APRIL 7, 2021
Ah, the word yes is so wonderful. Usually, it is full of positivity and opportunity and yet so many parents fear it. Thoughts like, well, if I say yes to that, what else will they ask for? Or, if I say yes, they won’t learn what it feels like to hear the word ‘no’. Worse yet is not saying yes simply because we’ve gotten so used to saying no. No becomes a habit and one we don’t check ourselves on very often. Today, my goal is to help at least one parent and child relationship move into the thriving zone because of the word ‘yes’.
Can one word change a relationship? Yes. And when it comes to parents and children, a simple yes can have profound effects. Children constantly look to their parents for approval and when we dismiss their wants and needs with the word ‘no’, we are sometimes unknowingly expressing disapproval, even if we don’t intend to. As parents and caretakers, it is important to keep an open mind and be open to exploring options, and the word ‘yes’ helps us do both of these things, especially if our rote response is ‘no’. One of the most beautiful things about children is their curiosity about pretty much everything. They ask a lot of questions and investigate many different things from bugs to the inside of a stuffed animal, all in search of information to help them form their ideas about the world. Meanwhile, they are also forming ideas about their parents/caretakers. Often, the child who is regularly told no as a young child becomes quite sneaky as an older child because this is one way to get what they want. There’s no question that sneakiness is damaging to relationships and the cause for so many troubles between parents and tweens/teenagers. On the other hand, when a child feels comfortable and safe to ask for what they want and need, the relationship between parents and children flourishes.
When I was rewiring my brain toward coming from a place of yes, I practiced. Like anything else, practice makes progress. I had become a habitual naysayer without even realizing it! I believe our culture perpetuates this negative toxicity between parents and children because we are selling the false premise that a parent-child relationship is a power struggle and that parents need to be the boss. This whole parenting model is riddled with flaws and ultimately undermines relationships. Lots of folks like it because, well, it satisfies the ego very much. Parents are older and have more experience, so why shouldn’t they be the boss? Because older and more experienced doesn’t necessarily equate to boss material. However, it does equate to guide material, and that’s what we parents and caretakers truly are--we are guides.
Once I began thinking of myself as a guide for life and not the ultimate boss authority over my children, my actions followed. I began to consider what they were asking for and thoughtfully respond. I practiced saying yes more of the time. When my kids asked for ice cream for breakfast, I consciously overrode the automatic response of ‘no’ and took a minute to think about it. Why couldn’t they have ice cream for breakfast? Who made that rule up? I questioned myself and all of my ideas that had become beliefs over time. Well, maybe not all of my accrued beliefs, but at least the ones around food! In any event, I was up for an experiment. What would happen if my kids ate ice cream for breakfast? Would they become greedy little sugar feigns? Would they get super hyped up and run around the house for hours? Would their teeth rot and fall out before my very eyes? I decided to go with the flow of yes and take a chance. I said yes. The eyes on my kids’ faces got big and wide enough to serve the ice cream in! Their smiles were even broader, taking up nearly all the space on their faces. Their reaction alone made my heart do a little happy dance, even if my analytical mind was racing for a reason to take back that yes and confirm my authority status. This all happened nine years ago, and while they might be a bit sugar fiendish, they’re not greedy and they still have teeth. In fact, it’s been a long time since anyone has asked for an ice cream breakfast even though--or perhaps, because--they know they can have it. Just yesterday, I served freshly sliced avocado for one of the kids when they woke up. And, I have maintained my position as the leader and guide of my little people crew, even though a few of them are not so little anymore.
Maybe you’re squirming in your seat thinking about saying yes to your children’s culinary cravings and that’s okay! Start where you can. Choose something that feels easier for you to say yes to, something that you used to say no to. Maybe it’s watching tv or playing video games a little longer, or taking a break from your work to play pretend or throw the ball outside. It could be staying up a little past bedtime and watching a fun movie, or perhaps it’s a yes to an impulse buy at the grocery store. Has your child begun expressing a strong interest in something? If so, you have the opportunity to say yes and help them explore that interest, whether it means becoming involved yourself or simply emotionally supporting their enthusiasm, whether you understand it or not. Whatever it is, try it out and practice with a smile because there is an inherent joy in affirming a little person’s desires.
So the challenge here is to say yes to something your child would like that you formally said no about. Extra points if it’s something that scares you a little because walking through fear is good for everyone and it’s especially great when children see their parents being flexible and adventurous. And what is life really if not expanding ourselves and taking on the adventure even if it alarms us? We’re here to learn and grow for the duration of our lives, not just our childhood and some of the best lessons come through parenting our children with an open heart and mind. Happy yessing!