Saying Yes With Joy

For the most part, saying yes to my kids comes naturally to me. It hasn’t always been for the best reasons though. Whilst my natural default setting has usually tended to be “Yeah, sure, why not” (unless I’m tired or cranky!), there have been times when I have wanted to say no but have said yes because I did not like causing my child to feel disappointed or upset.

So my “Yes Mum” tendency was not so much a badge to wear with pride, but a badge that should have said, “Too afraid to say No.”

Is the solution, then, to say no more? I don’t think so.

Over time, as I changed my parenting and homeschooling style, I started to realise I needed more authenticity in my yes. I wanted to say it mindfully, not just as an automatic, unthinking response, or out of a fear of disappointing my child. If I truly wanted to say yes, I wanted to do it with real joy and choice, rather than stating a resigned “Yes” with a slight roll of the eye if they were asking for something I wished they didn’t want, like “junk food” etc. Once I would have verbalised the words “Fine then,” or “Sure, whatever,” with an undercurrent of “But I wish you wouldn’t!” Gradually, however, I moved towards a simple “Yes” with a smile. (Mostly!)

Kids are smart! They don’t just hear the words; they pick up on the undercurrent, even subtle ones. So if we fake a “Yes”, but think to ourselves, “No, I really wish you wouldn’t” in our minds, our kids will likely end up confused or insecure, not really sure which way is up. A fake Yes isn’t really a true Yes. (I do recognise, though, that there are some kids who are far more literal, missing the undercurrents and subtleties. This can thwart the intentions of passive aggressive parents, who hope to “send a message” through tone, subtle facial expressions or even sarcasm!)

What is behind a default setting of Yes or No?

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the present moment can drive some parents (like me, in the past) to say yes, and it can lead to the parent micro-managing the child’s life, ensuring they always have everything they want, are always “happy” and never have to endure the trauma of being told No.

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the future – fearing that the child will feel entitled to always being told “Yes” – can cause other parents to dig their heels in and hold tightly to a big loud “NO!” in the present, assuming that by saying No lots of times, the child will “get used to it” and realise “they can’t always get what they want”. They believe that their “No” response now will prevent the child developing a sense of entitlement, and help them survive better in the big, scary world.

Perhaps the parent’s own childhood was unpleasant and filled with “No”, so it feels familiar and comfortable to stay stuck in that negative place, to pass on the unpleasantness without realising how different life could be for both parent and child if a new way was forged. Perhaps it really is, simply, an unconscious, familiar, default response. Not thought through. Just a parent operating on auto-pilot, repeating the way they were parented.

A subconscious (or even conscious!) desire for control can be another cause behind a default setting of “No.”  “If I let him, he will…” or “If I always say yes, he will always….” The parent feels the need to say No to keep the upper hand, to show him who’s boss, to make sure the parent’s own values are being lived out, that the things important to the parent are being instilled in the child.

No, you can’t have another cookie

  • You will get fat (fear)
  • I don’t approve of sugar (control)

No, you can’t watch TV

  • You will lose the ability to play imaginatively (fear)
  • I want you to play outside in the dirt (control)

No, you can’t play on the computer

  • You will get addicted (fear)
  • I value a low-tech life (control)

No, you can’t stay up late

  • You will never go to bed early again (fear)
  • I expect kid-free time every evening, even if you’re not tired (control)

I believe our relationship with our children and their sense of value and self worth can be seriously damaged by a parent whose default setting is “No”. Too many times I have seen parents respond:

With a no, no here, and a no no there.
Here a no, there a no, everywhere a no no!

Too many times I have seen children shrivel up, in the face of no after no after no, as their self worth crumples like discarded paper.

What about you?

Are you naturally a “Yes” parent or a “No” parent? What is your default setting when your children ask you for an extra story, or to play in the rain on a cold day, or to eat ice cream for breakfast, or ….? What answer do you tend to give when you’re on auto-pilot?

What voices do you listen to in your head?
The voice of a neighbour, a family member, a friend?
The voice of fear, judgment and expectation?
Or will you listen to the voice of your child.

What sort of parent do you want to be?
What sort of parent do you want your kids to have?
What do you want your family life to be like?

Say Yes as often as you can! There is almost always one lurking in the shadows somewhere, beyond your fears and desire for control, beyond your ideas about societal expectations and judgments.

The secret is taking a moment for mindfulness.

Pause…… and think………..

  • Why not just say yes?
  • What is the worst that could happen? Is it likely to happen?
  • What is holding me back?
  • What would it be like if I said yes?
  • What would it be like if I said no?
  • Are there real, unchangeable reasons to say no?
  • How do I feel when people say no to me?
  • How will my child feel, what will they think, if I say yes, or no?
  • What is behind my child’s request?
  • What are my child’s needs and feelings?
  • What are my needs and feelings?
  • What wonderful things could happen if I say yes?
  • Am I willing to do my part to enable a joyful yes to be said?

