This article originally appeared on the editorial page of the Dallas Morning News on June 30.
Parents say they will do anything for their children. We easily agree that we would donate a kidney, or even take a bullet for our child. Most of us, fortunately, will never be tested on that, but what about more mundane needs? Will we really do anything for our children, even if we’re tired and it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? Too often, the default response to “Mom can I…” is “no.” It shouldn’t be, especially if the only reason is mild inconvenience or discomfort to us.
In the 2008 comedy “Yes Man” Jim Carrey plays a loan officer whose life is transformed by unintended consequences when he starts saying “yes” to every opportunity. Hilarity ensues, of course, but there’s a lesson for parents in there. I wonder what would happen if we said yes to all but the most dangerous or impossible requests from our children. We could turn into “Yes Moms?” There are so many times when we have to say no, and that is an important part of parenting, but it is also reason to say yes whenever we can.
It’s our job as parents to help our children find out who they are, discover their gifts, and test what they are capable of. Saying yes is a great tool. Some children make it easy. When my oldest daughter was a third grader, she begged relentlessly for karate lessons. I thought it was an odd request, and I ignored her, but she would have none of it. I knew nothing about martial arts and I assumed she would tire of it quickly. A few years later, she had a black belt and a lot of confidence that she could reach a long-term goal. I’m glad I listened to her.
Sometimes we need to say yes when a child wants to stop doing something we had our heart set on for them. Another daughter won our county’s Scripps Howard Spelling Bee and did well at the regional contest as a sixth grader. I thought she had a good chance of doing even better the next time. She balked at entering again, and I admit I was surprised, but I acquiesced. As it turned out, she knew her passions better than I, and ended up winning prizes in UIL science and speaking competitions that she would not have had time for had she been drilling spelling words.
Even the most outlandish suggestion deserves attention. When the answer must be no, we can take time to unpack what is behind it. A pitch for a pony might be masking a need for more outdoor activity or the companionship of a pet. A child who begs for ice cream for dinner might be assuaged with some other dairy product or a sweet fruit, or simply persuaded to eat healthful food first. It’s worth discussing what the child thinks they would be getting out of having what they think they want.
It can also be useful to say “Yes, but…” to encourage other good behavior. Sometimes our children haven’t taken care of their responsibilities, but if we say no outright, we don’t give them any reason to follow through. Say yes, we can go to the park after dinner if you help clear the table without complaining. Yes, your friend can come over if your room is clean. You get the idea.
When we take our children’s ideas seriously, we open vast windows into their personalities, and help them discover their interests and strengths so that they can make the greatest contribution to the world. Let’s be “Yes Moms,” not be afraid of a little inconvenience, and really be parents who would do anything for our children. If we don’t, they might stop asking altogether.