Parents are in the habit of saying ‘no’. So much so that it becomes reflexive, said without thought and often without substance. I know that I’ve fallen into that pattern, but recently I’ve been trying to pause and think about my answer before I automatically respond with a ‘no’. Parents throw the word ‘no’ around so often that kids stop hearing it. They simply ignore it and keep badgering the parent with their question or request until the parent caves and says ‘yes’. Which is bad because it means that the ‘no’ was insincere, which can then be interpreted to mean that ‘no’ never really means ‘no’. Example: Your child asks you to play a game of cards with them and your knee jerk reaction is ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ (which really means you don’t want to and are hoping they won’t ask again later). But they beg and plead and ask and ask and finally you say, “Oh all right. Just one game.” Which usually becomes two or three games out of some weird kind of guilt over saying ‘no’ in the first place. ‘No’ didn’t really mean ‘no’, and in that case it would have been much better to say , “Yes, I’ll play one game with you,” right off the bat and then stick to it. Because if the situation is serious, like your kid is about to step out in front of a speeding car while chasing a ball, you want your ‘No!’ to carry the kind of weight that will stop them in their tracks. ‘No’ should always mean ‘no’.
It is such a habit to say ‘no’ that thinking about it to make sure I mean it before opening my mouth takes discipline and practice. (At least for me. Maybe the rest of you are shaking your heads and thinking ‘what a loser! I never say no unless I really mean it’, in which case you can just skip this entry). Here’s an example from this evening. It was about 9:20pm and I was telling the kids about this cool idea I saw in a magazine of making travel embroidery and beading kits by putting a few essential items in an empty Altoids box so that you can take it with you everywhere. They were immediately on board with the idea, but since we didn’t have any boxes on hand, Maya said, “Why don’t we go to CVS right now and buy some Altoids?” 9:20pm and it is on the tip of my tongue to say, “No, not this evening.” Then I thought why not? No one needs to get up early tomorrow, and evening excursions are always good for morale, so I said, “Ok, let’s go.” Their mouths literally dropped open. “Really?!” “Yes, really. Get your shoes on – let’s go!” And we did. 20 minutes later we were back, Altoids in hand. What would I have done with that 20 minutes had I said ‘No’? Probably put dishes in the dishwasher and picked up some clothes that were on the floor – you know, things I couldn’t possibly do at any other time.
It is easier, at least for me, to say ‘no’ and stick to it when I first consider the possibility of saying ‘yes’. A lot of the time I find that the ‘no’ I was about to utter had no substance, and therefore I am able to say ‘yes’ without any inconvenience to myself or anyone else. Sometimes the reason for ‘no’ can be as simple as ‘I need to sit here and do nothing for 5 minutes’. It doesn’t have to be life or death, but it has to be real.
Parents shouldn’t feel guilty about saying ‘no’ when they really mean it, but they should never say ‘no’ when the answer can easily be ‘yes’.