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Rule 30: Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Aug 22, 2008
Victoria Ryan knows that the most valuable contribution she has made to the U.S. workplace is her ability to influence senior leaders to allow flexible time, job-sharing, part-time work, comp-time and remote employment. Today two of five children are at home.

Have you been on a plane with your kids and heard the flight attendant tell you to put on your oxygen mask first? The immediate response is, "No way, I need to take care of my kids (husband, mother, best friend, stranger in the seat next to me...). The idea is contrary to instinct.

What does it really mean? Simply this: If you don't don your mask first, you won't be there for all those other people when they need you. And for those of us with daughters who might become working moms, too, what better opportunity to be a role model whose values are clear: I take care of me!

The question becomes, what is your oxygen mask? For each of us, the answer is different. It might be:

- taking that hot bath when there is so much to be done outside of the bathroom.

- going for a walk with a friend late at night when your teenager is suffering with a paper that they could have started a week earlier.

- taking the last piece of homemade apple pie that you made and haven't yet had a piece of.

Take the mask first! Soak in the bath. Enjoy the walk. Eat the pie. Taking good care of your self is not selfish. Au contraire, it is the most valuable gift you can give to your self and to all who depend on you.

My "taking care of me" things are neither complicated nor time-consuming. They include:

- Physical fitness every day: a run, a walk, yoga, stretching, tennis.

- Eating well: that means healthy and the not-so-healthy on occasion, keeping the splurges special.

- Creating 'alone time' for me (send the kids grocery shopping - that's a double win - the grocery shopping is done by someone other than me and I get alone time!).

When you first start taking care of yourself, you might hear some snotty, unsupportive remarks. As I was heading out for a much needed, mental health walk one night, one of my teens with a looming deadline said with indignance and a full-blown glare, "I can't believe you are leaving right now." I came so close to canceling, but walk I did. And guess what? She handled the "crisis" and was better because of it. I saw and heard the confidence in her. That only happened because I walked away.

Another time, I had arranged for my then-husband to take the kids on an overnight to a local hotel with a pool to get some time in the house by myself. What a treat, right? Wrong. The whining was relentless, and I nearly broke down and cancelled. I don't know where the strength came from, but I held firm as they spewed things like, "you don't love us" and (from my husband) "what will you do with all that time?" Amazing he lived to see morning.

Remember, if this is new behavior for you, loved ones are not used to seeing you taking good care of yourself. Stay the course. Grab that mask and breathe. Then help them find theirs.

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008.
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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