Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Powerful Word

If you are a mom, you hear it all the time.


In our house, no comes in many forms. Sometimes, it's a polite "no sank you mommy" when I ask Reagan which shirt she'd like to wear (because naked is always the best option when you're two). Sometimes it's an angry shout from a four going on fourteen year old. Sometimes it's one sister screeching at another when a toy is taken.

No is part of the communication you expect when you have young kids. Anyone who says they are never going to teach their kids the word has wonderful intentions, but is living in a fantasy world.

But what scares me a little is that Madison has already begun to replace "no" with hedging. Polite dodging of the request.

Let's say I ask - actually ask - Madison to do something she's not interested in. I ask if she'd like to go to the library, or accompany me to the store, or something like that. Several months ago, I would have gotten a blatant "no" if she wasn't interested, but over the last few months, something has changed. She's not saying no. She's saying

"I don't know".

Adam and I have figured out that this is Madison trying to politely refuse. She knows (or thinks) there's an answer we prefer, and rather than hurt our feelings or appear defiant, she avoids eye contact. And rather than an emphatic response, she waffles. When we catch her doing this, we try to let her know that it's ok to say no. It's ok to tell us what she really thinks. We're asking.

And I start cringing because I can't help but think it's a reflection on me.

I don't say no enough. There are things that I agree to do, that I don't have the time for, or the interest in, or the means to do, and I end up doing them anyway. I don't give an emphatic yes, but I don't say no. The reasons I give are refuted by the asker ("No time? What do you mean no time? It's one meeting a month!") And somehow, my "non-no" ends up turning into a grudging agreement. It's not really the asker's fault. Their goal is to get a yes from me. Their goal is to counter my reasons. And when I leave the door slightly ajar, you can't blame them for keeping their foot there. A firm no with a polite shutting of the door is much more effective ... but I don't do it.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room of dance class. I had a rare day when Reagan wasn't with me, and I was using the time to try and clean up my email. I clicked open an email from a committee that I just joined - against my better judgment - and I was filled with regret. A million reasons why I didn't want to serve on this particular committee swam through my head. It's another commitment, I don't really have time, I'd have to miss multiple meetings when Adam travels. But I was really thinking about the overwhelming one, I don't want to.

I don't. It's not something I'm passionate about, and it's not a good time to figure out if I'll develop enough of an interest by trying it.

I asked another mom who was in the waiting room with me what she thought, and she reacted just like I did. She hedged, said she'd dodged a similar request, said I should probably email and say it wasn't a good time...

And the studio owner, who happened to have overheard, jumped in.

Why did you say yes in the first place? You need to say no. And the KIDS need to hear us say no so they know it's ok. And more than that, it's necessary.

She went on to explain that kids are overbooked and overwhelmed in part because no one wants to say no to anything. They're constantly missing things because they're running from place to place. They're trying to do competitive dance and sports and select choir and youth group and and and. Because really, this one isn't that big a time commitment. And neither is this. Or this. And they're fun! And they'll make you a well rounded person! And we want to have you!

We think we should do it all. Walking around our town's fall festival, it became apparent that, if I were interested, I could have Madison in about seventeen different activities. Every place in town with a program for preschoolers tried to sell us on their program. How much fun it was. How easy it was to fit into any schedule. How she could just try it and they were sure she'd love it. Spin the wheel at the karate booth! Play on the gym mats! String a necklace at the art booth!

For a kid, it's hard to say no when everything looks so enticing.

I'm guilty of letting Madison do a good amount of activities. She's tried her hand at tennis and swimming and cooking and gymnastics and dance and science class and art group and and and.

Right now though, I'm ok with it. She's finding her interest. She's figuring out which things she loves and hates to miss, and she's figuring out which things she's ok with missing. As the things she loves become more focused, we'll start to say no to the things she doesn't.

Found on the brilliant Momastery Facebook page.

Or will we?

Because who is her example? The mom who is grudgingly on a committee that she has no interest in. The one who will leave the house sighing because there are ten thousand things she'd rather be doing. This is a quality committee. It's the PTA, it's the kid's summer activities, it's the church, it's the dance school. It doesn't matter. It's valid, and it's led by people who need good people working with them. They think I'm good people. Isn't it my duty to help out my friends? My neighbors?  

For a mom, it's hard to say no when everyone seems to need you.

But it's important. I needed someone to be blunt with me. Not in a "ugh, that sounds stupid and those people are the worst" way, but in a "you don't want to do this, so don't do it" way. Don't be rude...but don't give excuses. If you're going to resent being there, you don't belong there. They will get over it.

And I need to let my daughter see me do this.  

And the world will keep turning. 

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