Putting on My Oxygen Mask First

Yesterday, as I sat across the table from Brett, I welled with tears of regret as I apologized for a decade of anxiety, tension, and fear I’d caused in our home.  I sought forgiveness for ways I hadn’t trusted him in our parenting partnership and owned that my grappling for control has hurt our family.  I shared my revelation and sadness that me trying to do everything solo in the past has hurt our family and myself. 

“Since having Emilia, I have felt another invitation from the Lord to trust those around me even more and acted on it.  The more I have let go of trying to do it all myself, the more life and freedom I have felt.  It is also highlighting the stress, bitterness, and anxiety I used to feel toward those around me as I struggled to do everything myself.”  It’s sad to admit, but after my first three were born, I tried to carry the burden of having a newborn by myself as much as possible.  I know I am strong and capable.  I wanted to show myself (and the world) that I am a “great mom” by proving how much I can handle.  This wasn’t always a conscious thought but was certainly present.  However, every time something went wrong or I got too overwhelmed, I felt fear, anger, and resentment growing inside me that caused anxiety. 

When Esther, our 3rd child, was nine months old, I began having panic attacks again after years of freedom from that level of anxiety.  I stopped sleeping and insomnia only worsened the panicky stress.  I knew I needed help.  I inquired the Lord about it and He invited me to give up social media and sugar.  I traded that time for soaking in the Word and journaling.  I also got medical help for the sleep issues and signed myself up to do the second year of the ministry school at our church (its a program intended to help with inner healing).  I knew this would cost my family dearly, and had fear about it, but I also knew something had to shift.

That year of investing in me changed a lot of monumental thinking patterns.  I began to learn the importance of self-care or putting on my oxygen mask first so I truly was able to attend to those around me in a healthy, stable way.  I realized I wasn’t truly breathing under all the pressure, and needed to increase my oxygen levels to survive and thrive.  I had never liked the term “self-care”, as it evoked pressure to spend money I don’t have for a sitter to watch my kids while I spend countless days at the spa.  That doesn’t feel like life for me, my family, or my wallet.  Instead, the Lord started talking to me about self-care being as simple as using the restroom when I need to pee instead of holding it for 4 hours. He also suggested truly life-giving things like getting outside for 15 minutes a day, sitting down in a chair to eat, and making space for fun with Brett, friends, and my kids (and possibly the occasional spa day, too).  There were many other revelations:

First, I realized that while I was at school, my family did fine without me controlling every detail of every day.  Brett is an incredible dad who does not do things “my way” but his way works just as great, sometimes even better than mine. Also, our kids benefitted tremendously from seeing me honor, trust, and respect their father enough to allow him in.  Unwittingly, I had been undermining his authority and demeaning him as a man in front of our children.  Showing them I trust him began to restore our family to the order God intended it.

Second, God showed me how beautiful my process is.  I fell in love with the journey I am on and began to truly delight in my own messiness rather than focus only on the destination.  I began to see the beauty in the everyday humanity of me.  I started taking time to feel my feelings real-time and communicate them, sometimes through snot and tears.  I found affection for my awkward self (especially teenage Shailey), my clumsy self (the areas I do not feel efficient), and my needy self (acknowledging I am human and that is good).  

Third, I began to see how much life there is when I invite others in.  I began asking those around me to help and opened myself up vulnerably to lean on those God had placed around me.  Doing this more intentionally has proven so life-giving the past two years, it’s mind-boggling I didn’t catch on sooner.  I used to quote Sebastian from The Little Mermaid as a life motto, “You want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.”  At this point, I think my new personal quote would be, “If you want something done, share your vision and needs with those you trust and let them inspire you as you all work together to create greatness!”  Having another newborn and transitioning to a family of six has provided many real-time opportunities to practice these revelations and spiritual disciplines of self-care and I’m liking the fruit of it: a more happy, healthy, balanced, and alive mom and wife for my family.

I’m currently reading Parenting with Heart by Steven James and Chip Dodd.  They summarize this healthy idea of self-care beautifully:  “Self-care becomes an act of trust, and faith in God.  Practicing self-care is a practical way of living in obedience to the sixth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). We are made to rest. We are made to reflect. We are made to be renewed…The true benefit of incorporating this kind of discipline into our lives as parents is the emotional and spiritual benefit.  When we lean into risking self-care, we create the space for dependence on and intimacy with God.”

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