Writer Taayoo Murray shares the lessons her son has taught her about staying healthy — inside and out.
My youngest was about to become a high school freshman, and I worried about peer pressure and bad decisions. It turns out my worry was overblown. “Kyle is a low key asshole,” my older son told me. “He doesn’t care enough about what people think of him to be influenced.”
By sheer luck, I raised a child who understood himself and the importance of prioritizing his own needs. My son’s ability to advocate for himself by doing things like taking mental health days has taught me so much. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.
My son has never gotten a perfect attendance award from school, and I’m OK with that. It’s an impossible expectation and sets false precedence for real life. He started asking to take mental health days in sixth grade and now continues to take them when needed. I wasn’t opposed to the request because he was always obviously tired when he asked, and one random absent day wouldn’t lead to academic failure.
Taking a day off here and there helps him recharge and get well-needed rest.
My son has zero qualms about declaring that he’s the most important person in his life. He maintains he can’t depend on anyone else to prioritize his own needs but himself. This was a hard pill for me to swallow as a Black woman. Growing up, I attended a religious girls’ school, and most lessons began with “A lady doesn’t….” Ladies are selfless. Black women are self-sacrificial.
I’ve learned that putting on his own oxygen mask first is self-care, and it doesn’t make him selfish. He never has to deal with being overextended or getting roped into something he doesn’t want to do. Now, before I commit to any activity, I ask myself: Who does it benefit? Why am I doing it? Do I really want to do it? The answer is no if my well-being isn’t positively impacted in at least two of my three responses.
I once asked my son if a particular family member had his phone number. He casually replied, “No. She doesn’t respect boundaries. She’s gonna want to blow up my phone.” What a revelation: Not everyone deserves or should have access to you.
One of the most important factors for protecting your mental health is deciding who you let in. My son taught me that I have control over this. I don’t have to relinquish that power to anyone. Being deliberate about who has access to me made a difference in my well-being. I don’t answer emails or take calls before 9 a.m. EST and after 5 p.m. EST, and I don’t send emails after that time. I’m also very careful about how I volunteer my time — I no longer feel guilty when saying no.
We all want to be liked. The extent to which we allow this need to influence our decisions is another matter. Imagine starting with the reference point that it’s OK if everyone doesn’t like you. Now, imagine being comfortable with that fact at 14 years old. “Mommy, a lot of these kids don’t even like themselves. Why should I be bothered if they don’t like me?”
The need to be liked can exacerbate stress levels when you don’t receive the responses you expect.
My son taught me that everyone has their inner circle. Everyone can’t be in yours, and you can’t be in everyone’s.
That’s totally fine. Knowing your value and that you’re worthy improves self-esteem and can positively impact mental health. One
My son has no clinical training in psychology. His focus is just on being happy and living his best life. This translates into adopting habits that support a healthy mental and physical state.
You are more than your physical body. Making yourself the priority includes nurturing your mental health. The next time you or your kids feel under the weather, take a moment to consider whether it’s not just your body but your mind that also needs a break.
Taayoo is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her niche is family, health and wellness, and lifestyle. As a mother, she’s fascinated with all things parenting. After being the health proxy for her brother during a liver disease diagnosis that ended with his getting a transplant, Taayoo immersed herself in the inner workings of health and the healthcare system. This experience enhanced her ability to reach readers where they are about all things health and wellness related. Taayoo has more than seven years of experience as a paid writer, with her work published in national publications like Parents, Huffpost Well, Business Insider, New York Times Kids, and others.