I don’t know where I came up with it, but when I had my first child about 10 years ago I wanted to try not to use the word “no” with him. Maybe I thought that if I didn’t tell him “no” then he wouldn’t shout it at me. Maybe I had some misguided view about the evil nature of no that I had somehow gleaned from an attachment parenting book. The internet wasn’t that big of deal back then, so I certainly didn’t glean it from some preachy Facebook group.
Well, I set off avoiding the word no. Instead I would redirect, guide or use different language. My favorite was, “Thank you for not doing that,” when something needed to be stopped.
As time has worn on, and I have added three other children to my family, things have changed. Maybe I have lost patience with life in general or parenting “techniques” in particular. Maybe I have grown old and bitter and…dare I say it… LAZY?! As it turned out, parenting is a lot harder and longer than any natural birth ever was. Whatever the reason, now, as a mom of four with all of them out of the toddler phase, I no longer fear no. In fact, I embrace it for the beautiful word that it really is.
While I reject the idea that parents must somehow toughen up their kids for the real world by being cruel to them, there is no denying the fact that one of my goals as a parent is to raise my children into functional adults who are able to find happiness in the world around them. The grim reality is that the world they will live in will not always redirect them or give them a kindly “Thanks, but no thanks,” every time it shuts them down.
Sometimes I think parents get so caught up in raising children that are happy right now, that they forget that the goal of parenting is not happy children in the moment, but happy, kind, resilient, and functional adults for the future.
Why do future happy, kind, resilient and functional adults need to hear the word no as children? If you need an answer to that question, just look around at adults. Go for a drive in bad traffic. Take a trip to the DMV. Watch a sports event. Watch a grown up not get their way, and see what happens.
The world is full of adults who never learned how to properly deal with the word, “no.” Some are crushed and then crumble under the weight of the universe shouting a loud and firm, “NO!” in their direction. Many others are filled with anger when they don’t get what they want, when they want it. Frankly, I see grown ups like this and shudder a little inside. I sincerely hope that these are not the kind of children I am raising.
I have to admit, I don’t know the answers. There is a very good chance that I am royally fouling this up. But every time my kids freak out because they are told “no,” I wonder if I am far too often saying, “yes,” not because it is right or called for but because I fear upsetting them. Fear of our children and their moods should never be the guiding factor behind our parenting.
So I say, “no,” frequently. I say it without guilt or remorse. “No, I will not buy that for you.” “No, you may not participate in that activity.” “No, we have other responsibilities to take care of before that can happen.” “No, you didn’t clean your room as requested.”
It is still hard to disappoint my children. It isn’t my favorite thing. But I am quite sure that avoiding the word no or striving to be a mom who always says yes is the beginning of long, dark, and dirty hole.
I don’t want children who think the world owes them anything. I don’t want children who can’t cope with disappointment. I don’t want children who are enraged every time they don’t get what they want. Part of raising children who can handle life is saying, “no,” as often as needed. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them. It is one of the ways I show that I do.
PS — For the record, even if you don’t say “no” to your toddler, they will learn that word and employ it anyway. It gives us an awesome opportunity as adults to find patience when the world (or our child) shouts “NO!” in our direction. Full circle parenting.