When something needs to be done, you’re the one to do it. You’re the go-to person in your family and among your friends—the one who buys the gifts, sends the flowers, copes with the emergencies, keeps everyone up-to-date on what everyone else is doing even if you work outside the home. You plan parties, and more often than not they are held at your house. You drive—and drive and drive—your children and everyone else’s. It often feels as if you’re the only reliable person you know. The trouble is: Everyone else thinks that way, too. Especially your children.
Park Your Guilt
At times it seems a child’s needs involve you in different and demanding ways every waking minute. You have every right to say no to a child who asks to stay up later than you think healthy as you do to an adult child who seeks dollars to start a seemingly risky venture. Parenting is a forever proposition. You’ll be saying no—or should be—for decades so park your guilt.
When you say yes to your children’s every want and whim, you wind up saying no to yourself, being overwhelmed and exhausted. You simply can’t be a happy, effective parent if you always function on overload.
Children have no trouble saying no. But, it’s a word you want to avoid because it sets your guilt meter running especially where your children are concerned. You don’t want to disappoint them or make them unhappy.
How Much of a Yes-Parent Are You?
If three of these sounds vaguely like you, it’s likely that your children turn you into a yes-person quite easily. It’s time to take stock and learn how to say no.
1. At least one room in your home looks like a toy store.
2. At any given hour the couch doubles as a trampoline, a wrestling mat, a hiding place or arts and crafts center.
3. Your child wears his Halloween costume to school in February.
4. You’re on a first-name basis with the workers at McDonald’s.
5. Your child has everything her best friend has.
6. Your six-year-old stays up so late that he can fill you in on Jay Leno’s monologue from the night before.
7. Your daughter’s last birthday party was more elaborate than your wedding.
8. You have three dogs, two kittens, and a parakeet who all hang out around the fish tank.
9. You spend most Saturday evenings in the movie theatre parking lot waiting for your children and their friends.
10. You spend Sunday evenings writing history reports and crafting science projects you found out about during dinner.
11. The text messaging charges are bigger than your monthly cell phone fee.
12. Your child’s band equipment takes up both parking spaces in the garage.
NO Teaches Life Lessons
In some situations no is the obvious answer, but what happens when your child asks to add another extracurricular to her already-full schedule? You’re proud of her initiative and want her to excel, but at the same time, your brain is calculating the extra costs, both monetary and physical, that will result if you give permission.
“I don’t look at the [monetary] expenses. Mostly it’s the time and the driving, and I hate driving,” says one harried mother of three who spends 28 hours or more each week driving (and waiting for) one of her daughters who attends swim practice early mornings and again in the afternoon with meets on weekends.
When you hit a “gray area” such as the one above, listen to your gut feeling. Can you afford to invest even more time driving your child to and from practices, lessons, and competitions? What will it take away from other children in your family? From your job? Do I really have the time? How much stress will it add?
When you say yes to your children indiscriminately, they control the pace, tenor and direction of your life: buy me, drive me, help me, finish this for me. By calling up a no when you need it, you gain a bit of deserved time for yourself and equally important, no prepares your child for the “real” world.
No teaches children important lessons—how to cope with disappointment, how to argue, how to strike a balance between work and play, time management and task prioritization—essential experiences that aren’t always taught in school. When children grow up learning these concepts, they are more likely to be successful in their academics, relationships, and later on, in their careers.
Saying NO is Your Right
In The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, I point out that you have certain rights. Among them: Using no to get your life in control and to be in control of it, requesting details before committing, refusing anyone, including your children, who insists on an immediate answer. Exercising your “no” rights will change how you think when your children’s requests seem excessive, unnecessary or impossible to meet given your other commitments.
You want to be a “great” parent, but I’m pretty sure your children will find something else to fault you for when they are adults. It won’t be the pet monkey, age-inappropriate movie or latest electronic gizmo you denied them during their growing years.