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The Oxygen Mask Principle

March 8, 2010

Yesterday I was in Relief Society. I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to me to be a woman, and Relief Society (the organization for women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)  is a great place to go with those kinds of questions. I think maybe I found some answers, mostly stuff I already knew but had kind of forgotten. But still, I have a lot to muse about, and some of that musing I need to do in public, here on my blog.

I’m not even really sure what got me thinking about these questions. They’ve always been there, I guess, but maybe now more urgently than ever. It might have had a little to do with little arguments with my husband over doing the dishes, a book I recently read called “Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and my observations of people around me.

In the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, I learned that, despite years of advances in equality between husbands and wives, marriage is still unequally beneficial towards men. Men who are married make more money, are happier, healthier, and live longer than men who are single. All of those things are the opposite for women. Women who are married do not live as long and do not make as much money as women who are not. The statistics really shocked me and I started wondering why it has to be this way. And I started thinking about the question, “Is it really possible to be happy being a stay at home mom? Could I be happy being a stay at home mom?” And it’s been a pretty tough question to answer. Ultimately, though, I do think the answer is really YES. But some aspects of it are still hard for me to come to terms with.

So, back to Relief Society yesterday. It was the first Sunday, so our Presidency chose and taught the lesson, which was on love. Early on in the lesson, we started having a lot of discussion about how part of loving other people is loving yourself. I was really encouraged that so many girls had something to say about this topic. It all resonated with me, and I knew it was true. It was just what I needed to hear to bring to my mind an analogy I heard a long, long time ago. I thought I had come up with it myself, but I must have heard it somewhere at some point because apparently people have been using it for a while. But the analogy is, that if you’re on an airplane, you have to put the oxygen mask on your own face before you can help anyone else. Because if you yourself can’t breathe, you’re in no position to help anyone at all. To me, this analogy really makes sense. It helps me feel more capable of someday meeting the challenges of being a mother. It is good, of course to be selfless, but it’s not good to become so selfless you have no self left, because then you have nothing else to give.

Some feminists take issue with that philosophy, though, because, while it is good to make sure you are taken care of, it still implies that your ultimate goal is to take care of others, and taking care of yourself for your own sake is not a worthy goal. I can see why they would think that, being a little bit of a feminist myself. I was brought up that way. But I was also brought up with a strong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the divine role of women as mothers. So reconciling those two ideas is going to be a lifelong project for me. I know feminism is somewhat of a dirty word to some people, but I want to know what everyone else thinks. What does it mean to you to be a woman? Wife? Mother? How do you do it? What does feminism mean to you? Do you agree with the Oxygen Mask Principle?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2010 3:23 pm

    I took a class at BYU once and we had to attend lectures. A professor from the South and not LDS did a study on marriage and how it affected the different sexes. He discovered that all marriages are beneficial for men for a variety of reasons. It was different for women. A marriage was only beneficial to the woman if it was a good, healthy marriage. That really shed light on a lot of things I had been seeing around me with other marriages, good and not so good.

    I also have considered myself somewhat of a feminist, but not in the sense of the word in relation to the world. I feel that men and women are equal but different. It is really hard to be a Mom and Wife and take care of everyone. But it can be so fulfilling in the end, not in the minutiae of changing diapers and fixing dinner, altho that can be fulfilling occasionally (not the diaper part!). But you do have to take care of yourself. But not in the selfish way that commercials scream to us about; pedicures, spa days, massages, girls night out. Those things can help but you need to take care of yourself by nurturing your mind, body, and soul. There are many ways to do this and no one knows how to do that better than yourself. The trick is finding time, especially when you have little ones. And in order for this to work you must have a supportive husband and be in a good, healthy marriage. And we are all in this world to take care of people, whether the feminists want to believe it or not. One of the main themes of the Bible is being your brother’s keeper.

    Sorry it’s so long! It is a lifelong process of discovering who you are and feeding your mind, body, and soul, because we are always changing and growing. Good luck on your journey!

  2. March 8, 2010 4:10 pm

    I believe in the oxygen mask theory. But I also realize between work, being mommy, being wife, and being myself there isn’t much room for me at the moment. Being a mom to little kids that really can’t manage much on their own is tough and time consuming. But then they say the cutest things and it makes it worth it. So I do try to take time for myself but I’m not always successful.

  3. March 10, 2010 9:22 am

    Just found your blog from the RS page and i love it! it so nice and lovely.

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