“I imagine that yes is the only living thing.” e.e. cummings
Billy and I grew up on opposite sides of the country, but we had surprisingly similar childhood experiences. I don’t know why that strikes me as remarkable, but it does. One of the many commonalities was that we had parents who liked to say “yes.” Don’t get me wrong – the kids were NOT in charge and we had a clear understanding of “no.” However, if we had ideas, thoughts or plans, what we frequently heard was “yes.”
For me, this manifest itself in ways that allowed me to be outgoing, creative, and adventurous. If I wanted to use my own money to buy flowers for my teachers one day – why not? Mom was schlepping me to the florist at 0:dark thirty. If we really wanted to learn how to drive circles in reverse Dad said that the California Motor Speedway parking lot was big enough for that. If we were having a slumber party and just HAD to “t-pee” (aka “roll”) someone’s house, Mom was going to be our driver. (Honestly, I think that decision was more about her enjoying the getaway, but that’s just a suspicion.)
The impact of hearing “yes” was significant mostly because of the contrast it provided when I heard “no.” No was serious. I wasn’t able to negotiate a “no” away. I respected the “no” because it was part of a life with boundaries. Still , the “yes” showed me that I had freedom within those boundaries.
Now, with our kids, we try to model this concept. We have boundaries with our kids that are ruled by “no.” Those things are nonnegotiable and they relate to values like respect, safety, honesty and the like. However, within those boundaries we try to model the flexibility that our parents showed us. So if the kids want to build a fort and eat dinner in it – what’s the harm? If they are dying to make jello – sure! Does it matter that the nail polish is gaudy or that the Star Wars shirt is very tired? Not really.
From a practical point of view that means that I have to check myself when I’m tempted to throw out a quick “no.” Is the answer strategic? Is it reinforcing a value or is it about keeping the house clean? Am I saying “no” because it’s a bad idea or because I want to manage my kids’ taste so that they better align with mine? Saying “no” shouldn’t be my default because it loses its impact.