Put Your Own Mask On First

By, Dr. Susan Burger<

A woman was flying in a plane one day when there was some disturbance and the ride was becoming rough. She checked her little girl sitting beside her to be sure she had her lap belt on. The girl was afraid but Mom reassured her everything would be OK.

The Mom began to sing to her and tell her stories. She gave her a snack, but the little girl wasn’t hungry. Getting jostled around like that can upset your tummy! She told her some jokes, hugged her tightly and gave her lots of little kisses on the cheek. The Mom did everything she could think of for her daughter…when suddenly there was a very loud noise and the pressure in the plane shifted. They had to act quickly!

The oxygen masks dropped down and the Mom reached over to grab her daughter’s mask. The little girl screamed and cried and the Mom found it difficult to get the mask on her…but finally got her to hold still long enough to put it on. And as she did, the Mom collapsed.

The little girl now had oxygen, but was very scared and yelled, “Mommy please wake up!”. Her Mother was no longer able to be there for her.

If only Mom had put her own mask on first…

While the point of this story may seem obvious, there are so many of us that take care of everyone else while we are on the bottom of the priority list. We may feel it would be selfish to do otherwise. Many of us grew up with parents that modeled this behavior to us so that is what we learned.

I remember one time saying to a client, “If you don’t stop and breath and take care of yourself you are going to blow up!”. She knew what I meant.

I had to become very aware of this as I was juggling being a Mom, running a practice, and dealing with all the other things in life. I realized that I needed to take better care of myself if I was going to be able to keep up that pace.

When my boys were very young I chose to do a short meditation each morning for just 15 minutes. I’d make sure they had been fed and had everything they needed, then tell them I was going upstairs to take a short rest (they wouldn’t have understood what meditation was then).

I sat crossed legged on the bed and closed my eyes. The first day I heard the pitter patter of little feet coming up the steps. “Mommy what are you doing?”. I kept my eyes closed and told them I’d be back downstairs shortly. They tried to talk to me a few more time and I just said, “shhh

I’ll be with you soon”.

The second day it was the same. Pitter patter came the little feet, “Mommy, hey Mommy….”. They eventually went back downstairs since they weren’t getting much reaction from me.

The fourth day was a little different. I heard them coming up the steps but this time they didn’t say anything. They just stood in the doorway of the bedroom staring at me. I could feel their gaze!

The youngest came over and sat on the bed next to me. I looked through my squinted eyes and saw he was crossing his legs and put his hands on his knees. He started making some funny noises and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Within a few minutes he stopped, got off the bed and went downstairs. After that they left me alone!

I justified taking this time for myself knowing that I would be more present and calm with them. I would be a better Mom, a better doctor, a better friend. I was modeling to my sons that it is good to take care of yourself. They learned that they would be OK without me those few short minutes.

Some years later when my husband and I contacted the Alpha Center for our divorce, it was another time I needed to pay close attention to the choices I was making. Even with mediation it was a stressful time and I realized, for example, that I needed to reach out more because I was keeping a lot to myself. I knew we’d get through it and I didn’t want to fall apart in the meantime.

The people that count on us need us to be our best. When we aren’t we are letting them down, letting ourselves down, and not bringing the best of who we are to the world. When we set our priorities we can focus our time and energy on the things that matter. They are happier, and we are happier, no matter what is happening in life.

If we “crash and burn” we are not available to anyone. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish. It is an act of love.

(Dr. Burger invites you to contact her for a complimentary coaching conversation to help support you in loving yourself through the challenging times. You can contact her directly at

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