Put your oxygen mask on first

Put your oxygen mask on first

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s post. That post, shared on our town’s Moms FaceBook page garnered the most views for anything I’ve posted for this blog. I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing. When I started writing about mental health about a year after my husband’s death, it was my desire to help open more eyes and ears to something that deserves so much more attention.

Another post in the last week on that moms page which got a lot of attention got me thinking about how the standards to which we hold ourselves and each other can be quite harmful to our mental health. The post (for those of you not following along) was from a mom of younger – I assumed elementary school-age children – who was fed-up with the speed at which one particular teenager was driving down her residential street.  This of course would be a concern to any mom whether coming from the perspective of a parent of small children whose safety was in jeopardy or the parent of the teenager who may be speeding. Had that post stated the issue and then maybe something along the lines of if any knows who this is, please tell them to slow down, the safety of all our children is at stake! the response probably would have been all positive. Instead the post was addressed to “the parents of the teen” and concluded with the line Get your kid under control!!!!

The blame evoked in that post got under my skin. And instead of leaving well-enough alone I responded; I believe, as diplomatically as possible.  I said something like, I understand your concern, no one should be speeding on any street in our town, but to hold the parents of  a “child” of driving age responsible is wrong. There comes a time when young adults need to take responsibility for their own actions and at that age, parents have little control over what their teens do. To this she called me a failure as a parent. And I told her we should plan to chat again when her children were teenagers. The thread continued with many other moms weighing in. I can’t tell you anything that was said exactly because the original post and long thread of comments that followed has since been removed. Yes, it got that bad.

Let’s first talk about the expectation we – mothers – set for ourselves. We want to do everything right for our kids and if we perceive that they are falling short somewhere along the way, we often take the blame. We put enormous pressure on ourselves.  At the same time we are trying to raise our children to become successful adults, we are also trying to have satisfying marriages, running a household, managing the care of aging parents, and maybe even trying to balance a successful career. That’s a lot. And when a number of those areas aren’t working out quite as well as we planned. It gets frustrating. And depressing. Our mental health is in jeopardy. We need to give ourselves – and each other – a break and stop blaming, criticizing, and judging, or allowing ourselves to be.

That’s why I couldn’t leave well enough alone and not respond to that post. I was thinking about moms who were dealing with things far worse than speeding, and not wanting them to feel that in anyway they were to blame, As the parent of a 17-year-old, I now conclude that how our children turn out has as much to do with luck as great parenting. Like we can only take so much credit for the success of our children, we can only accept so much of the blame. 

I didn’t always see it that way though. I remember how not long ago I was that mom – the mom of a 11 year-old with good grades and perfect attendance, who loved school, was interested in attending Princeton or Yale, and was a finalist in the DARE essay contest. I was certain I knew how to raise a child; thought I’d have those teenage years covered and my kid – through my example and exemplary parenting skills – would be perfect.  I secretly judged other parents who were struggling, and imagined what they must be doing wrong. But before my husband and I could finish patting ourselves on the back, life quickly changed.  Seventh grade happened. And I began to learn that 1) these kids have free will, 2) we only have so much control, and 3) we can’t protect them from everything. And that’s okay.

As our children grow up, our perspective as parents change. Everything I experienced as a cancer survivor and losing my husband to suicide changed my perspective too. I don’t judge the way I used to. I now understand that everyone is dealing with challenges in their own homes and in their own bodies and in their own minds that the rest of us know nothing about. And sometimes we are simply ignorant, unable to see beyond our own perspective at that moment. I have learned as a coach that we are all – our children included – naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’ll figure this out.

But let’s take care of ourselves – our own mental health – first. It’s like they say during the flight safety demonstration, ” If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Especially as parents, we are no good to our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves – eat right, exercise, de-stress as much as possible. That way we have as much energy and as much mental capacity to deal with everything the kids are going to throw at us. Sometimes even still, that’s a tall order. 

We’ve heard it a million times, parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have — and we often have to do it while we deal with our own insecurities, limited perspective, other stressors coming at us from several different directions. All while under the watchful gaze of other parents who think they can do it better. Have you ever looked through a bookstore for a parenting book? Have you seen the number of often contradictory subjects? Do you know why this is? Because we are all unique. Every parent. Every child. There is no one size fits all solution that will work for everyone. We have to find what works best for us.