And I think that’s the key: saying yes with JOY! Not resentment.

If the request and the mindfulness process trigger quite a lot of inner turmoil, put it on the shelf to deal with more fully later, and try to find a yes in the moment if possible. Or perhaps your child is old enough, or the situation serious enough, for you to let them know you need time to consider your answer.

If you decide to say yes, say it with joy and confidence, without attachment to your expectations, assumptions and judgments. What is most important: your personal values, or your child’s personal values? Delight in your child and trust in their ability to know what is good and right for themselves in that moment. There is nothing wrong with loving guidance, but there is something wrong with control, coercion and dominance.

If you are absolutely convinced that you must say no, say it with as much gentleness and kindness as you can muster, with utmost respect for their feelings at the time of the request and at the time of receiving your “No”. Say it with respect for their underlying needs, and with a willingness to find other ways to help meet those needs, even though you are saying no to their specific request. For instance, if they asked for a particular food item that they are allergic to, you could consider other foods that are similar, that they also like, and that are okay for them to have in that moment. Resist the temptation to say “No,” to the cookie, “But here, you can have this broccoli instead”. Try to offer an alternative that is equally as appealing as the requested item (it might even be broccoli!). A no said with empathy, and with validation of the feeling of disappointment and powerlessness in your child, is a whole lot better than a cold-hearted, unfeeling “No.” Imagine having to ask for everything and anything you wanted! And being subject to the answer.

If the request was for time spent doing something with you, take a moment to consider why you would want to say no, and what internal work you can do to help you get to a place of yes. Perhaps you could imagine the look of delight on their face when you respond with a joyful yes, and the aftermath of delight and contentment once their need for connection with you is fulfilled. Perhaps it might help to reframe the importance – or not – of what it is that you are thinking of doing instead. Do you really “need” to get those dishes washed or that carpet vacuumed right now, before playing with your child?  Do you really “need” to answer that email, or make that phone call, before reading the story with your child, or playing the video game, or jumping on the trampoline together?

At times when we feel like we really must say no, we can often say things like this instead:

In 10 minutes, I can …..
After I finish this, we could …..
I feel stressed, what could we do to make it safer?
Wow, that sounds like fun! Go for it!

It may seem easier to leave our auto-pilot response set to “No,” because it feels safe and familiar, and we feel like we are in control, but if we can instead develop a new habit of pausing to think, of granting ourselves a moment of mindfulness, it can result in a much better outcome, for both us and our children.

A genuine, mindful yes helps to create a solid platform of security and self-worth within the child, on which they can build a life of mindfulness, and freedom to choose rather than react. A child who grows up in an environment littered with frequent “No’s” is more likely to feel unheard, unseen, unimportant; is more likely to react by demanding their rights, or giving up and thinking they don’t have any rights at all.

A child who usually hears No, is more likely to say No
A child who isn’t listened to will find it harder to listen to others
A child who doesn’t feel heard will eventually stop talking
A child whose needs are not met will behave in more needy ways, or eventually give up

A child who usually hears Yes, is more likely to say Yes
A child who is listened to will find it easier to listen to others
A child who feels heard will keep sharing and talking
A child whose needs are met will be more likely to show respect for the needs of others

Sometimes it feels as though a yes will take too much energy. That it will ask too much of me or make me like a servant or doormat. But I think, in reality, that saying yes GIVES energy. It is a positive, affirmative word, and as such it gives a sense of positivity. Of well-being. Of  blessing. Of connection. Try it now. It’s fine to start off timidly with a tentative “Okaaaaay, I guess so”  but in the end you want to be shouting from the rooftops a joyous, generous YES!

It is saying no that often drains energy. It focuses our attention on why it’s “too hard” or we’re “too busy” or just on all the reasons NOT to do it. I may have to DO something if I say yes, but when I say no I often find it saps my energy. It drains me of positivity. It leaves me feeling……. negative. After all, no is a negative word, yes?

Everyone’s Needs Matter

Saying yes to our children does not have to equal saying no to our own needs. Both can live in harmony if we are creative with the strategies for meeting everyone’s needs. For more information on this idea, I highly recommend checking out the controversial, eye opening book, “Winning Parent, Winning Child” by Jan Fortune-Wood.

Just a random thought to finish off. This famous guy (Jesus) said once to treat others as you want to be treated. I wonder how many parents, with a default “No” answer to their children get upset when their children’s default answer to THEM is “No”?

Yes is a wonderful word! Try it out. 🙂

To whom will you say yes?

  • Your fear?
  • Your desire for control?
  • Someone else’s judgement or expectation?
  • Your child?

