Rescue yourself first

Uncategorized Feb 07, 2019

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.

  1. Start a journal. Let all that anger and sorrow flow onto the pages. Get it out. Let it go. It’s better out than in. You don’t need a fancy leather-bound journal to start, just pick up a cheap and cheerful notebook from Kmart. They start from $2.
  2. Listen to a podcast. If you’re ready to dive deep into self discovery start with Oprah’s "Super Soul Conversations" or Gwyneth Paltrows, “Goop”. If you want to steer away from reality try a riveting series such as "Serial - S-town" which will have you hooked. Great escapism.
  3. Give yourself time to think.  Even if it’s only 5 minutes a day. Remember something is better than nothing. Sometimes from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed I have no ‘headspace’. I am doing things for others. Making breakfast, packing lunch, running off work, thinking about dinner. Put the TV on for the kids if you need to, walk away, sit down and close your eyes. Picture all those worries in your life as clouds in the sky. Let them float on by for now. Tomorrow is another day.
  4. Ask for help. Don’t try and do everything by yourself. Lean on your friends and family. They love you and want to help you. One small thing such as a grandparent doing school pick up once a week will make all the difference. 
  5. Look after your mental health.  Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you aren’t coping with what's going on. See your GP. Ask for a referral if you need to. Seeing a psychologist or counsellor is not admitting defeat, it is a courageous admission that you need some support right now.
  6. Slow life down. Learn to say no to things that make you busy, stressed and exhausted. Limit extra curricular activities to 2 per child. Make Sunday your family day of rest. Politely decline all invitations on a Sunday as it’s a day for you and the kids to re-coop from the busy week that was. 
  7. Give yourself time to heal.  Everything doesn’t have to be ok right now. It’s a journey and some days will be better than others. Just put one foot in front of the other and don’t look back, you’re not going that way.
  8. Hold your kids close. Buzz Lightyear says in Toy Story, ‘life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid’. Your kids love you, even the surly teenagers. They will forgive your harsh words, they will forgive your short temper. Stop, give them a hug and just be present for them as often as you can. That might be going for a bike ride, playing lego, ordering pizza and watching a movie or giving Playstation a whirl. Connect with them on their level. You’ll be amazed at their response.

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.



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