I have to admit something. I am not a fun, easy going, “yes” mom.
I’m not proud of it. I would love to write instead that I am an “of course you can, darling!” mom who is constantly delighted by her child’s requests and showers them with yesses while they squeal with delight. But alas – my head is full of practicality, of reason, of reasons to say no. And so, I admit to you today that I’m a no-mom. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, I’m told. So, here we are . . . on my journey towards my version of positive parenting.
It’s just that kids have so many requests. On a good parenting day, it feels like a literal billion. I couldn’t come up with that many questions for another person in a 24 hour period if I brainstormed for days in preparation. Each one hits me and without even thinking, I’ve come up with a very practical reason why this particular request probably isn’t the best idea. Can I put on makeup? No, you’ll just have to take it off before we go out to dinner in an hour. Can I make slime? Oh hell no, do you have any idea what kind of mess that will make? Can I wear something fancy tonight? No, I am positive you’re going to look insane if you show up to this barbecue wearing sequins.
Is this all true, practically speaking? Yes. Am I right, most of the time? Also yes. But am I fun? Hard no. I don’t feel good about this. When she looks back on her childhood, what do I hope she’ll say about me? Well, my mom was practical, and right all the time, but hey, my clothes very rarely got ruined! That makes me very, very sad to think about. This isn’t the kind of positive parenting experience and adventurous spirit I want to give her.
While those no’s are more self-serving (i.e. please don’t make a mess I have to deal with), also, being a mom came with a superpower I didn’t know I would have – I know things. I know this kid so well it scares us both, sometimes. I don’t want to oversell it, but the number of times I have “called it” on the outcome of a particular situation involving our child is basically uncountable at this point. I know she will cry if she tries a project and it doesn’t turn out well. She’s a perfectionist and pretty sensitive, so that one’s easy. I know when a particular social situation is going to end in disaster or disappointment. I can’t help it. I can’t not know things – that ship has sailed. I will likely continue to know things for a very long time. But does that give me the right to say no all the time? Even if in the long-run I think I am saving her (and ok, sometimes me) strain and heartache?
I have been down these roads. I am older, wiser, and have been to middle school, for better or worse. It’s impossibly hard to sit quiet while I watch her walk into the same traps, the same sour friendships, the same pitfalls I myself have experienced. But she’s growing up. I don’t have to, nor should I, shield her from mess and consequence at every turn. She’s still going to need a lot of help, a lot of guidance, and that I can be there for. I can be there to pick her up when she falls. But she also has to learn how to clean up a mess she’s made. She has to learn how to figure out an activity or a project for herself. She has to learn how to recover when she messes something up and it’s beyond repair. Protecting her from that doesn’t do her any favors, because she has to start learning these lessons for herself. And hopefully, in doing so, she learns to be her own advocate – discerning when it’s best to say no, rather than always having to look to us for those answers.
So, I’m going to work on this. I’m going to try, very hard, to pause before I say no – to say yes, when I can. This will be my version of positive parenting. I’ll be honest, I will still say no sometimes, I still have to parent, after all… but I don’t have to say it as much. And even if she doesn’t remember me as easy-going and super fun, may she at least remember that I let her try things. That she learned from her mistakes and from her own experience, rather than being protected from it. And that I was always, always there for the mess and consequence (or joy and accomplishment, of course) that comes with said experience.