On a Tuesday after school, I stood alone on the sideline of my daughter’s middle school soccer game, unable to concentrate on anything but all the tasks I had to squeeze in when we got home.

My mind raced with thoughts of dinner, homework, laundry, feeding the dogs, emptying the car, cleaning up after dinner, choosing an outfit for both of my girls, choosing a work one for me, showers, reading books, paying attention to a story about a squirrel at recess, signing permission slips, and studying spelling words. It was all I could do to keep myself from speeding home to get a head start.

During the week, I was up at 4:30. After I took a walk, packed lunches, made breakfast for my girls, and filled my thermos with coffee, I dashed to beat the school bell at the high school where I taught. I was a pro at time efficiency, yet I couldn’t find a way to add minutes to the day.

At the time, my daughters were 10 and 12. Their quick cute Saturday morning soccer games had been replaced by a sports schedule that consumed our week. If it wasn’t soccer, it was lacrosse or swimming. Out of motherly obligation, I dragged myself to each one as though I had no choice.

By then, I’d learned that sideline chit-chat made me feel worse. I compared myself to moms who joked with one another and didn’t compulsively check their phones for the time.

I often wanted to ask them: Do you really like going to these things? How do you cope when you get home? Does your anxiety skyrocket and send you into a tailspin? But I didn’t ask anything because my husband’s love of watching our girls play let me know some parents actually enjoyed it. So, I pushed through game by game, each time a little more resentful.

Most of the time when we got home afterward, I acted awfully. I snapped at my kids and raced around the house as if someone was chasing me. Annie’s mac and cheese and mini carrots became the go-to dinner (“Yes, again,” I told my younger daughter.) I got angry when my dogs took over 30 seconds to poop and cursed my husband for going back to work to “finish up.” I let my girls watch TV while they ate, so I didn’t have to sit with them. I needed the time to get everything done before bed.

Nothing about it felt good—not me, not the way I was mothering, or the unrealistic burden of squeezing a list of “musts” into a tiny window of time.

The night I made my younger daughter cry because she asked for help with her homework, I knew something had to give. No longer could I buy into the false notion that a “good” mom showed up for every game. Showing up at every game was making me anything but. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off.

In my head, I rehearsed how I’d explain to my daughters that I wasn’t going to go to every game anymore. I didn’t want them to mistake my absence for apathy. In the end, I opted for the truth.

One night before bedtime, I sat on their bedroom floor and said, “I’m not going to all your games anymore. I’ll be in a better mood if I have some time to get stuff done before you get home. OK?”

They both looked at me and smiled. More than that, they looked relieved. I told them to pick two games a season that they wanted me to watch. I’d look forward to going to them and, other times, be happy listening to the recap over dinner that was something different than Annie’s mac and cheese.

At first, putting my needs before theirs didn’t feel right. If anything says “bad” mom, it’s skipping the line of everyone else’s needs. But I was tired of being a martyr and not convinced they needed me at every game. What they needed was a mom who met them at the door and was happy to see them. When I made the decision, a 10-ton boulder lifted off my shoulders. If anyone was judging me, I felt too good to care.

This year my younger daughter is a senior in high school. With confidence, I can tell you I don’t regret the games I missed. Nostalgia doesn’t take over and leave me wishing for lost time on soccer sidelines. I may not remember a specific load of laundry or meal I made while they played, but I do remember rewriting an unwritten obligation of motherhood that allowed me to show up as the best version of myself in all the other moments off the sports field.

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