Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Is As Much Of A Loving Answer As Yes Is

No Means No

In parenting forums, recently, I’ve noticed that "no means no" seems like such a tricky, confounding, almost impossible thing for {mostly} White mothers to say and teach their children. There have been some stunning displays of heteronormative, White male privilege - burning, stadium parking lot trashing, raping women, killing Black boys. Not to blame the mothers, but, no is one of the most important concepts to understand.  No does not involve a debate. No does not invite dialog. No is final. 

Thinking back to the first time my son really accepted that no means no. It was early in his life, perhaps when he was 3 or 4 years old.  I’m pretty consistent. But, there was a singular moment when it made absolute sense to him.  I think it was french fries. (We still called them chips back then.) We were driving home from somewhere. It was close to lunch. 

It went something like this.

The Win: Can we stop at the chip shop? 

Me: Hmmm. Let me think.
(a full block rolls by.)

The Win: Mama? Can we stop at the chip shop?

Me: I’m thinking about it.
(another block rolls by.)

The Win: We’re almost at the chip shop.
(I pull over the car.)

Me: You don’t need to remind me. I said I was thinking about it.

The Win: Oh. You didn’t answer.

Me: Because I was thinking about it.

The Win: What are you thinking?

Me: Well, sweetheart, that’s a good question. You know, every fiber of my being wants you to be happy. So, I always want to say yes to you. But, always saying yes to you only makes you happy right now. It might not make you happy in the future. Sometimes, making you happy right now, will make you really unhappy in the future. Like if I let you eat candy ever day for every meal. What would happen.

The Win: I would get very sick.

Me: Right. So, you’d be happy. But then you would be unhappy for a really long time because I let you be happy for a really short time. So, what do I have to do?

The Win: You have to say no to candy all the time.

Me: Right. But I don’t want to say no. Because I want to say yes and make you happy.

The Win: Oh. (thinking)

Me: (thinking)

The Win: That’s really hard.

Me: It is the very hardest part of being a good Mama. I don’t like saying no. It is not fun. Not at all. But, it’s my job. Sometimes, I have to let you feel disappointed or unhappy so that you can be healthy and happy. 

The Win: So what are you thinking?

Me: I’m thinking that you’ve been eating a lot of vegetables. I’m thinking that you did a lot of exercise. I’m thinking that we haven’t gone to the chip shop in awhile. It’s been kind of a long time since we’ve been to the chip shop. 

The Win: So, we can go to the chip shop?

Me: Your Granddad always says, “Everything in moderation.” You know, a little bit here and there is okay. As long as you don’t do it all the time. So, I don’t see why not.

The Win: I love you Mama.

Me: I love you.

The Win: I know.

 A few weeks later, he asked again to go to The Chip Shop. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hmmm. I not thinking it the best idea today. What do you think?

The Win:  I am not eating very many vegetables.

Me: Yeah. A good diet is important to your health. So is exercise.

The Win: Oh. I watched a lot of tv this week.

Me: (sigh) Yeah.

The Win: No. Not today. Today is not a good day to go to the chip shop.

Me: I think you made a great decision.

We still have variations on that conversation. I think what was important about that conversation is he understood that no is not said lightly and for arbitrary reasons.  He understood that tough choices are made. He understood that I sincerely desire his happiness. He understood that circumstances change. What is the right thing to do one day may not be the right thing to do another day.

This is feminist parenting. Teaching that no is as much of a loving answer as yes is. This is what boys  ~ especially ~ need to know. 

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