I put my own oxygen mask on first.

This topic has been rumbling around in my back of my head for a few years, but I didn’t know how to articulate it until now.

How do I prioritize my life? What is my life made up of? Friends, family, my child, work, and my own needs, including dating/sex.

I’ve said many times that since my split, rebuilding relationships with friends and family has been a priority. I can confidently say I’ve made it happen, and of this, I’m very proud.

Work is important to me – it’s part of my identity and I love what I do. I’m in a fairly specialized field in a well-paying industry and am compensated very handsomely. I can buy decent wine and cheese, host parties, take vacations, and not worry about my financial future. This is a massive advantage and I am keenly aware how lucky I am. It also means I have the luxury of being able to choose whether I pursue a more senior level at my company. Right now, I’m in a good place and have chosen to put my focus on my life outside my office.

But how do I think about my priorities when it comes to me and my needs, as well as those of my child?

In summary? I’m going to put on my own oxygen mask first, just like they tell me.

When Will and I decided to split, we essentially put our own needs ahead of Liam’s. In the long-term, I believe Liam will benefit from not being in a household where his parents aren’t modeling a good relationship. However, in the short-term, it was definitely not to his advantage.

I know parents who stay because they think it’s better for their children. In our case, it wasn’t. I married the man whose parents should have split decades before they did. They modeled terrible conflict resolution and lack of affection. We used to joke it was amazing he could function in a relationship at all, given his parents. In contrast, my parents split when I was 7, they wrote their own joint custody and financial agreement without lawyers and managed to not involve me in their issues. This was incredibly rare at the time and set the model for how Will and I managed our split.

I believe I am a better parent to Liam when I’m happy. I believe he will benefit from seeing me in a healthy relationship. And that means I’m going to keep trying to find one. Even if it means he meets some men along the way who don’t stay around.

The benefit of our week-on week-off schedule is there are few times when Liam’s needs and my own are in conflict and I have to make a choice between them. The weeks he’s with me I try to make as much about him as possible. I avoid social engagements and work travel as much as possible. The weeks he’s not with me I focus on me and my other priorities.

Sometimes however, I’m in the situation where I want to try to fit it all in. Bruce is one of those situations. Being in opposite child schedules with someone who isn’t used to planning anything in advance is causing mild anxiety about whether this is going to work. So, while I have Liam this week I am willing to meet Bruce for an after-work drink if possible, even if it means I’m home a bit later. Yes, it means I’m denying my son perhaps 90 minutes of my time in an evening.

I feel some guilt when I write that paragraph. But it’s the truth.

Bruce, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to do the same. He had his children this past weekend and visited a parent overnight to celebrate their birthday. A couple of hours from home, he chose to spend much of the day there because his children were enjoying playing with cousins and they didn’t want to leave. He knew I had the day free and could have seen him up until the early evening when I got Liam.

He called me in the morning on Sunday, having stepped outside so as not to be talking in front of his children. We spoke very briefly, just for him to touch base, say hello, and for me to ask what the chances were of us seeing each other. Zero. By the time he would get home and take the kids to his ex’s, it would be after 4 pm. He said he then had to go grocery shopping and do laundry and so seeing me wouldn’t work.

There is nothing wrong with his choice.

Regardless, It felt crappy, and got me thinking what I would do in the same situation. I would find the balance between letting Liam hang out with family, and leave early enough so I could see Bruce. It would be worth the drive to have a bit of time. In the ten days I’ve been back, I’ve only seen him once: a mid-morning rushed 45-minute visit, including 8 minutes of sex. If I’d seen him a bunch it would be different.

And that’s not what he chose.

There are people who will put their children first all of the time, no matter what. I am not one of those people. Liam is incredibly important to me, obviously. But I’m important to me too. Being happy and finding someone who can enrich mine (and Liam’s) life is a priority. Interestingly, I think my Mom was the same. I can remember as an older teenager being left at home some nights that she went to visit my (not yet) Step Father who lived an hour away.

This isn’t just about Bruce and his choice. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered someone for whom a pursuit of a relationship will always come after work, children, and other commitments. But if you can’t carve out time to put your own oxygen mask on first, how are you ever going to avoid suffocating and find love?

~Ann

(And yes, before someone says it, of course its an option to show your children you can be happily single. I’m confident enough to say my preference is to have a partner to share my life with, and I think Liam can benefit from it too.)

41 thoughts on “I put my own oxygen mask on first.

