Before having kids myself, I always swore I’d never tell my kids “no.” Unless it was an emergency. I believe it’s the Dine (Navajo) who raise their children without using the word “no.” I’m thoroughly enchanted by the idea, and sadly haven’t been up to it myself. Despite my best intentions I hear myself saying “no” all the time.
“No, you can’t use the butcher knife yet, wait until you’re older.”
“No, you can’t pummel your baby brother even if he hit you first.”
“No, you can’t jump on the couch, don’t you remember going to the emergency room the last time you jumped on it?”
I could go on.
There are multiple problems with no: it creates disappointment, it becomes easy to use and next thing you know you’re using for everything, it stops being heard because it’s overused. The thing to do, is not say “no.” Easier said than done.
Perhaps a parents main job is to be their childs first source of disappointment so the child can learn how to deal with it.
That’s a depressing thought.
And yet, I know I’m constantly disappointing my kids.
“No, we can’t go to the river right now, it’s time for bath, books, bed.”
“No, we can’t have ice cream, you’ve already had too much sugar and you’re bouncing off the walls.”
“No, we can’t stay up late and watch a movie because we have to get up early tomorrow.”
I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but sometimes being a parent means parenting. Of course I want to stay up late and watch a movie with my kids, but not tonight or they won’t get enough sleep and then our event tomorrow will be awful for everyone. It still feels crappy to say no, even when it’s the right thing to do.
I remember growing up and playing basketball with my dad. He’d tell me the rules, we’d play, and as soon as I scored a point, the rules would change. It was confusing and frustrating and disappointing. Much like being told no. Now looking back I wonder, were the rules really changing or was he trying to introduce me to the next thing I needed to know in an effort not to overwhelm me with all the things I’d need to know? I’d like to believe the latter, but…
I grew up in a time where kids went to school, were expected to get A’s across the board, and then went to college. There were no other options even presented. This was the path. I gobbled it up. And then in high school I had a teacher who was even more demanding than my mother, a teacher who had me quite literally breaking out in hives from stress. I worked my ass off for that teachers approval.
One day I’d turned in an extra credit project and was summoned to her room shortly after. She accused me of cheating. I was devastated. I’d never cheated in my life, not even in my math, my worst subject, I certainly wouldn’t cheat in English, my best.
There’s something about that day. I haven’t quite worked it out yet. But it was the beginning of the end for me. I lost so much of my fight then, so much of my confidence, my trust in my ability to do what I set out to do. From that point on when anyone told me I couldn’t do something I believed them.
The thing about disappointment is, it’s everywhere. You’ve got to know how to deal with it. You’ve got to be a duck and let it roll off your back like water.
That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids when I have to say no.
No just means not right now, not no always and forever.
It can be tough to get that across.
I never want them to stop asking just because I said no this one time…well, that’s not entirely true, I mean, I absolutely want them to stop asking now, because I’ve already said no, but I do want them to ask again another day. So how to get that across? How to disappoint for the moment and not forever.
I haven’t figured it out yet.
This post was written as a thirty minute writing exercise, no editing, no stopping and was inspired from a writing prompt in Bryan Collins’ “Yes, You Can Write!” book available here.