Here are some examples of “Yes” from my recent weeks, when I have been incredibly busy with a house move, and the children have been “entertaining themselves” much more than I normally feel comfortable with.

“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
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“Yes, we can play the Doctor Who board game, even though we have been living in the house less than 24 hours and are literally surrounded by boxes!”
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“Yes, I will play Scrabble with you”
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“Yes, we will help you create an almost empty space in the garage, so you can park your bike and ride your skateboard in there.”
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“Yes, you can set up the gaming computer and your recording space before just about anything else gets done.”
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“Yes, you can decorate the christmas tree all by yourself, even though it might look different to how I would do it.”
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“Yes, I will come to your dance party, even though I ‘should be’ unpacking and getting ready for a big extended family christmas lunch!”
Husbands matter, too. "Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving in."
Husbands matter, too. “Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving into a new house.” 🙂

What words will you write on your children’s hearts?

Cosmic Bowling: A Win-Win Solution

Recently my thirteen year old son was excited about attending a youth event with some friends. It sounded like it was going to be heaps of fun, and my ten year old daughter was *not* a happy girl about missing out. We had lots of discussion about her reasons for wanting to go, and my reasons for not wanting her to go. They weren’t easy conversations!! These things aren’t resolved easily and quickly; they are messy, emotional and complex.

Well, it could be “easy and quick” if I just put my foot down, controlling-parenting-style, and said, “You’re not going, and that’s that! And don’t let me hear you complain about it. I’m your parent, and you’ll do as I say!”

It would also be “easy and quick” if I threw caution to the wind, ignored my mothering-instinct and went with the permissive-anything-goes parenting style, simply saying, “Fine! Well just go then! It’s not like I can stop you anyway” or “Whatever you want, dear. You know what’s best…..”

With both of those options, however, I would be left with a seemingly quick solution, but one that overlooked the deeper issues going on:

  • My child had some big feelings about her desire to go and about the option of missing out.
  • I had some valid concerns about her going (it was an event aimed at and marketed to all the local high schools; I knew of no child her age who was attending) and felt I would be negligent to drop her off at that type of scenario.
  • Our relationship was more important than either of us “winning”.
  • She had some valid needs underneath her feelings: the need to be heard, the need for social interaction, and the need for FUN!
  • I had at least one valid need too: the need to provide safety for my daughter.

So with all of that going on, we talked. And listened. And felt our big feelings together.

We also brainstormed possible solutions.

Eventually we found a solution that honoured both of our feelings and met our needs: COSMIC BOWLING!!

It happened to be a Friday night, and this was something my daughter had never done before. She loves ten-pin bowling, loves hanging out with friends, loves dancing and music and pretty lights, and all up it seemed like the perfect alternative to a hall full of high schoolers on a Friday night! It didn’t happen without quite a lot of effort on my part, and also quite a bit of stress: there were enquiries to be made, many text messages to friends, lots of planning, and driving to a few different suburbs to pick up some playmates. But it was so very, very worth it. The smiles on their faces and the sound of their laughter were confirmation that looking for a win-win solution and honouring both of our feelings and needs was the best possible investment of my time and energy. I’m sure, too, that the rewards of the process will have a flow-on effect to other similar scenarios that are sure to crop up in the years ahead.

It was also wonderful for our relationship. She felt validated and valued. She knew I was on her team and that I was trying my hardest to help her have a great night, while staying true to what was important to me.

cosmicbowling_unshackled

All in all, it was a win-win solution to a tricky problem and well worth putting in the emotional investment. I’d love to hear some other stories of people working for a win-win, where everyone’s feelings and needs are respected, and mutually agreeable solutions are sought and found. It can be done! Maybe not always, and maybe not without some time and effort, but it is definitely worth working towards!

Greenpeace and Peace in the Home

greenpeaceandpeaceinthehome

It is incredulous to think that the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is at risk due to the impact of coal mining. Recently we heard that the Greenpeace ship, “The Rainbow Warrior” was on its way to the Great Barrier Reef so the activists can do whatever possible to help halt the madness, and that it would be docking in Sydney and conducting free tours! My youngest child is passionate about the environment and when I told her about the Rainbow Warrior coming to Sydney, she jumped at the opportunity for a day trip to see it! The Rainbow Warrior is a very special ship, having been purpose built especially for Greenpeace, factoring in the specific needs of a ship that is used for environmental activism. It is also especially significant, given the history of the original Rainbow Warrior’s tragic bombing by the French secret service.

