Why I stopped saying “Have a good day” to my son

“Have a good day at school!”

It’s something almost all parents say as they (often frantically) get their kids out the door and off to school. Years ago, when my oldest son was in early grade school, I used to say it, too.

In fact, I used to say things like “Have a great day!” or “Have a fun day!”

This was before we got an in place for him, before his autism was identified, and before we understood he was twice-exceptional. At the time, he was struggling in school and having behavior and social troubles.

As I got more and more calls from his teachers, I started saying things like “Have a better day today!” and “Did you have a good day today?”

But every time I opened my mouth and said one of those things, I watched my son shrink before my eyes. I watched his little shoulders hunch over, his eyes glaze over with tears, and his chin wobble as he shook his head, “no.”

No, it wasn’t a better day. No, he hadn’t had a good day. No, it wasn’t fun being singled out in front of the other kids by a teacher who didn’t understand he was trying his best.

And no, he couldn’t live up to my expectations. Expectations I didn’t realize I was conveying every time he left the safety of our home and went to face what he felt like was the big, bad world of “people who don’t get me, Mom.”

Then one Saturday, we went to a movie together. I don’t even remember what movie it was or what it was about. But I’m sure it was some schmaltzy film where parents always do everything right — the kind of movie where the kids are always perfect.

What I do remember is my son’s face when the mom in the movie said to her kid, “Have a day!”

His eyes got wide and he grinned. Back then, he was such an anxious and depressed kid that it was striking to see his smile.

“Mom,” he said. “Mom! That’s what you should say.”

“Have a day?” I asked. “That doesn’t make much sense.”

“Yes, it does,” he told me.

And then he explained why. He wasn’t able to express it eloquently, but the gist of it was that there’s no pressure in those words. They acknowledge that some days are going to be good, some days are going to be bad, and some days are just going to be.

They mean, “I know you’re trying your best” and “I accept you for who you are and don’t blame you when things get too overwhelming for you to handle.” They mean, “Have the day you’re going to have, and we’ll get through it together.”

They mean, “I love you no matter what.”

So I started saying “Have a day.” It became our shorthand for all of those things. And my son began to trust again that I had his back and would do my best to show him empathy and understanding.

That was more than half his lifetime ago. All these years later, he’s in a much better place. He had the support and services he needed to be successful in school. He learned to self-advocate with his teachers, and I’ve learned to let him do it.

He doesn’t need me to say “Have a day” for the same reasons anymore. Now we say it to each other in wry acknowledgment of the times when things were tougher for him. But when his younger brother — who also has learning and thinking differences — started school, he reminded me.

“Don’t tell him to have a good day, Mom. Tell him to have a day.”

Looking to spark a conversation about school with your child? Try putting a twist on common questions about school.


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