  1. Does he only get his children every other weekend? If so I totally get his decision. I have my kid (she is 12) all the time but my bf has his child every other weekend. He was pretty rigid on his schedule. It seemed like he was always first but when that’s your only time. Also, having an ex like his who isn’t above emotional manipulation doesn’t make it easier. He went through that phase too where she threatened to take his kid all the time.

  2. I get it Ann. And yes you do need to take the time for your pursuit of a relationship.
    I have this thought that’s rolling around in my head though.
    If I were Bruce, I would try to come up with some way to get back to the original schedule he had before with the kids. Idk how he’ll do that though. And I know he wouldn’t want to raise her hackles again either.
    I do hope that you two can come up with a plan so you can continue to find time for each other. He seems so worth it!

  3. I’m with you Ann, you have to make time for yourself or next thing you know you’ve lost some of your social skills as an adult. You are doing the right thing and Bruce will realize this one day when his kids are older and don’t want to spend time with him.

  4. As someone who was prioritized second when his parents were dating I completely support Bruce’s decision. I made those same choices when dating and during my second marriage, as well. I know it sucks for you, but it’s what’s best for his kids. Especially considering how psycho their mother appears to be.

    The pitfalls of dating while trying to balance parental time is another reason I’m not actively looking for a relationship. I spend most of my time with C and try to spend any leftover time with the twins.

    I’m not saying anyone is wrong or right, just saying that this is my preference. I don’t want my children to ever feel like they are second to me the way I once did to my parents.

    • What did they do to make you feel second? I don’t think Liam feels that way – as I said there are few times that there is ever even a conflict between these things – but I don’t want to be fooling myself!

      • With my dad, we only did things as a family with my (now) step-mom. When I asked if we could do something as a family (just him and my brothers) I got a canned response about how he was allowed to date and be happy. Of course, I didn’t mind that he was seeing someone, but all I wanted was for him to make time for us like he did for her.

        With my mom it was a bit different. Her second marriage was a whole fucked up situation as a result of years of trying to find some bipolar meds that would work after a mental breakdown. But basically, one of my stepdad’s friends admitted to me that the dude was with my mom to take advantage of her. She had a car, good credit, and he basically commanded her life. He had no job and drove her to work so he could keep the car and go fuck around with his friends. When I told my mom she was being used and deserved to be treated better I was dismissed because I didn’t like him and because I was a kid who didn’t know what he was talking about. I was 15, and I didn’t like him, but I was right. In the end she found out he was gay and the dude disappeared the moment she found out.

        So because of those reasons when dating my second wife, I asked the twins if it was okay that I was dating before I introduced her to them. I also asked for their permission to marry her. If/when I start seeing someone again I’ll do the same with C. The twins are 17 so I any decision I make now won’t impact them much, but I’ll still tell them. I want them to know they matter and what they think matters. Any decision I make affects them, too.

  5. I find this a very interesting post and I fully agree with your position.
    I’m worried that if Bruce isn’t able to budge on this it could mean that he just isn’t that interested. It’s still the early days of a relationship where people are smitten enough to try and make things work to see the other person….and he seems to be making a different decision.

    • I don’t think it’s a matter of him not being interested, but is contextual to what his life has been like the last two years and what his priorities are. I think with men like this, “smitten” doesn’t suddenly change ones outlook or behaviours. I’ve seen it before with others as well as with friends. Bottom line is he’s been focussed on work and his children for two years without having to take a woman (other than his ex) into account. This is all pretty new to him and he’s never done anything different. He doesn’t know how his ex will respond to him being less flexible, so as to preserve his plans with someone else. Seen a different way, this guy is making a big effort to communicate with me and carve out that time. Given inertia is a very strong force, even just doing that is a change for him. Now, that’s not enough for me, but I’m going to give it some time. But I will need to see progress.

      • I completely understand this post and applaud your ability to balance the priorities between being Liam’s mom and all that role entails with being Ann who is also a person with needs in her own right. Absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. I am a firm believer that Liam is a direct beneficiary of a mom who is has found some balance and contentment in the rest of her roles in life.

        You’re farther along on the single parenting journey as well, which you acknowledge in this comment. While Bruce certainly seems like a quality man and worth the effort and work in building a relationship, bottom line is your divorce/dating experience and sorting out your stuff with that may mean your patience with his progress wears thin. The timing may not be right for him to be involved with a woman like you.

