I hate telling my kids, “No.” I hate to see the disappointment. I hate the arguments. I hate the frustration. But, I do it anyway. “No,” is a necessary part of life, part of my job as a mother, and one of the words I use to establish limits and boundaries.
That doesn’t mean I don’t set limits. It just means that I realize that nobody wants to be constantly frustrated. So I try to create an environment for my kids that is conducive to their success. When my kids were toddlers, I removed or locked up everything I didn’t want them to have. This reduced the number of times I would need to say, “No” from a thousand times a day to a dozen. Everyone felt better about that.
Now that they are older, I still get creative in avoiding the overuse of “No.”
If I don’t want them eating junk food, I don’t buy it. If I don’t want them watching a tv show, I lock it. If I don’t want them using their cell phones after bed time, I use parental controls to shut the service off. No arguing, no confrontations, no confusion. They don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen and I don’t have to boss them around. So we smoothly glide along.
But sometimes I have to say, “No” and sometimes I get a little twinge of mom guilt.
Mom guilt is the worst and I usually don’t pay attention to it. But there was a particular occasion in a diner when I said, “No,” that stands out in my mind above all others. It’s not so much that I said, “No” – I mean, honestly, I say it all the time. It’s that when I did say it, and saw the disappointment and frustration on my son’s face, I felt that horrible old mom guilt sneak up on me. But even more important to this story is what my son said to me afterward that washed that guilt away.
We rarely eat out. When we do, I try to keep it simple and healthy.
But my boys eat out constantly on their weekly visitations with their father, and it’s no holds barred. This evening, we decided to go to a diner for some reason or another and as we were ordering, the conversation went something like this:
“I’ll have the waffles with whipped cream and extra sugar and blueberries.”
“Why? I want the whipped cream and sugar.”
“Because it’s not healthy and we are not going to go crazy here.”
“But that’s how I like it.”
“Just the blueberries.”
“Okay. Fine. And I also want a strawberry shake and a side of extra sausage.”
“No. No shake. Water is fine. And your order comes with bacon. That’s plenty. You don’t need the sausage.”
“Why? I want it. I like the shake. And I wanted sausage plus bacon.”
“Because. We are keeping it simple. No need for all that food. Your waffles come with sides and that is plenty.”
We went out to eat as a special treat. But because his dad is constantly taking him out to eat and allowing him to order anything and everything on the menu, my restrictions were making it less enjoyable for him. I felt badly. I felt like I couldn’t win. I didn’t want him eating all that sugar for dinner or even thinking it was normal to eat that much food in one sitting, but now my goal of going out to eat as a fun activity seemed to have been defeated.
We both got over our respective disappointments.
I probably would have forgotten the incident as it’s happened multiple times before and since. But what happened about a week later burned it into my memory forever.
My son was lying on my bed as I sat nearby working on something or other. He began talking to me about wanting to eat healthier than he currently was, especially at his father’s house. I was giving him some tips, suggesting that he go along to the grocery store or just make sure he ordered healthier menu items. I told him to simply tell his father what his goals were and ask his father to help. He was raised eating only healthy foods so he certainly knows what they are.
He was arguing with me that none of these strategies would work. I asked him why. Then he said something I’ll never forget. He literally blew me away:
“Because you tell me, ‘No.’ Daddy never tells me, ‘No’.”
He was really troubled by this fact. He felt insecure and anxious. He knew that even if he told his father that he wanted to eat healthier foods and have limitations, that he could easily talk his father out of it, in the heat of the moment.
Wow. Talk about out of the mouths of babes.
I was so grateful my son let me into his world in that moment. During that week, I had really been bothered by what I had considered a failed dinner out. I had questioned myself about my decision to tell him, “No.” I wondered if I should have just let him have what he wanted. Perhaps I had ruined the experience. But I realized it wasn’t a failed dinner out at all. It was a life lesson. For me.
“No,” is not a dirty word, in and of itself.
When used properly, “No” means “I love you.”
It means, “I care. I am in charge so you don’t have to be. You can relax and kick back. I’ll take care of this for you.”
Kids don’t have the self-control to make all the right decisions just yet. It takes a couple of decades to develop self-discipline (and then some!) Like everything else in parenting, the word “No” is about balance. We don’t want to use it all the time but we most certainly don’t want to avoid it altogether. And while I couldn’t fix the anxiety he felt about the permissiveness of his father, I could continue to provide him with the structure and limitations I’d always given him at home.
I do my best to create an environment for my kids where I don’t have to constantly say, “No.” It’s a success-mostly environment as I conceptualize it. But when I do need to tell them, “No,” I do it with confidence. Thanks to the confession of my little boy, I know that behind their protests and disappointed faces are relieved little hearts that are thanking me. So until they are able to tell themselves, “No,” I’ll put up with their sad faces and do it for them. After all, that’s what parents are for, right?
Do you hate saying “No” to your kids? Do you ever deal with “mom guilt”? What are your tips and tricks for setting boundaries with your children?
- Quote by Jeni (onthefenceadvocacy.wordpress.com)
- Why Kids Need Consequences (leangreenmommy.com)
- Stop Saying “No”: Setting Your Toddler up for Success
- Respect and Discipline: Can You Really Have Both?