I travel quite a bit, and even though I’ve flown countless times, you will still find me paying close attention to the safety instructions at the beginning of each flight. While other passengers are busy thumbing through their magazines or fumbling with a credit card to purchase an internet connection, I am sitting erect and watching intently. I pray that I will never need to open an airplane door or operate the flotation device beneath my seat, but if it happens I want to be prepared.

During each inflight presentation comes the moment that makes all parents pause: “In case of a loss of cabin pressure, put your own oxygen mask on first.” Have you ever noticed that airlines don’t believe that message is strong enough? As the airplane taxis on the runway before takeoff, the flight crew stops in front of each and every parent to get a verbal confirmation that they will forego assisting their child until their mask is in place. Why so much emphasis on this one detail? That’s a rhetorical question. It’s because most parents instinctively put the health and safety of their children before anything else.

Ensuring that our oxygen masks are secured first makes perfect sense. We need to be conscious and alert in order to take care of our little ones. This doesn’t just apply to airplane emergencies. In life, if we want to provide consistent support for our kids, we have to ensure that we are emotionally and physically healthy. However, in the throes of everyday life, our needs often fall by the wayside. In fact, the interests and passions that fulfilled us before starting a family can be the first things to drift out of our lives once the demands of adulthood are upon us.

For parents who have children with special needs, the shift in life’s priorities can be especially profound. In addition to ensuring that children are fed, clothed, and loved, there are countless doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and meetings with school counselors. Sometimes understanding the nuances of a child’s diagnosis can feel like a full time job. And when a child’s needs are complex, it can be difficult to find or ask for support.

Knowing that “me time” is difficult to come by for busy moms and dads, here is a short list of nurturing activities that you can do in 60 minutes or less, once a week. An hour of respite can help you reconnect with your interests, and recharge for the children in your life.

Find an outlet for creative expression

Take a hip hop dance class, pick up that violin you haven’t touched since high school, launch a blog about your love of cooking, or invest in a coloring book. Find a way to nurture your creativity. Making art from life experience is a beautiful way to express yourself, and it also allows you to examine life’s challenges from a new perspective.

Connect with a friend

There is a wide array of research documenting the benefits that social connections have on our quality of life. In other words, nurturing close friendships is good for our health and longevity. Friends help us reduce stress, consider different perspectives, and share feelings. Rather than texting someone to let them know you care, invite them on an hour-long walk. You will get exercise, reap the benefits of socialization, and it’s free.

Spend time being quiet

We live in a fast paced world where we are constantly bombarded by stimuli. Our lives are filled with noise – both external (traffic, music, television) and internal (to-do lists, regrets, self-doubt). Overtime, this can have a negative impact on our lives. It is important for all of us to unplug and be quiet. In the silence, you can connect with your ideas and dreams, and replenish your energy along the way. Whether you take a warm bath, participate in a meditation class, or spend an hour in prayer, this time will help you find focus and peace.

Parenting is the most demanding and rewarding job in the world. Our kids need us to be present and healthy. This month remember to be kind to yourself, and never forget that your oxygen mask goes on first.

By Mara Duckens, Executive Director of St. Francis Children’s Center

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