A friend and I were talking about the word 'no' lately. In the past I have beaten myself up for using the word: there are many among the Home Ed community who subscribe to the philosophy of 'yes' parenting (brief overview here). I have come to admire the concept and have allowed it to challenge my assumptions on parenting. And yet 'no' remains a word that I use regularly.
I say no to people who request/ invite me to do things when I am already overloaded and don't have the physical/ emotional energy to join in. I have no intention to change this, even in the face of a culture where so many peers are obscenely overworked but keep compulsively adding to their workload for fear of appearing lazy/ unhelpful/ not good enough. I say no to the new puppy when he is trying to attack the furniture/ chew my feet/ steal the boys' food - though most of the time I am also frantically waving a distraction in front of his unreasonably cute face to divert him from whatever forbidden object he is momentarily fixated upon. I say no to my children when they ask for things that I don't think are good for them or we can't afford - sometimes I say 'no' even when I could say 'yes, when...'. I do ask myself if this is a symptom that I am entrenched in negativity, but then I have a week like the one I have just had and decide that the word 'no' is every bit as important as ever.
You see, the friend who was discussing the 'no' word with me has children who don't always take 'no' for an answer. She was acknowledging that it can cause problems, such as when a child pesters her to change her mind and she gives in against her will just to keep them happy, thus perpetuating the 'pester power' cycle. I am not comfortable with this myself as it seems to go against my desire for my 'yes to mean yes and my no to mean no' - to be a person whose word is dependable. But I also want to be a reasonable person who can change their opinion/ decision when presented with previously unknown information that sheds a new light on the matter, so in parenting terms I don't want to have children who can wear me down with their whining, but neither do I want to be so stubborn that they have no hope of changing my mind in really important matters.
I was mulling over all of this when the aforementioned friend asked me to do something. It was nothing sinister, just a silly bit of fun, but not something that I personally wanted to do, so I said 'no' in the nicest way I could and changed the subject. A little later on the friend asked again. She was obviously more keen than I, but I still did not want to do it and saw no value in changing my mind, so I said 'no' again. She did not want to accept it, so pressed the matter while making a joke out of trying to change my mind. I'll be honest, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. We are good friends who go back a long way, and she is no bully, but I felt pestered into a place where I had to say 'no' very firmly. It was awkward. I asked myself if I had just been stubborn and pointlessly unreasonable. Now, she is lovely, and we moved on: all is well, and it wasn't a massive deal. I only mention it here because the 'no' word came up again today in a different scenario...
We had other friends over for a play date. One of the visiting children has ASD. During the game play one of my children did something reasonable that the other child did not like, and it led to an autistic meltdown. During this meltdown he went to my child's room and put a fair amount of pressure on my child to give in to what he unreasonably demanded they do. It was really uncomfortable, but my boy didn't give in. He said 'no'. We Mums intervened and the situation was resolved. Again, no big deal. They are good friends of ours and lovely people - there is no residual offense.
I mention it here because it all contributed to a thought process that has been chugging round my head for the last couple of weeks since I noticed an increase in Facebook posts about consent.
As a Mum of boys I feel the weighty responsibility of teaching them about consent. There are too many men in the world who apparently still don't get it, and I don't want my boys to be in any doubt. Yet my seven-year-old at least is too young to discuss rape with, surely.
But today, as my son refused to give in to the demands of someone who wanted him to do something he did not want to do, I felt proud. And I felt hopeful that he understands the value and importance of the word 'no'. It wasn't a big issue, but he showed even through fairly trivial conflict that he gets it. I like to think that my (and their Father's) example of saying 'no' to them sometimes and sticking to it in the face of pestering has contributed to that.
And as I reflected regarding my friend who is struggling to instil the importance of the word 'no' in her own life and those of her children, I felt glad that I had said a repeated 'no' to her harmless request. Glad for my own self-respect, glad for my children who may have witnessed it, and hopeful that it somehow might have helped her to have me stand up for myself. Because she is worthy of such self-respect too. We all are. We all deserve to be able to say no when asked to do something we do not want to do, and to have that word respected.
'Yes parenting' rocks, when done properly (it does not mean just giving in to everything your child demands). But 'no' is still a very valuable word - perhaps today more than ever - and when necessary, I intend to keep using it.