Most people have heard the airline spiels of ‘fit your own oxygen mask first before helping others’. But have you ever really considered the consequences of what might happen if you don’t? Put simply, if you can’t breathe, then you won’t be able to help others around you breathe. Such a simple concept that we should apply in all areas of life. Look after yourself, so you have the capacity to look after others.
But in real life situations, how easy is it to care for yourself before caring for others? If you’re a mother like me, you’ve probably been putting your kids needs above your own from the day you gave birth to them. It's an inherent fact, right? Some may even say its biologically imprinted on our DNA. Maybe that’s why we find it hard to flip that concept around and say, ‘hold the front door’, what about me?!
My work involves helping families problem solve after separation and divorce. Possibly the most stressful event they will ever experience. They have been caught up in conflict that often leads to stress, anxiety and insomnia. They have been constantly worried about finances, how the kids will cope, what people might think about them and what the future holds. I see people at breaking point with worry and stress. I’m told it feels like walking through a heavy fog, even drowning or struggling to stay afloat.
While you may feel like you have to be everything to everyone during this time, it’s important to remember that if you want to help others you must first help yourself. In times of conflict, your children need your love, connection and presence. If you are walking through that heavy fog, it’s difficult to see where they are let alone how you can help them.
I’m not going to lie to you. Self-care or ‘fitting your own oxygen mask first’, won’t fix everything. The reality is that you still have some heavy duty problem solving to do and that may be hard to navigate at times. Where you’ll live, how the kids will spend time with parents, how the money will be divided and dozens of other exhausting and confronting decisions that need to be made.
So think of self-care as a tool to cope a little better than you currently are. Throw yourself a life-raft when you feel like you are drowning. If you don’t have the energy for that, just grab the closest floatie, kick-board or pool noodle instead. Something is better than nothing, my friends. Small steps are better than no steps at all. One foot in front of the other.
While a green juice, yoga class and pedicure may not be realistic, there are other small daily practices that may lift that fog a little for you. Just enough so you can see where your kids are, hold them close and help them navigate this difficult time too. Here are a few ideas that might resonate with you when it comes to self-care during separation and divorce.
If you implement only one of these for just a moment, you’ll be breathing better that you were yesterday. Try a few and perhaps the path ahead won’t appear so daunting. The better you breathe through this difficult process, the better your children will breathe too. Be kind to yourself. Always.
Rachael Hempling is a family barrister and mediator who is passionate about helping families communicate positively, purposefully and respectfully after separation. To download her free guide on 'Finding Courage after Separation', click here.