Let me tell you a little story. A little story that irritated the crap out of this good Christian woman, even if just temporarily (because no one gets to define how I’m going to act or feel but me and Jesus.)
Rob and I are on vacation at a fabulous resort in Mexico with a group of friends. There are five couples with us and we’ve arrived for dinner at a restaurant for which we have a reservation. For twelve people. Our check-in goes something like this:
Me (bursting with regular Katie excitement coupled with vacation Katie excitement) - “Hi! We’ve got a reservation for twelve at 6pm, please!” (Maybe I’m tap dancing. I’m not really sure).
Dour Hostess - “Ok. We have to seat you at two tables.”
Me (who has eaten at the restaurant at least five times before and remembers the layout) - “Ok… are they near each other?”
DH - “I can’t guarantee that.”
Me - “Well, can I take a look?”
DH - “No, you can’t go in until I seat you.”
Me - “Um. How am I supposed to know if the two tables are okay for us if I can’t see what you’ve got planned before I agree?”
DH - “Fine, follow me, but only you can come in, not your whole party.”
I am seriously irritated at this point, but say okay and walk into the restaurant. The tables are right. next. to. each. other. So I say…”Can’t we just push them together?”
DH - “No. They have to remain this way.”
I follow her back out into the waiting area where I’m (too loudly) exclaiming to my group what is going on and they’re all like “Katie, it’s fine.” They’re probably right. So then the hostess proceeds to seat us, but refuses to take us in at the same time. Nope. One table at a time. Even though we are one party and our tables are right next to each other.
Why did I bother to tell you this story? Are you all irritated like me that the hostess was in a bad mood and didn’t feel like helping her customer? (By the by, please don’t comment that I need to understand how hard her job is and how little she makes, etc. I do know these things and we are FABULOUS tippers).
I tell you this so that you will identify with how it feels to hear the word no. Especially when it seems arbitrary and like it makes zero sense.
This is how our children feel when we say no to their simple requests all day. We tell them they can’t have ice cream for breakfast, they can’t wear their princess dress three days in a row and they can’t go out with their friends because they didn’t do their homework.
May I suggest that we form the habit of saying yes to our children whenever possible? What if we reserve our nos for moral or safety issues only? What would our days look like if we tried that?
Let’s take the above scenarios and turn them into nos, then yeses, just to see what happens.
3yrold - “I want ice cream for breakfast!”
No Parent - “No. You have to have apples for breakfast. You know we don’t eat dessert for breakfast. What’s wrong with you?”
Your 3yrold will likely do one of two things now. Whine and throw a fit, refusing to eat her apples, maybe throws them at you or on the floor, all while doggedly demanding ice cream until you give in (and dislike her just a bit, let's be honest) OR she will withdraw from you, maybe cry, and eat her apples in rejected and downcast silence. Honestly, very few 3yrolds are going to say “Oh, yes. I see your point mother dear. You’re always wanting what’s best for me and my body. Sorry for the folly of my ways!”
But what if we say yes....
Yes Parent - “Me, too! But we need to fuel our bodies first to make sure we stay healthy and strong. Let’s pick a healthy choice and then we can have some ice cream. Would you like an apple with peanut butter first or yogurt with banana slices? (Or Moms, what if we went crazy and just had a banana split for breakfast?? We could pile healthy bananas and strawberries high on a plate and place a small scoop of ice cream right in the center).
If we did this we are accomplishing so much with our kid!
We are eliminating power struggles over something that isn’t morally wrong or will place them in physical danger. (Small bits of treats used appropriately may actually fight obesity; I’m just saying)
We are delighting together in the joys of life. How excited will your small one be to help you craft a breakfast like that??
We are saving our nos for when it counts.
Princess dress scenario:
5yrold - “Mama, I want my pink princess dress.”
No Parent- “No. You can’t wear that ratty thing again. It needs washing and people are going to think I can’t afford to dress you right.” Put on the outfit I picked out for you. Now!
5yearold - Insert tantrum or crying/withdrawal here. At 5, you might even get an eye roll. They’re starting earlier these days.
Yes Parent - “Absolutely, my sweet. We are going to the park today, so you’ll need to choose leggings to make sure you can do all of your cartwheels. Would you like these Elsa leggings or THESE Elsa leggings?
Cause we all know they’re Elsa leggings.
(This makes me think maybe a coat will be needed, and here’s another opportunity to say yes. If she doesn’t want to wear her coat tell her that’s fine. Tell her you will bring it in the car in case she changes her mind. Then, let the COLD teach her. It is highly unlikely she will reach the level of frostbite, so let’s not worry about that. When she DOES retrieve her coat, don’t say a word. Don’t say, “I told you you would need it. Aren’t you glad I brought it?” You’re literally setting her up for embarrassment and a stubborn power struggle rather than just letting her experience the natural consequence of the cold and allowing it to change her mind. That’s actually what we are working towards in decision-making! But I digress.)