        While it has been 2 years, Bruce and his ex have not yet formalized the legalities of ending their relationship; avoidance of the issue has been working fairly well to date. Entering a relationship with Bruce may make you a catalyst in his moving forward with that process, which is rarely easy or painless even under the best of circumstances.

  6. He’s still “new” at this though, right? I was probably a lot more likely to not meet up with friends (much less someone I was interested in) when I had M the first few years after I left his father. It took a while (probably a few years) to realize that if I wasn’t going out every Friday night or taking hours away every weekend then it would be OK.

  7. I don’t think that is fair to expect Bruce to leave a family’s birthday celebration (and even though you said this post isn’t just about that, I understand why Bruce made the choice that he did). I’m curious…did you offer to go to his place since he had the laundry and shopping to do?

    • It wasn’t the birthday celebration that next day and of course I wouldn’t expect it. To be very specific, it was a dinner the night before. He chose to leave later the next day.
      Bruce lives 30-60+ mins from me depending on traffic. If he didn’t get home until 4pm then had to drop off the kids, and I got Liam at 6:30, if I came to him we’d have an hour less time. I have offered before to come to him. I’m not some self centred pill, I’m doing everything I can to make these things work. Turns out his ex lives just a few doors down so seems he’s too nervous about me showing up at his place still. So no, that wasn’t something he’s been open to, even the times that it’s more practical for me to come to him.

      • I know it wasn’t the birthday celebration the next day but he planned to spend the night there and this might have been planned for months….it was family time and I get it.
        Ok….I missed that Liam was coming at 6:30…and ugh, he doesn’t like you coming over?? That’s not a good sign….

        • Nope not planned for months. Last minute, like he rolls. And we were going to do something that Sat day / night until he realized two days prior he needed to go see his parent for their birthday, with the kids. I also said I understand why he made the decision, but if it was me in the same circumstance (some flexibility with a departure time) I would have made a different choice to squeeze in time with him knowing there was no other upcoming time.
          Nope, not a good sign. He doesn’t want to deal with the questions of whose unknown car is in his driveway.

  8. Oxygen mask. When I became a mom my mother always encouraged me to put my oxygen mask on first rather than model her. This, she felt, would only enhance my life and the life of her grandchild. She would say, take care of yourself first because taking care of your child comes naturally. You will do that anyway. This advice was borne out of her deep unhappiness for having lived the opposite. The effects on her children are obvious, both good and bad. Motherhood for me, and my own oxygen mask first meant a few priorities. I worked a minimum 110 non-optional hours/week and in between necessary sleep. That was what my mask first looked like. After that it was time with my child, dinner together, laughter and discussions at the dinner table, homework, science projects. Men were a challenge. Honestly they weren’t a part of my oxygen at all in the early dating days. Dating for me occurred after my child went to bed but sometimes I did involve my child for an outing, picnic, apple picking or amusement park. That allowed me to spend scare time with my child and enjoy a date without creating patterns that could affect my child. When I met my husband it almost didn’t work. I had no energy or time for extra-curricular activities other than sleep and indeed when he would come over after my child was sleep I would promptly fall asleep on his shoulder. I remember considering ending the relationship because I just couldn’t hang and the effort was wearing me out. Turns out he was more than willing to accommodate me. As our relationship progressed he became part of my oxygen too. He also became part of my child’s oxygen. When I decided to marry him he was my priority but that was easy because it was an unspoken understanding that we could put each other first because that was how to best put my child first.

    The purpose in writing this is to express that putting your oxygen mask on first takes many forms and it may look different for you than for Bruce. If Bruce has piqued your interest in that way then satisfy your need and breathe deep. It may take time for him to consider you in the same way and reach the conclusion that you are part of his oxygen mask. All this to say, go with the flow and just live your life.

      • Not meant to be a crying story. In my story I was the equivalent of your Bruce and some Anns have left me by the wayside. I suppose there were some who told me their needs but truth is my own needs and those of my child were all that mattered. When necessary, I was always open about how much wiggle room I had. After that, if there was still discussion to be had it was usually a bad sign. IMHO, you should be dating for the sake of dating. If Bruce can find a way to make it work, great. If you can find a way that is great too. There is no need for stating needs or giving strategies. Bruce may be new to the dating scene but I’m pretty sure he knows his presence, at a minimum, is required. I will say this if I may, at this point the relationship has not earned any 8 minute hook-ups, though I would concede 8 minutes of kissing, but only because I love kissing so much and their value is inherent in a way that fucking is not. Save the quickie hook-ups for your hook-up buddies. Incentives, in my experience, are strongly tied to value no matter what we are talking about. So be careful. By all means though, do date others too and you will not notice Bruce so much. Just my two cents.

