Permission to Stop

Dear Mom, I’m giving you (and myself) permission to stop.

To stop

  • Potty training, and try again in a couple of months
  • Dance classes, even though you (we) paid for the session already
  • Reading a book that you or your child just isn’t connecting with
  • In the middle of a math lesson, where you’re both “done” even though there are 5 questions left
  • That playgroup or co-op that just isn’t clicking, no matter what the other moms think
  • That homeschool curriculum that sounded amazing but just isn’t fitting your family’s learning style

We’ve been debating whether to keep going in a couple of these areas recently, and I developed a couple questions to help me sort through the decision making process:

  1. Is this activity causing my child or me undue stress or anxiety?
  2. Is this activity damaging my relationship with my child?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then I give myself and my child permission to stop.

The science: in Psychology 101, we learn that there are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is the good stress that helps you accomplish more, power through to the end of a race, complete a project on time, and persist in being consistent when dealing with a difficult two-year-old.

Distress is the negative, debilitating stress that causes harm to you and your relationships.  It’s when that race becomes too much and you break down, when the project is overwhelming and causing nightmares, and that two year old immediately evokes anger, even when acting in an age-appropriate manner.


When a person is in distress, he or she is incapable of learning, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

This theory says that if the lower, basic needs aren’t being met, there is no chance to grow in the top three areas. (

If my three year old doesn’t trust her dance teacher, she’s not going to flourish. If my six year old feels I’m withholding food from him until his work is done (even if that’s not actually true), he will be unable to retain any meaningful content from that math lesson.

There are times when we persist, power through, push, persevere.

But when it’s begun to hurt us or those we love, it’s ok to stop.

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