomotive if it meant saving the life of their child.
So it is time to table the oxygen analogy, yes?
How about this? Hey Mama, self-care is really important. When you are at peace, your kids feel it. Your kids feel your well being, the radiance of your presence, the gentleness in your hands, and the fullness in your heart. A peaceful family is an extension of a peaceful parent. A peaceful family creates an opportunity for a peaceful community, nation, world. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with mom.
Self-care is about creating a healthy mother not only for the sake of herself, but for the sake of being able to better serve her family. Let’s not muddle up the concept of self-care with grasping for oxygen when life reaches an emergency state. Reframe self-care to look more like tending a garden. Carefully. Consistently. Plant seeds, add sunshine, drink water, remove weeds, lay low in winter, and blossom in spring.
Mamas, self-care is crucial. The fruit you bear, the blossom you bloom is unique to you, but it is not for you. You bloom for others, and a tree can bear no fruit without water, dirt and sunshine.
Kelly Van Zandt is a certified postpartum doula who runs Your Mother NYC (@yourmothernyc), a service empowering new moms to experience growth and meaning in their everyday lives. For a deeper look at self-care, check out her blog.