The biggest hurdle to our planned adventure was Mr 13, who was not keen at all. Leaving him at home wasn’t an easy option on the particular day we were going, so we spent quite a lot of time discussing potential solutions. I suggested a number of other activities that he might be interested in doing while we were Sydney, but none of them appealed to him to the degree that he was willing to “endure” the Rainbow Warrior tour and a long train trip as well. Finally I suggested something he jumped at: the aquarium! It turned out to be an absolutely perfect thing to do, because we could see the Great Barrier Reef exhibit, hot on the heels of touring the Greenpeace ship that was on its way to the Great Barrier Reef!

I strongly believe in finding win-win solutions, where everybody’s feelings and needs are taken into consideration. It is well worth the effort because it honours the individual within the family, and respects different people’s preferences. It is a beautiful way to show love. It might take a while, and a fair amount of discussion, but if the intent is to honour the preferences of both parties, eventually a solution will be found that both are happy about. One of the most helpful books I’ve discovered for understanding practical ways of doing this is Winning Parent, Winning Child: Parenting So Everybody Wins.

So we headed off on our train journey, finally arriving at the beautiful Sydney Harbour.

It was such a thrill to finally see the ship!
It was such a thrill to finally see the ship!
It's message and mission were hard to miss!
It’s message and mission were hard to miss!
It was great to get a behind-the-scenes look inside the ship
It was great to get a behind-the-scenes look inside the ship
We learned so many fascinating things, like how quickly they can get their action boats into the water!
We learned so many fascinating things, like how quickly they can get their action boats into the water!
It was also really interesting to learn about the crew, how highly skilled they are, and the reasons why they have such a variety of different nationalities represented.
It was also really interesting to learn about the crew, how highly skilled they are, and the reasons why they have such a variety of different nationalities represented.
Basically, it was just so fantastic to see such an iconic ship docked right in the middle of Sydney Harbour!
Basically, it was just so fantastic to see such an iconic ship docked right in the middle of Sydney Harbour!
Then it was off to the Aquarium to see some weird and wonderful things! (My son had "endured" the day up until this point!)
Then it was off to the Aquarium to see some weird and wonderful things! (My son had “endured” the day up until this point!)
Don't look up!
Don’t look up!
Well hello there!
Well hello there!
This was the creature at the top of my son's wish list of animals he most wanted to see. Do you know what it is?
This was the creature at the top of my son’s wish list of animals he most wanted to see. Do you know what it is?
A dugong!! There were two, actually. They are the only dugongs on display in Australia and two of only six - and the only pair - on display anywhere in the world! Cool, huh? It was so awesome watching them eat!
A dugong!! There were two, actually. They are the only dugongs on display in Australia and two of only six – and the only pair – on display anywhere in the world! Cool, huh? It was so awesome watching them eat!
We got up close and personal with some very strange creatures!
We got up close and personal with some very strange creatures!
And some scary ones that were pretending to be friendly!
And some scary ones that were pretending to be friendly!
Not so friendly when looked at from a different perspective!
Not so friendly when looked at from a different perspective!
I'm not quite sure what THIS creature from the deep is called but she seems quite friendly!
I’m not quite sure what THIS creature from the deep is called but she seems quite friendly!
I was surprised how much the kids enjoyed some of the interactive displays.
I was surprised how much the kids enjoyed some of the interactive displays.
Although some of them were understandably intriguing!
Although some of them were understandably intriguing!
This was a multiple choice quiz and the answer was surprising!
This was a multiple choice quiz and the answer was surprising!
Incredible, huh?
Incredible, huh?
The sand table in the "Take Action" display was a hit. The plastic bag of rubbish left on the ground by a previous visitor shows that some people really didn't get the message!
The sand table in the “Take Action” display was a hit. The plastic bag of rubbish left on the ground by a previous visitor shows that some people really didn’t get the message!
We found it hard to believe that some people could be surrounded by such a clear message about the damage of plastic litter to our oceans and wildlife and just not get it.
We found it hard to believe that some people could be surrounded by such a clear message about the damage of plastic litter to our oceans and wildlife and just not get it.
When we'd finished our visit at the aquarium, it was time for a trip on The Monorail, a light transport elevated rail system that is soon to be taken down after many years. My kids love riding on it and will be sad to see it go, so they decided to have a final trip on it to say goodbye.
When we’d finished our visit at the aquarium, it was time for a trip on The Monorail, a light transport elevated rail system that is soon to be taken down after only being constructed in 1988. Monorail travel was quite expensive compared to trains and buses (aimed at tourists, I suppose) so perhaps they never got the business they had expected. My kids love riding on it and will be sad to see it go, so they decided to have a final trip on it to say goodbye.
We might not have seen any monkeys at The Aquarium, but it seemed there was one on  The Monorail!
We might not have seen any monkeys at The Aquarium, but it seemed there was one on The Monorail!
Two monkeys, actually.
Two monkeys, actually.

All in all we had a fantastically awesome day! And it was really great to find a way to factor in something of interest to both kids, even though one initially hadn’t wanted to go.