Travel with small children is super intense. But we do it because (a) we don’t want to stop traveling just because we have kids and (b) we often find the rewards exceed the extra effort. But the biggest question when traveling with kids is whose happiness and needs come first? And can we keep everyone happy at once?

Boarding a flight with my four-year-old son, I jockey for position down the aisle toward our row, hoist our bags into the overheard compartment and finally slide into our seats. I quickly unpack my cell phone, his iPad our snacks, sandwiches, fruit, water bottles, books and bags and then jam just the essentials into the awkward little mesh pockets knocked up against our knees.

It already feels insane and the plane hasn’t even left the ground.

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As I make sure my kid is wearing enough layers for a cozy flight adjust his window shade down enough to keep the sun out of his eyes, but open enough to see all of the action out the window a stewardess taps my shoulder with an oxygen mask in her hand, “You know, you put yours on first in case of emergency.”

Of course I nod yes because I’ve heard this from the airlines for as long as I’ve been flying. But it always feels weird to think that in case of emergency, with our plane crashing down, losing altitude, losing oxygen, masks dropping from above, I must remember, “Put yours on first!”

Forget about your kid that you always put first and take care of yourself first. Yes, in the scariest moment of your life, take care of yourself first. It’s weird and I’m not sure I buy it. The mom in me thinks that’s a crazy idea.

But after a minute of feeling defiant and thinking, “No way I’d do that,” it hits me. You’re no good to anyone if you’re not prepared yourself. It’s really all about self-care. This me-first oxygen mask philosophy is full-on validation for the self-care generation I’m a part of, especially as a mom.

Just give it a Google and you’ll see business books written on why putting your oxygen mask on first is the smartest approach and of course there are so many similar sentiments:

Love yourself first and everything else falls into place.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self-care isn’t selfish.

The list goes on and on.

So, I run through a real-life scenario in my head. Like, what would happen if our plane was crashing and the oxygen masks fell from above? And instead of me putting my mask on first, what if I put my son’s on first? He would get the oxygen, but if in that next minute of me trying to put my mask on second, the plane took a crazy turn and a suitcase hit me in the head and knocked me out, I wouldn’t be there to take care of my son. I’d be no help knocked out on the floor of a crashing plane.

It’s up to me to make sure I have enough air to breathe, so I can be a good and fully-functioning mom. 

For sure, this is something all parents can apply to our everyday lives. Make sure you’re taken care of and give yourself a little extra breathing room, so you can be calm, cool and collected when things get really crazy and you need to take care of everyone around you.

Because let’s face it: every day with kids is like preparing for takeoff. We take a deep breath and hope for a smooth ride.