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Melissa Schmalenberger, Areavoices blogger, Published February 15 2013

Areavoices: MS. Simplicity says put on your own oxygen mask first

“If you are traveling with young children, make sure you secure your own oxygen mask first”

Whenever I fly, I am always struck by the fact that they give this instruction to the plane full of passengers. I would think to myself that isn’t this obvious, that in order to help your young child you need to first make sure that you are in a position in order to do it. But then it dawned on me, we often give to our children and to others before we give care to ourselves. I look back on pictures of my three boys when I was in the midst of toddler and preschool craziness, they all have cute haircuts and are dressed in cute outfits and are all clean. Then I look back on pictures of myself; I am wearcing my typical mom gear….jeans and oversized shirt. I was no prize and bless my husband for always telling me I was beautiful. I clearly was taking good care of my children on the inside and outside, but just as clear, I was not taking care of myself.

About two years ago I started making sure that I took care of the inner and outer me…. I started exercising intentionally….I started wearing clothes that looked more flattering….I started having my hair cut and colored on a regular basis and not get to the point of “I should have done this five weeks ago”….. and I started to take time away from the “busyness” of life and just get away and recharge my batteries. What I discovered was that when I started taking care of myself and started to put myself first in some cases (see I can’t honestly tell you I put myself first, for fear of other women judging me and telling me how selfish I am) I became a better mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.

These next couple of days I am spending away with six other moms. We all left knowing we would be missing some important activities that our children are in. We aren’t judging each other, because we know how important it is to refuel and go back to the hard work of raising children. Parenthood, the job with the lowest pay, but greatest payoff. But as much as I want to be at my sons’ activities, I know that I need to be away as well. When my kids were much younger, it was the scrapbooking retreat that I would go on twice a year to “catch up” and get all of my photos of my beautiful children in lovely albums complete with long narratives of what we were doing in each picture. I felt I could justify missing a few days away from home because I was working on creating our family story. I didn’t feel guilty when I left. I did however acquire a whole new set of guilty feelings, feelings of never being caught up (my 19 year old still doesn’t have a baby book…..shhhh….it’s a secret).

What dawned on me on this trip with girlfriends is, I needed a “reason” to get away and recharge. If I was scrapbooking, other women wouldn’t judge me as I was fulfilling an important task as family historian. But these last two years I am starting to embrace my time away as the “organizer” of our household. I come back full of energy because I have spent time laughing and relaxing. I simply don’t need a “reason” anymore

Now there are better “reasons”. These reasons I now see are in fact gifts that I was never able to see before. The same can be said for when my husband leaves on a business trip. I see and appreciate the treasure that he is to our family and it becomes crystal clear when he is gone for the week. I get in the habit of taking him for granted as we run our family like a well oiled machine. We each have our roles and responsibilities and we do them without complaint.

Here are just some of the gifts that I receive:

1. I am reminded that I need to tell my husband how much I appreciate and love him. I leave knowing that he is more than capable and how truely blessed I am. We send sincere text messages while away from each other and I can see the strengths and weaknesses of our marriage much clearer when we are not taking each other for granted. My marriage becomes stronger.

2. My children realize how much I do for them and I know that they love and miss me. I receive text messages from them about their days happenings. When I return I am more connected to them than ever. I realize how much I missed them and how much I enjoy going to their activities. My love that I have for them is affirmed and they don’t take me for granted.

3. I leave, giving up control of the day to day operations of our family to my husband. My husband is more than calable of taking care of our children while I am gone. He knows that he can figure out things on his own and the kids know that he can get things done. It is egotistical to think that I am the only one who can manage our household. The relationship between my husband and sons becomes stronger. My husband gains confidence in his parenting skills and my boys realize what a great father they have.

4. My heart and soul come back full and ready to give again. I liken my time away as filling my tanks back up. Sometimes I am empty and I can now recognize when I am empty and need to be refueled. When my tanks are full I am more patient and have more love and compassion to give. I come back a better person.

5. I am able to dream and brainstorm about where to take my business. I work for myself and I don’t get annual reviews of what my strengths and weaknesses are. It is up to me to figure out where I can improve and make my business grow. I become a better business owner.

Not always can we get away by physically leaving our homes or towns to fill our tanks up. But if you are creative and take the time to figure out what you need to do to refuel you will be much happier. It could be meeting a girlfriend for a weekly coffee date where the conversations are not filled with judgement, but rather love and respect. Maybe it is taking a nightly bubble bath and having your own Calgon “take me away” moment. It could be joining a study group at your local religious institution. Or possibly finding an exercise class that renews your body and spirit. Perhaps having a local “staycation” with your spouse to reconnect and learn what their interests are.

Ask yourself the question, do I put on my oxygen mask first? If not, I challenge you to take some time to reflect and figure out what positive changes you can make in your life to make that happen, and to not feel guilty in the process. Because we need to love and take care of ourselves first in order to love others to our greatest capacity