Remember in my last post when I said, “as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already”? Well, I (we all!) don’t need other parents adding to that self-doubt. We need to support one another. We need to approach our relationships with other parents from the perspective of a coach – that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Sure we need to look out for each others kids, and talk amongst ourselves to solve problems and discover solutions when there are issues facing our community or our children. But we must work together. Blame, criticism, judgement, and unsolicited advice doesn’t help anyone. 

Most importantly, take care of yourself. We all have the strength we need within ourselves. To find the answers that are right for you and your family, look no further than yourself. Stop listening to everyone else. Trust your instincts, your intuition, yourself. And a journey of self-discovery starts with a clear head. When you’re feeling the heat; get out of the kitchen. Walk away. Get off FaceBook. Meditate. Go for a run. Walk in the woods. Make an appointment with a therapist. Hire a coach. Practice the self-care that works for you. Solving the mental health crisis that I spoke about last week starts with us.

IMG_6338Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey. April 2017

Running away

Running away

So I was reminded a few days ago about the first time I ran just because I wanted (needed?) to run; before I consciously went out running for the “first time” almost 21 years ago; before I found myself struggling through Central Park for three and a half miles as a member of my company’s Corporate Challenge team a year prior to that. I believe it was Memorial Day weekend 1992. And I honestly had the memory tucked so far back in my mind that I hadn’t recalled it until Friday. It was the first time I saw running as a means to relieve stress.

My stressors right now involve establishing my business and a whole bunch of parenting stuff (which  out of respect for my daughter’s confidentiality and trust she places in me will not be detailed here). So I decided to take the morning off on Friday to get my head back in a better place. The sun was shining and the outdoor thermometer was already exceeding 70. I had access to a convertible. Can we ignore for a moment that climate change is real and a day like that in February is just not right? Just enjoy the moment since it’s upon us?

I was just gonna go for a little drive and the next thing I knew I was steering in the direction of “Shore Points”. I had dressed in my running clothes as soon as I got up that morning and I was very conscious of the speed work on my training schedule that I was now missing or putting off.  I thought, “is there someplace I could go to run?” I decided on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk.  As I was driving the temperature climbed to 78 and I was thinking I would be over dressed in tights and long sleeve technical shirt, but it was cooler at the beach. I parked my car on Ocean Avenue (for free); something you can’t do in the summer. I walked over to the Boardwalk and started in front of Martel’s Tiki Bar and headed north. I ran to the end at Manasquan Inlet and back as my warm-up, then started the speed session when I got back to Martel’s heading south this time (the workout was 400 x 6 with a 60 second rest; without the benefit of a track, I used my Garmin watch to gauge the distance).

As soon as I took off on the first 400, the memory came flooding back to me. I was distraught over some issue in a dead-end relationship. I had been with a group of friends at the Tiki Bar and something happened. What? I don’t recall. But, I suddenly remembered vividly on Friday what I did to cope. I was always good at managing my emotions simply by removing myself from the situation or individuals involved. “Walk away” was advice my parents had given me long ago. That day I walked out of Martel’s Tiki Bar. But walking wasn’t going to do it. I spontaneously started to run. As fast as I could. Weaving in and out of the Memorial Day weekend crowds until I got to the end (which on Friday I learned is about a half mile). Then I stood there, barefoot, in shorts and bikini top, hunched over, gasping for breath. As soon as I regained my composure, I turned around and ran full speed back to Martel’s. I managed my anger. I didn’t yell. I didn’t cry. I didn’t strangle someone who probably deserved it. I ran.

As I now recall the event and the timing of it, I realize that a week later I met my late husband. I had amazing clarity around what I wanted in my life so I gave that relationship a chance and walked away from what wasn’t working once and for all. Co-incidence? I think not. As I’ve said before, I do not believe that anyone starts running because they actually like to run. We are all ultimately running away from or running to something. Sometimes it’s a little of both. Running away is often a way to get to exactly where we need to be. And who we want to be.

Me? I want to be a caring parent, a loving partner, a competent coach, a successful business owner. To achieve that, I am also a dedicated runner. What are you running away from? What’s your destination? Who do you need to be to get there?

Winter in New Jersey. Point Pleasant Beach. February 2017.