We’ve all heard the pre-flight instruction speech. We know where the exits are located, the seat cushion is a flotation device, and passengers must secure their own oxygen mask before helping their children. Wait, what? Mothers of young children should first do what? Mothers should ignore their suffocating children or loved ones? Is this utterly absurd or completely rational? These are questions for the ages. Are women that place a priority on taking care of themselves selfish? Why do women oftentimes suffer from feelings of guilt and exhaustion and never feeling quite accomplished enough professionally or domestically? Does making yourself a priority mean that you are a self-centered woman?
On the surface, most women would immediately scoff at the possibility of securing their own oxygen mask first. It makes you look kind of like a B word, really. What mother would allow their child to suffer while caring for their own needs? But if you take a minute to think about it, fumbling with your child’s oxygen mask while you smother sets both you and your child up to fail and perish. It’s a metaphor for the modern woman. Everyday women face the guilty choices: Should I take care of the need of my husband, child, or friend – or Should I be truthful and admit I am exhausted and take a minute for myself? I don’t think society should place this pressure on women but it does.
As a new wife, I feel guilt every time I don’t have dinner on the table for my husband when he walks in the door. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired or if my MS made me feel lousy that day, I still feel tinges of guilt for not being the “perfect” package. In reality, Tripp would much rather have a wife that is rested and less testy than a delicious dinner with a frazzled woman staring at him too tired to eat. I’m learning that a little bit of self care on my part makes my marriage stronger because I’m more available to be physically and emotionally present for my husband. Exhausted mothers and wives cannot “be all that they can be.”
It is a vicious cycle. We see picture perfect models in the media urging us to be thin, shop at particular stores, feed our children perfect diets, and keep sparkling homes. These images exist only to sell products but the advertising is so successful it has pervaded our culture. Less than perfect women with dirty homes, scruffy clothing, and imperfect hair don’t measure up to the artificial standards set forth in the land of make believe media. Normal women don’t have the financial or physical means to meet the unrealistic standards and yet we work ourselves into oblivion trying to attain this ideal. Who made the ideal?
This artificial ideal sets women up to fail. We work so hard trying to be this Barbie woman that we lose ourselves in the car pool line. Emaciated and perfectly coiffed women running on caffeine and diet pills because they stayed up until 2 am doing laundry and science projects for their kids aren’t doing anyone any favors. It makes me sad and scared that I’ll one day feel that crushing amount of pressure too.
Taking a step back, and maybe letting the kid have a hot dog on occasion – is OKAY! Allowing your child to experience failure or your husband to learn what the buttons on the washing machine mean is also okay! If women lose themselves in the rat race of life it isn’t healthy. Making sure you are a whole individual with mostly met needs makes you a better spouse and mom. Crazy, screaming, exhausted mothers with days of unwashed hair are scary!
The point I’m making is that I believe women need to give themselves a pass to also be women. It doesn’t make you selfish, it preserves your sanity. Don’t lose yourself in performing so many roles that you forget who you are and what makes you happy. Should you do this everyday? Maybe not, but you should take time at least weekly for something that helps you relax – exercise, go for a walk, or get a massage. If you are suffocating, so will your family also suffocate. Secure your own oxygen mask first.