Taking a Kid's Day Off
It all started when I volunteered for my daughter Mini's nursery class trip to Fort Whyte. We were all excited about the event until I found out what time we'd be leaving the school. "Just before lunch." Hmm. My son Lam usually comes home for lunch. Going on this class trip would mean I wouldn't be home to give him said lunch.
After looking at all the options, my husband and I decided to pull Lam out of school for the day. He wouldn't be missing anything significant. He's only in Grade 1, and it was only one day. Lam would spend the day with Daddy and sit in his AC Circuits lecture, surfing on Daddy's laptop at the back of the class. Despite the nature of the lecture (I've taken AC Circuits, and it's not exactly a thrill-of-a-lifetime subject), Lam was jazzed about hanging out at his Dad's work.
Okay, the plan was set. The school was contacted. Everyone was on-board... sort of. The plan made sense, so why did I feel like I was letting my son play hooky?!
So, when one of my friends, whose son is also in Lam's class, called me, I had to ask her opinion. "I wouldn't worry about it, Nenette," she said. "On the rare occasion when Will just isn't feeling up to going to school, I let him have a day off. A mental health day."
Oh, yeah, Mental Health Day.
I could've used a Mental Health Day or two as a child. I was one of those "lucky" kids who had dance lessons, piano lessons, swimming lessons, tae kwon do lessons, and so on, filling up every single night of the week, even weekends. It was exhausting, and I never got a break even when I felt like I really needed one.
I grew up with the idea that you ALWAYS go to school. Health -- physical or mental -- comes second. In fact, I had to be near death's door to be allowed to stay home to get better. It didn't matter if I was coughing, sneezing, and potentially infecting everyone else in the classroom. I had to go to school. Period.
Now, here I was, allowing my son to skip, and he wasn't even sick. What kind of delinquent mom was I?! What was I teaching my child? That ditching school is okay?! That an inconvenient schedule justified a parent-sanctioned skip? Would I be called to the principal's office?!
So, of course, I brought my conscience-gnawing guilt to the school outing and asked the other volunteers. Their responses intrigued me. An aunt of one of the boys told me that when her 18-year-old daughter was in school, she was allowed 3 "Snow Days" per school year. She could take them anytime she wanted, no questions asked, but once the 3 days were used up, she had to go to school no matter what. Her daughter learned how to gauge her feelings and decide if she really needed that day off or could save it for another day. And it eliminated "fake sick" days.
As more moms chimed in, I realized that this Snow Day/Mental Health Day concept was quite common. Yes, it's important that our children learn to meet obligations, they said, but there is more to life than school and work. There's also health and family.
Taking a much-needed day off can teach kids that mental and physical health must be respected, that keeping contagion at home is appreciated by coworkers and parents of classmates, that stress needs to be addressed before it spirals into something worse, and that working within the schedule of the family unit sometimes means taking the day off school so that your little sister can have Mommy there for her very special school event.