The Number One Rules for Moms: Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
Here’s the worst kept secret of motherhood: it’s exhausting. Proof of parental burnout looms at every corner of the internet in the form of articles from major publications, academic studies, and the social media posts of your mom friends. According to one study millions of working moms are suffering from workout burnout and then they go home where their work continues (Leonhardt, 2020). They do not get to go to a peaceful house and unwind from their professional work, because most of these moms find they are still the primary caregiver in their homes. This means preparing an after school snack, helping with homework, providing shuttle services to extracurriculars, cooking dinner, and the bath time/bedtime one-two punch. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the laundry, dishes, and general mess left in the wake of such a busy day.
I know what you’re thinking: there’s a good chunk of these moms that don’t parent alone. Where are their partners in this equation? While roles in the household are starting to shift, it is reported that more than half of families report that mom still does the majority of caregiving. Along with the daily duties at home, most moms are still doing the heavy lifting where their kids’ appointments and healthcare are involved. And while they take on this task for their children (and pets, and ailing family members, and spouses), they put their own health on the back burner. (Sizensky et al., 2021)
Why? Why do moms try to do it all? We’re all familiar with the ideal of the 1950’s housewife who makes sure that the kids are in line and the house is neat and tidy. We know now that that job isn’t as straightforward as it seems (being a stay-at-home-mom is no joke). So, now that many more moms find themselves working, why do they still feel the pressure to have every single duck in a row? A little thing called the comparison trap lends its hand to the issue. It’s only natural that we compare our lives and successes to those around us in similar positions. If Sue can get her 2.5 kids to soccer practice on time in clean uniforms, then I can too! Never mind that Sue has a completely different schedule and that last week she sent her youngest to school with a backwards t-shirt on. We see the best in others and wonder why we can’t measure up. Those highlight reels of the mom in the pressed white outfit and perfectly posed children on Instagram are not doing any favors for moms who are feeling pressure. (Webber, 2017)
Herein lies a big threat to moms. While it’s all fun and games to post a meme about hiding in the closet to have a glass of wine, the reality is that moms take care of themselves last. Mom makes sure every single member of their family gets their oxygen mask put on (dogs, cats, and goldfish included) before they remember they need to breathe too. And by that time, they’re already a little oxygen deprived!
One mom reported that it was not until she took her own kiddo into the doctor that someone mentioned that she herself wasn’t looking too hot. She and her son were examined simultaneously, and it turns out the cough she had been battling for a few weeks was actually severe bronchitis. This is not an uncommon situation, as one pediatrician reported that she often finds that as she examines the child she’ll notice that Mom is ailing as well. (Campoamor, 2019)
To sum up: moms are run down and a big part of the reason is they can’t take care of themselves. With busy schedules the time for preventive care goes out the window. Getting their kids fed is the priority, so maybe they’ll grab a bite to eat off their kids’ plates or finish off leftovers as they move from one activity to the next. Many kids are eating what a lot of us would refer to as “kid food”. Chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, hot dogs…you get the picture (BusinessWire,2017). So grabbing a bit off of the kids’ plates isn’t the most nutritious option. And if they don’t have time to eat, well there’s not really a bunch of time to commit to exercise either.
The thing is that when you are healthy, you’re a better caregiver. Being healthy sets a great example for children watching their moms. It means they are exposed to good habits and will have a solid base for understanding how to care for themselves as they grow up. Mom’s who make their health a priority also have greater energy levels to care for, play with, and engage with their children. (Ross, 2020)
What does it mean to be a healthy mom? There’s lots of information out there. So we’ll start out with some simple tips and tricks for busy moms who are looking to become healthier versions of themselves:
- It’s not selfish to prioritize yourself. As we’ve just covered in depth, the health of moms is important. It sets the tone for the rest of the family and makes you a better caregiver. So…
- Block out time for yourself. Let your family know this is time for you. Treat it the same way you would treat time at a doctor’s appointment. You are not available for anyone but you.
- Be realistic about what has to happen in a day. It’s likely you have more on your To-Do list than is necessary. When you realize that you can probably put off folding that laundry for one more day, you’ll find that hidden time.
- Find foods that work for everyone. This way you won’t be resigned to eating a dinosaur nugget off your kid’s plate. Don’t know where to start?
- Check out these ideas for yummy meals everyone will love: https://themodernproper.com/30-best-kid-friendly-recipes
- And, oh yeah! Time is limited, so think about some food prep recipes: https://www.thekitchn.com/budget-meal-prep-267065
- Start a dialog about the importance of different kinds of foods with your kiddos. Here’s a great source: https://kidseatincolor.com/
- Recognize that all movement counts. Yes, playing with your kids in the backyard is exercise. So is doing calf raises while you stir tomato sauce or doing lunges as you put laundry away.
It won’t all happen at once, but prioritizing health creates a wonderful example and a trickle down effect to the rest of the family. Stay tuned to the blog for more in depth information about the importance of nutrition and physical activity for moms and their families!
American Psychological Association. (2021). Who Are Family Caregivers? American
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Business Wire. (2017, May 10). New Poll Finds 81% of Moms with Kids Under 18 Admit to
Eating Off Their Kids’ Plates Either Before, During or After a Meal. New Poll Finds 81% of Moms with Kids Under 18 Admit to Eating Off Their Kids’ Plates Either Before, During or After a Meal | Business Wire.
Campoamor, D. (2019, December 15). Perspective | Moms are putting off care for
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Ross, K. (2020, November 16). How Taking Care of Yourself Makes You a Better Mom.
Sizensky, V., Editors, H. W., & Spector, N. A. (2021, January 19). New Survey: Moms Are
Putting Their Health Last. HealthyWomen. https://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/new-survey-moms-are-putting-their-health-last.
Webber, R. (2017.). The Comparison Trap. Psychology Today.