  9. That sounds like exactly the same challenge I’m struggling with. How to cope when the guy you are interested in seems to put everything above time for a relationship? It is nearly 3 months since our last date and I’m not sure when I will see him again or if we will last.

    • Hope, I don’t think this sounds anything like Ann’s situation. The thing that helped me when I convinced myself that I was a side victim of someone who I believed was innocently victimizing themselves was to put my oxygen mask on first. Honestly, that is what saved me. The fresh air helped me to see things so much more clearly.

      • I have a different interpretation of Ann’s story. Certainly I don’t have children and thus worry about juggling their needs with my own.

        I was focused on the fact that Bruce, like the guy I’m interested in seems to prioritise work and kids above his own needs which includes making time for some fun.

  10. Ann, here’s a thought. Is there a way maybe you could switch up your own schedule when you have Liam? Maybe?
    If it has to come to that perhaps.

    • No, unfortunately. Will and I both have plans running into next year that are based on the schedule. The thing is with Bruce that they might switch back again just because of another holiday or trip so while it would be a huge impact for me it wouldn’t make a permanent difference. I have to write a new post because he and I did talk a little bit about it.

      • Believe me, I get it. I know what you’re saying. I mean, I’m not a parent (at least not that I know of…), so this situation isn’t something I’ve personally had to deal with. At least not from the side of the parent. I do have an absentee father. So I can imagine that if I had been in this situation where I’m a single father with minor children I probably would go…, well I don’t want say “overboard”, but I would likely put their needs first as much as possible, as I wouldn’t want them to go through what I did as a kid . If I have my kids for a week at a time, then I would likely feel a bit guilty if I were to cut down on any of that allotted time in order to spend some of it with some woman. So I guess I can understand the dilemma he’s in.

        • I suspect he’s in a similar boat. Doesn’t know his birth father. Step father he considers his “real” dad but he had a pretty rough childhood and teenage years, didn’t live with his parents the whole time. So I totally get where it could come from, it’s a good point you raise.
          Interestingly to me, Tony, whose Dad died when he was a teen, also had a similar response.

  11. Im not sure ai can add anything new to this, but it’s possible this is a growth opportunity for you. It’s a different kind of vibe and response and only you can decide if he’s worth a little discomfort.

  12. This is the exact reason I struggle on whether or not to date someone with children.
    I refuse to be the woman who divides a man from his obligation to his children. (Not at all saying that you are… I happen to think you’re choosing wisely what’s right for you and Liam).

    I have no children. My priority tends to all go into him. His goes into the kids, and then I’m…. nowhere… or so history says.

    & I honestly don’t know the right answer.

    Women focus more on the importance of maintaining “relationship” than men. Men focus on responsibility… “ie I got the kids from school, and to their mom’s. I have to do laundry and go grocery shopping..”

    My brain goes “seriously? Because you’ll literally starve and be naked tomorrow if you don’t do those things?! Hello! I’m right here. Pick time with me for effs sake!” Lol

    All that to say… I can relate to the struggle. And I hope you both find an answer and a balance that meets everybody’s needs.

  13. I agree with Phil. My dates with now husband (who was newly divorced after years separated living in a different state and had full custody of his 4 yr old daughter) consisted of them coming over to dinner (he worked very long hours) and going to the park with both kids. I was single mother (he met me when I was 3 days from giving birth😃) and I initially invited him over the first time because he stopped by with a gift when I had my daughter and I felt bad for him, I could tell he was overwhelmed and thin from stress. To this day I can’t tell you how it happened because both of us had decided before meeting that we were done with relationships. It just happened. We were married in 5 months. Intimacy while dating? With the kids around? Ha! Maybe 3 times between months 3-5. Ann, Sweet Ann, don’t fret and plan needlessly. To what sounds nuts to someone was perfect for somebody else.
    All you need is two people who like, appreciate, respect and eventually love the other enough to make it work day by day. Don’t keep records. Is he worth it? Only you can say. Are you? He will show you. His way.
    To wit: We had 2 boys after that and have been married for over 28 years. Empty Nesters the past 2. You don’t need anyone’s blueprint for your perfect story. Whether with Bruce or whoever it’s meant to be. Just live your story. Don’t try to write it. Let life surprise you with the possibilities in the Impossible, BellaXOXO

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