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Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

If you have ever traveled on an airplane, or even watched a movie about air travel, then you have heard the pre-flight safety speech. After informing you how to buckle your seat belt and where the exit doors are, the flight attendant shows you how to put on an oxygen mask in the event that cabin air pressure is lost. There is always a reminder to put on your own mask before assisting anyone else with theirs.

Why this last piece of instruction?

Parental instincts are usually very useful things. They are tuned towards getting a child out of danger first before rescuing themselves. For most normal, earth-bound threats—like an attacking tiger, for example—this is a perfectly fine response. Move the child to safety, fight the tiger, move on with life. But the situation with the oxygen mask is different. The parental instinct is not aligned with the threat: passing out from lack of oxygen. Here, the mother or father needs to see to their own needs first to ensure they can take care of those around them.

There is an analogy here to much of parenting but especially homeschooling. While some situations, like the tiger attack, call for attending to others needs first, many situations are far more like the loss of cabin pressure on the airplane. We need to put on our own oxygen masks first.

This is an example of self-care. It is not self-indulgence or selfishness. It is taking proper care of your own needs as a person so that you can continue to attend to those in your care with the attention and energy they deserve.

How does this work as a homeschooler? It begins by figuring out what are the things that make you feel alert and human and making them a priority. If you need coffee and a full breakfast before you can handle schoolwork, and you’re not a morning person to begin with, make that clear to your early birds. It is very possible that you end up with a child who is itching to knock out all of their schoolwork early so they can spend their day doing something more interesting. I have at least a few children like this. They know that they can do whatever schoolwork they want but I don’t review anything until I’m done with breakfast.

Putting on your oxygen mask first may mean blocking out planning time to stay on top of what lessons you’re working on. But it can also mean more mundane tasks like scheduling time for exercise, hobbies, or reading. Your child will benefit from you taking the time to take care of yourself. Since we can’t pass on what we haven’t received, our own continuing education and recreation will always have an effect on our children. And you’re setting an example of self-care for them at the same time.

Finally, putting on your oxygen mask means finding an approach to schooling that works for both you and your students. This is going to take some experimentation and fine tuning. But your students will not benefit from a curriculum or schedule, however good it looks on paper, if it is not one that you can execute without depleting your mental resources. Whether it’s being honest about your circadian rhythm and not starting school until noon, or realizing that you’re just not an arts and crafts person and you need to find a co-op or enrichment class taught by someone else, making sure that you are pursuing the possible will help keep you the oxygen supply you need to be fully present to your students.

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