Parenting: On Saying 'No'

The other day at breakfast Levi asked me for a straw. "Sure - here's a straw."

"I WANT TWO STRAWS, MUMMY!" He exclaimed.

"No, Levi."

Just like that.  No.  Conversation shut down.

Then the proverbial s&*^t hit the fan.  He really got himself in a state.  "I DO WANT TWO STRAWS.  MUMMY, I DO. I DO!"

Typing it out doesn't do justice to the uproar my "no" caused.

As I stood at the sink washing the crusty weetabix off his plastic bowl, trying to remain calm amidst his grabbing my legs and red-faced rage, I took a millisecond to ask myself 'why did I actually say no?'.  Was it because it felt like he was taking the mick to ask for ANOTHER straw?  Was it because two straws usually equal a spilled pool of sticky juice on the table that I will have to clean up?  Was it because I HAD DECIDED he didn't need another straw?  Was it because I just wanted to sit down and drink my coffee without having to microwave it warm again?  Probably.  Probably a combo of all of these things.

We do this a lot, you see.   Sometimes that "no" can easily become our default answer, without really considering the alternatives.  It's more convenient and we can.  We are the parents.  If we are truthful, isn't that sometimes as far as our reasoning goes?

I got down on my knees and held his angry little frame in my arms, looked him in the eye and asked - "Why do you want two straws, Levi? Try and use your words to tell mummy..."

"Because you gave me a red straw and I wanted a yellow one too because my favourite colours are red AND yellow".

"Well, OK then."

He got his red & yellow straws, slurped up his apple juice and skipped off to school as happy as Larry.


I got to thinking about that interaction and the various different views we might have of it:

On one hand, it looks like I gave in.  Permissive parent, letting him be the boss and dictate the day.  If you said no, you need to stick to your guns and make sure he knows you are the boss; in control.  No means no.  It's important they understand no.  This is definitely a culture of parenting mindset that I see around me and have found myself dabbling in at times.

On the other hand, I just heard him out and changed my mind.  This is important, and I believe it's as important for the parent as it is for the child.  We want to model flexibility, listening and reason in our little family.  We want Levi to know that he is heard.  We want him to see that it's ok to change your mind if it makes sense to.  Changing your mind doesn't mean you are weak.  We want him to know that we are not trying to control him but propel him.  We want him to understand that mummies and daddies can learn from kids when they listen to them.  We want him to feel that his feelings are valid, even in seemingly silly situations like choosing coloured straws (SEND PATIENCE, PLEASE!).

You see, I don't consider myself permissive.  In fact, I think it's unhelpful to use that term.  Our children have so little control in their lives as it is (sure, some healthy boundaries - like leading them to rest when we know they are tired, eat when we know they are hungry etc are necessary when they are small) - but when we consider how much of their days are often planned out for them, it's not surprising that they want to exercise some aspect of control over their lives at times.  It looks like tantrums, but it's often an urge to have a say, to be independent and do their own thing for a while.  Controlled children like to control.  It makes sense.  I get that.

It's been on my mind to share my thoughts about this for a while now, and as if reading my mind, my friend Lucy wrote a great post about the same thing just last week.  She says: Urges look like disrespect sometimes – but allowing the fulfillment of an urge nurtures respect.  If we respect their drive and their desires now, if we protect their right to access what they hope for, they will grow up to respect others and to defend the rights of others.

I tend to totally agree.  We want that for Levi.  Sure, there are instances where we have to say no, redirect, distract and avoid, but we are learning that what looks like 'giving in' doesn't result in manipulative children, ready to exploit your goodness at every turn - what a crazy way to view our precious, explorative children.

It could actually model for them respect and grace, and what parent doesn't want their kids to absorb those traits deep down in their knower?  If we create space for them, allow them to feel things and have their say, I feel confident that that's the kind of people they will become.

So, here's to resetting the default answers.  Here's to listening more.  Here's to ignoring the power-play culture-trap of parenting.  Here's to practicing dropping the parent-pride & raising well respected kiddos.  You in?