Sometimes, it feels like the only thing I say to my kids is “no”. “No you can’t buy a gameboy.” “No, we’re not going to the store so you can foolishly spend all your birthday money.” “No, we’re not renting a movie tonight.” “No I’m not buying a bag of chips.” “No, we’re not going to a restaurant for supper tonight.” “No we’re not driving to your soccer game when it’s within biking distance.” “No you can’t take your tamagatchi to church.” “No we’re not going to 7-11 for a slurpee tonight.”
It feels heavy and, at times, curmudgeonly – like I’m forever denying them of their wants and desires. I know they’re happy and well provided for, but I get tired of the endless “wants” and the endless stream of “no’s”. Some of the parenting books say that you should avoid the word “no” and try to replace it with less negative words like “maybe later” or “I’ll think about it”. But that doesn’t really satisfy – it usually means that their requests just get prolonged even longer until they get the eventual “no”. I prefer to let them know up front that there’s no chance they’ll get what they’re asking for. If I’m open to negotiation, I let them know, but usually I reinforce the fact that “no means no”.
I don’t like it, and I wish that they would ask for less things that I have to deny them of, but then I think – perhaps it is “by my no’s that they shall know me”. Perhaps the no’s are important. Perhaps this is one of the ways they’ll learn what I stand for – that I (I should say “we” since Marcel is in this too) don’t believe in endless streams of plastic junk, electronic games that destroy their social connections, too much junk food, instant gratification whenever they have a hankerin’ for something new, burning too much fossil fuel when it’s easily avoidable, and spending too much money on ourselves when there are so many people with less.
I remember an Anne Lammott story about her son, when she commented that he just seemed so “entitled” – like he assumed that he would always get what he wanted and that someone would provide for him. We’re trying hard not to raise “entitled” kids. Trust me, they don’t live in abject poverty (we DO occasionally treat them to junk food, they have lots of toys, they get slurpees on the weekend, and once every six months or so, we eat in a restaurant). But sometimes I really have to be determined to stand my ground and not give in to the requests, especially if it’s something that is easy to give them (but might not be a good idea).
Take the other night, for example – Nikki was determined to spend some of her birthday money (which she doesn’t spend foolishly, by the way – her birthday was in February, and she still has most of it) on a Webkinz. She wanted me to take her to the store THAT NIGHT. I wasn’t opposed to what she wanted to buy, but I just didn’t think she needed to expect instant gratification. So I made her wait until the weekend. It resulted in tears, and part of me thought – good grief, why wouldn’t I just give in and take her? I could even bike to the store with her, so it wouldn’t mean burning gas and it wouldn't cost ME anything. But I stood my ground, because it was the principle of it that mattered. It doesn’t kill them to wait sometimes.
I have to admit – they don’t whine and complain a lot about the things they don’t have, even though most of their school friends have A LOT more than they do. So maybe we’re doing alright. Maybe they’ll turn out to be well adjusted kids with healthy attitudes toward material things. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to live more radically than we do – choosing a deeper level of simplicity to live out their belief systems. Who knows?
For now I’ll keep saying no when I have to. But I won’t say no all the time, because sometimes it’s nice to surprise them with a “yes”.