Take a Deep Breath, Parents, and Let Go of Self-Reliance

“Put your own oxygen mask on first.” I’ve heard this message dozens of times, on airplanes, from pulpits and podcasts. But what if that is not as easy as it sounds? I found out the hard way.

We sat two-by-two on a small airplane one afternoon. I nestled a toddler by my side and a baby in my lap. Across the aisle, my husband and our middle daughter were seated behind our two oldest. We were heading home from our first trip flying with all five of our children. 

Midway through the flight, in a terrifying turn of events, the oxygen masks dropped abruptly from the ceiling.

A woman’s voice projected over the loud speaker, “this is not a drill”, and we immediately took action. I wiggled an arm free from beneath my sleeping 10-month-old and frantically flung it overhead to reach my mask. In a frenzy, I pulled too hard, tearing the tube right out of the ceiling. Now down a mask, my panic grew as we spent the next 45 seconds attempting to situate masks on ourselves and our children.   

After a minute that felt like an hour, the pilot announced that the entire ordeal had merely been a malfunction. Although “malfunction” is not the most pleasing word to hear while 38,000 feet in the air, we took a true breath of relief. Yet, I struggled to take it in. 

I wrestled to grasp gratitude because I was too busy berating myself for my previous reach snafu. The acrid smell of deployed masks matched the harshness of my inner-dialogue. “You messed it up!” I thought to myself. “If you can’t even put your oxygen mask on first, how will you ever take care of these children?” I questioned as I wiped away a tear from my eye. I caught a glimpse of my own brokenness in the fractured mask that dangled before me, and I sat shaken and defeated.  

Bogged Down by Our Reaching 

Reaching for my oxygen mask that day demonstrated that just because I understand what is expected of me doesn’t mean it will be easy to accomplish. Parenting is that kind of experience: we know on some level what is required of us, but carrying out this call is where we meet challenge. 

Self-reliance is a frequent pitfall for me in parenthood. In an effort to “put my mask on first,” I am prone to reach for solutions out of my own strength (self-help at its finest). The pressures of parenthood exacerbate this problem. We have children reaching for help from day one: 

  • The baby who incessantly cries, waiting for us to figure out what she needs.
  • The preschooler depending on us for the school decision about kindergarten.
  • The elementary-aged kid seeking answers for an endless stream of questions: “What’s for dinner, mom?”; “Can my friend come over, mom?”; “Can you give me a ride, mom?”; “Will you play with me, mom?”
  • The stressed-out teenager looking to us to be the calmest one in the room.
  • The struggling adult child who reaches elsewhere, no longer comforted by our advice or our embrace. 

When the demands of our children are high, the demands we place on ourselves grow higher. Contrary to the incident on the plane, parenting is not a drill. Alongside our children, we navigate real moments in real time that cannot be undone.

It is tempting, then, to take matters into my own hands. Just like I tried to use the right amount of force on the oxygen mask, I strive to get it right. But over time, self-reliance leads to a labored and heavy life, like someone struggling to breathe. I cling tightly to my children instead of embracing the God who has already reached out for me. It is hard to admit the possibility of a “malfunction” in my parenting, but God’s grace reminds me that I was not made to save myself or our children.

Upheld by His Strength  

We may be parents, but the core of our identity will always be child. As the old hymn declares, we are invited to rest in the reality that “This is my Father’s World.” Our lives were not designed to revolve around ourselves or our families. As children of God, we are meant to lean fully on our Father. Parents, we can shift away from putting our masks on first because our children need us, and shift towards putting our masks on first because we need him. 

Putting our own oxygen mask on first is not a declaration of self-care, but an admission of our deep need. We do so as an act of surrender, succumbing to the reality that we cannot save ourselves. This is the starting place—not just of being a parent—but of being a child of God.  

Our Father first breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam. God has been the source of oxygen for his children from the start. And to further sustain our lives, he allowed his son, Jesus, to surrender his breath on the cross (John 10:18). 

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last breath. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).

The curtain tearing in two meant that Jesus made a way for people—for us—to access God. Like the ripping of a mask right out of the ceiling, he sacrificed his own breath so that we could have life everlasting. It was God’s doing, not ours. 

Our Father reached down from heaven to preserve the lives of his children. This display of God’s grace and power through Christ’s death and resurrection means we can be tethered to him for eternity. If we are in Christ, no matter how hard we pull, he will never disconnect from us.  

My broken mask was a tangible reminder that parenthood leads us to the end of ourselves, to acknowledge our brokenness and to see that our need extends far beyond what our own reach can remedy. We can look confidently to our Good Father for sustaining life. He does the saving, both for us and for our children. The overreaching parent can breathe easier remembering that we are upheld by the might of our Savior. This good news gives us the freedom to live and parent in light of God’s deeds and not our own. 

Check out our current Rooted Parent Podcast season: Parenting, Technology, and the Truth.

Chrissy Trapp studied Human and Child Development at Vanderbilt University and then went on to graduate with her Masters of Arts in Christian Counseling from Houston Baptist University. Chrissy and her husband, John, spent many years working in college ministry with RUF and now reside in Houston, Texas where John serves as the Senior Pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. She enjoys being alongside him in ministry as well as mothering their five children. In her spare time, she loves reading, writing, counseling and running.

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