It was my young daughter who prompted our first lesson about why it’s okay to not be okay.
Another early morning. Another pair of grey-socked feet slipped into polished shoes. Another packed lunch tossed into the waiting backpack. Another normal school day.
My son took up his post in the window to watch for the bus while I finished tying up my daughter’s hair. She was right there with me, but somehow, that morning, I felt that she was somewhere else. I saw it in the slump of her shoulders first, even before I caught the look on her face.
This was not the weary look that she’d had the past week as she battled a nasty cold. It was not the tired look of having stayed up too late in the night reading. This was a look that made me pause.
And then, when she eventually spoke, I heard it in her voice too.
It wasn’t the words she was saying to me, telling me how she didn’t want to go to school. It wasn’t that her throat was still a little sore, or some playground issue she was keen to avoid. And it wasn’t even that she wanted some extra alone time with me.
She would’ve coped with the day at school. And had I been any more distracted, that’s exactly how the day would’ve gone. But in her voice that day I was listening to something that I’ve recognised in my own voice before.
No parent likes to see their child sad or struggling with heavy emotions. And although we try hard to accept that we’re not responsible for their happiness, the drive to do whatever we can to lift them out of a dark mood is all-consuming.
I knew that I couldn’t fix this for my daughter. But what I could do was give her more time. I could allow her the day off school. I could give her a mental health day.
As adults, we often realise too late the importance of nurturing our mental health. By the time the dark shadows begin hovering, the stigma has already driven its wedge in deep. Now more than ever, as a parent, I strongly believe that the awareness of attending to our emotional as well as physiological needs should begin with our children.
Our children need to learn from us what it means to support their own mental health. That it’s always important to listen to their feelings and share them with trusted others. And that sometimes a little headspace is more crucial than a day of responsibilities.
So on a day when I knew my daughter needed me to look past her words, I also chose to look past a missed day of school.
And my daughter didn’t just learn how to cook lemon and poppyseed cake with me at home that day, she was learning that it’s okay to not always be okay.
A lesson more important than whatever she may have learnt in class that day.