The start of a new sports season is always exciting for children. My youngest daughter loves soccer and is usually elated when a new season starts. New cleats, shorts, and shin guards—check! New soccer bag, headband, and water bottle—check! New FC Barcelona jersey to practice in, excited texts to friends, and good attitude—check!
The renewed sense of optimism every season brings is so much fun. However, when this particular soccer season started, she acted differently than usual. On the first day of practice, instead of filling her water bottle with ice-cold water, putting on sunscreen, gathering her shin guards, and getting dressed an hour ahead of time, she was very quiet and stayed in her room.
I’ve learned that when one of my children act considerably different than usual, it typically means they are dealing with a bigger issue. Sensing this, my husband and I decided to talk to her about it. After a long talk, and a lot of tears she told us she didn’t want to join soccer this season. I will spare the details as to why, but it was not laziness or a desire to quit. There were other factors playing into her decision to stop and calmly talking through this with her brought out the reasons why.
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If you’re a parent, you know how frustrating it can be when a child changes their mind. Especially if you’ve already paid for the entire season and bought all the gear. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to teach kids to follow through when they make a commitment.
More importantly, though, it is crucial to teach children to prioritize their mental health. Mental health is far more important than any sport, club, or social activity.
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Instead of making her go to soccer, we decided it was best for her emotional well-being if she stayed home. Soon after our talk, we could see the pressure lift from her shoulders. She ended up playing Minecraft with my husband and ate her favorite snacks with us. Within minutes, she started talking and smiling again. At that moment, she needed connection, not a stern lesson in commitment.
In retrospect, I admit I haven’t always put my children’s mental health first. There was a time when I thought busy was better, living the Pinterest life was key, and keeping up with the Joneses on Facebook and Instagram was important. I would say yes to everything, including volunteering, sports sign-ups, birthday parties, classroom mom duties, and more. After all, I needed to post on social media how great of a mother I was (insert eye roll).
Our family motto seemed to be “just go to bed, and we’ll repeat the chaos tomorrow.”
Our days and nights were jam-packed with activities, and it caused my patience to be nonexistent. I would snap at my children, respond hastily to texts or emails, and commit to things we didn’t even want to do. In fact, I was so stressed one time that I threw a hairbrush across the room. Yikes.
I don’t know if it was the hairbrush moment or another rushed moment, but deep down I knew something had to change.
My family was struggling because there was more stress than smiles and more tears than laughs. We were miserable. I pictured myself as a juggler, trying to juggle 15 balls (commitments) in the air, each one with a different label—children, husband, wife, mom, family, work, volunteering, cooking, errands, parents, social events, friends, social media, pets, classroom mom . . . and no matter how hard I tried, I would drop one or two with each attempt. I often wished I had a real-life easy button to make everything simpler.
That’s when I had a realization—I didn’t need an easy button, I needed a pause button.
I just wanted things to stop so I could catch up. I realized that every new commitment I made resulted in saying no to other commitments, sometimes that included my children’s own mental wellbeing. Yep, I dropped that ball numerous times. Then it clicked—I had the power to pause, and it was all up to me.
So, I started pausing and evaluating before I committed, responded, or reacted. It did not come naturally at first and required me to be intentional with each pause, but it changed things for the better.
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Pausing didn’t mean I said no to every event and activity, but it did make me think twice before committing to two outings in one day, or taking on a new project, or posting another picture of something on social media, or throwing a hairbrush across the room.
Pausing helped me make wiser decisions for myself and my children. It helped me prioritize by putting my children’s mental health and family first.
Pausing may be as simple as a deep breath, a walk outside, or eating chocolate in your pantry. It doesn’t have to be a weekend away or something extravagant, but there’s power in a simple, “I’ll get back to you” before committing.
Having been an imperfect mom for 15 years and counting, I have had too many rushed and stressful moments to count. Thankfully, many of these moments are ones I can laugh at in hindsight. Other moments served as important learning lessons. Through all of them though, one of the biggest lessons for me was prioritizing my children’s mental health first by learning to pause. Once I did that, our family started to thrive. I went from juggling 15 balls to a manageable five. The calendar grew less cluttered, and everyone became happier, including me.
I’m sure there will be a few crazy days ahead, but they will be far less frequent. And while I can’t promise I won’t ever throw a hairbrush again, I can tell you that through the practice of pausing, I know the chances of it happening will be far less.