Parents, we’ve got to watch our words with our babies. We can’t call their prized possessions ratty (even if they are) because to them, they’re beautiful. Let’s not crush their spirits in such simple ways. Who CARES if someone sees your sweet girl in the dress ALL of the weeks in a row? No one’s opinion is more important than the mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing of your child. Wash it for her each night and hang it like the prize it is in her closet. Let her see that you value what she values. She will feel seen and loved as a person. And Karen down the street can talk all she wants because WE DON’T CARE. Also, I promise she will not wear that princess dress to college. Actually, by the time she gets to college you’ll long for the day when her choice of outfits was a princess dress.
Last example: No homework = no going out with friends
Okay. This is tougher. We will have to have laid the groundwork with our teens before this example makes sense, so let’s assume we’ve done that. Let us assume that we’ve discussed with our teen and mutually agreed upon the relationship between our work and our relaxation time. Let’s also assume that we’ve discussed that school is THEIR job and we shall not be on their backs about it because we have all agreed that the student must be reaching agreed upon benchmarks (such as honor roll, all passing grades, etc. It depends on the student’s abilities) and in return they will have freedom to design their schedules to maintain those standards, to be evaluated each semester.
Believe it or not, most of your teens will agree that good grades are important, but that’s not really the point here.
The point here is that if we have those lovely family and trust building conversations, we don’t actually ever have to be the parent that has this scenario:
Parent - “Did you do your homework?”
Teen - “Stop riding me! I’ve got it under control!”
Parent - “That’s not what your report card said. A “D” in math? Stop being so lazy!”
Teen - “That’s it. I’m out of here.”
Parent - “Over my dead body!”
This scenario? No thanks. Let’s say we’ve set up expectations like I’ve explained above, and then we see that your student is getting a “D” in class. (Which I’m not convinced will be the case, btw. If your student actually has responsibility for their grades and their schedule, it is much more likely that they will reach out for help if their grades start to fall. Probably not to you, parent, but they may tell you things like, “I went to the math tutor today. Geometry is kicking my butt, but I’m really trying and getting all the help I can.”)
But, let’s say that’s not the case and their getting a “D”.
Parent - “Are you ready to discuss your report card? It looks like you’re doing really well in everything except for math.”
Teen - “Yes. Math is really hard. I probably should have reached out for help earlier, but I was scared/overwhelmed…”
Parent - “I understand. Math was hard for me, too. Well, according to our agreement, you decided that the consequence for an unacceptable grade will be not going out on both weekend nights anymore so that you can focus on your work. Would you like to stay home on Friday or Saturday nights until we get that grade up? I’d be happy to help you on whichever evening you pick if you’d like my assistance.”
I’m not saying your teen will be happy, but if they have no one to “blame” but themselves for the outcome of their choices, they will be more willing to accept the terms of your agreement. Also, I’m not against being flexible with the terms of the agreement. If your teen ends up in this situation, but has football on Friday nights and goes over to a buddy’s house on Saturdays and he really doesn’t want to give that up, ask him what he thinks a suitable alternative would be. The point here is NOT punishment. The point here is accountability for their choices. So if your teen thinks that he would be too distracted to study knowing all his friends are together without him, he can choose, say, cutting back on hours at his part time job to study more, or eliminating yearbook club for the rest of the semester until he has done the job of bringing up his grades.
So, to be a yes parent with your teen, it’s going to take love, grace, conversations, trust, freedom, freedom to fail, and freedom to try again.
That brings us to the nos. When should we say no to our kids? Like I mentioned in the beginning, I believe our nos should be saved for moral and safety issues. This really eliminates a lot of our day to day decision making, believe it or not. The 3yrold that feels totally free to ask for what they want because they know they are going to be heard doesn’t have to sneak ice cream out of the freezer when no one is looking (moral issue: hiding, stealing, lying to cover tracks, etc.).
The 5yrold that gets to make decisions about what they wear isn’t going to start their day with a bad attitude that may affect the family dynamics for the whole day. You may have other issues that arise, but powerlessness and voicelessness isn’t going to manifest because they were forced to wear something they didn’t want to wear. (As an aside, I’ve always told my kids that I get to choose their outfits for things that were very important to me such as Christmas, Easter, and school picture day. All other days, they were totally free, so they were happily obedient on those few days that I got to choose).
Finally, I use this phrase with my teens when I need to say no to something: “Listen, you know I try to say yes to you as much as possible, (and they know this is true because it has been evident in their lives) but in this case I have to say no. We’ve built up enough trust with one another at this point that they know that my no is because I truly believe it’s what’s best for them. I’m not saying they are in perfect agreement with me, but they are more willing to hear what I have to say because of all the yeses in the bank.
For example, one of my moral issues is I do not allow movies that contain sex scenes, sexual humor, or nudity in my home. My kids have asked to watch a movie that contains something like this in it and I’ve said no. Actually, I said, sure, we can watch that movie on VidAngel, a website that filters out a ton of stuff one might find objectionable. So even then I try to say yes. But, they decided they didn’t want to watch the movie filtered so we moved on to something else.
When my kids move out, they may choose to watch those kinds of movies. That’s going to be between them and the Lord, just as is my choice not to watch those things for myself. But our goal in raising teens to leave the house is primarily to help them to listen to the Holy Spirit for themselves to make decisions, rather than relying on Mom or Dad to tell them what to do. More on this topic in a post called To Train up a Child.
Anyway, try it. What have you to lose? Let me know how it goes in the comments.