You’re 10,000 feet in the air with your sweet daughter who is all dolled up and ready to go to Disney World. In the middle of your conversation, you hit some turbulence. The oxygen masks pops out of the console above you and you’re starting to panic. What do you do? Who gets the oxygen mask first?
Not your daughter.
If you have flown before, you know this is part of the standard training that you get from the flight attendant before your plane takes off.
Why? If you successfully put the mask on your daughter, you may not have time to put the mask on yourself. You’re likely to die. If you die, who takes care of your daughter? Even if you lived, you had risked death. If you try to put the mask on your daughter first, you risk both of your lives.
This great analogy came up and was passed on in several discussions about relationships. It furthered my convictions that we must take care of ourselves first before taking care of someone else. To emphasize, we must make serious choices that satisfy our needs first before another’s. This goes for a parent-child relationship or a relationship between two partners or even a relationship between you and your job.
Some people may think this is selfish. That love is about the other. I politely disagree. Like the oxygen mask situation, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of someone else?
Now, this doesn’t mean we should always make decisions that is all about ourselves. Choices where we must come first are the ones that will make or break our happiness. For example, giving up the movie choice for a date is not a big deal. Letting your kid make a mess during finger painting isn’t a big deal.
However, choices like staying in the same dry job or a boring town that you are utterly uninspired by for the sake of your child or partner is a decision that will slowly kill you. Staying in an unhealthy marriage for the sake of your child will hurt you and the child because the child will know you’re not happy and start to pick up the same habits when he or she is older. Even if you think you’ll make up for it later, it will be a regret deep down inside.
If you are not happy, your negative energy will influence your relationship. Your child or partner will start to feel unhappy and then feed it back to you. It’ll be an ongoing cycle until destruction happens. Perhaps your partner or child will pick up the habit of sacrificing one’s happiness and carry it over for years to come. It’s a lose-lose regardless of your good intentions.
I recently read an article where nurses revealed the top five regrets of the dying. As I read them, I felt that there was one common theme: not doing what the person really wanted to do for him/herself. This reinforced my belief that we must take care of ourselves before we take care of someone else.
Now, of course, we can’t go off doing whatever we want without respect for our child or partner. This is where truthful communication and mutual respect comes in. The most mature and healthy relationships are the ones that will reinforce self-care without any jealousy, conditions, or unfair expectations.
I’ve never met a child who wanted something so bad even though it would make his parent perpetually unhappy. I’ve never witnessed a healthy relationship where one or more partners had to give up happiness.
Next time you’re in a situation where you start to hit some turbulence… put the oxygen mask on yourself first. You deserve to breathe. You deserve to live.