Once upon a time in a land right here in this very spot, there lived a husband who worked very hard outside the home, a wife who worked very hard inside the home, and three children who liked to test their limits. Sound familiar? Your situation might not be exactly like mine, but children testing limits is pretty much universal. Amen? I felt like I spent entire days saying no over and over again. My children now range in age from 16 years to 21 years old, and they still like to test their limits. That’s what kids do. Let’s face it! That’s what we did when we were kids, too. That might, ahem, be what we do now.
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Let’s Rewind About a Decade
Let’s rewind about a decade ago. With a houseful of school aged children (well, 3 feels like a houseful to me), my husband and I decided that homeschooling would be the best decision for our kids and our family. Since money was really tight with one income, my husband often had a second job. Then he decided to finish his degree… with two jobs.
I have sooo much gratitude and respect for the sacrifices my husband made during those years. He got very little sleep, and frequently sacrificed an hour here and there so he could spend time with the kids. The time he spent with them wasn’t elaborate. They would usually just play ball in the backyard, but it meant so much to our kids.
Naturally, kids will be kids. At some point during these games, one of the kids would try to push the limits. Given the situation we were in, I decided that my husband shouldn’t have to spend this time scolding the kids and being the bad guy. I would step in and be the “No” person. I don’t regret this decision one bit because of our situation. By being the bad guy, my husband and kids could focus on fun and bonding.
Fast Forward a Couple of Years
Fast forward a couple of years as our kids began entering the tween and teen years, my husband finished his degree and settled into a job that paid enough for him to quit the second job. This amazing turn of events came with an unexpected side effect. Mr. “Yes” now found himself having to say “No!”
The kids didn’t quite know what to make of that, and, as it turns out, tweens and teens are far better at making fusses than the little ones that I had to deal with. By this time, they were accustomed to my no’s. My husband’s no’s were new, and they did not like them one bit. They were very quick to show their dislike which my husband frequently interpreted as disrespect… especially since they usually seemed okay with my no’s.
They weren’t okay with my no’s. They were simply used to hearing them. When my kids were younger, I found myself saying no so often that I would turn them into songs. I also didn’t tolerate fusses. If my daughter threw a fit after I said no to a sleepover, she wouldn’t be sleeping over anywhere for a while. If my daughter were civil and kind after I said no to a sleepover, then I would be far more likely to go out of my way to try to make her next sleepover invite happen. This was the typical pattern.
Kids are smart. They know what works. If kindness and civility gets me more of what I want, that’s the behavior I’m going to repeat. That was the pattern that the kids and I had fallen into. They knew what worked with me. They knew what didn’t work with me.
They had NO IDEA what worked with their dad. He was Mr. Yes. When Mr. Yes started saying no, it turned everything upside down. The kids had to go back to square one to figure out what worked with this new dad. There was lots of pushing back. There was lots of fussing. Sometimes things got downright ugly, but eventually things settled into a new pattern that worked.
Cute story, but what does this have to do with me?
This is the lesson to learn from our situation: Don’t wait until your kids are tweens before you start saying “No!”
Little kids need to hear you say “No”. They need to learn that your needs matter, too. Of course, this can be taken too far where the kids’ needs aren’t being met. However, each family needs to find a healthy balance where both parents and children are getting their needs met while working to make each other happy.
As difficult as it may seem to have to deal with a screaming toddler mid-tantrum, trust me when I tell you that a screaming tween mid-tantrum is waaaayyyyy worse.
Even the best raised tweens will occasionally act out. That is a natural part of the age, but the acting out will generally be less severe and less often. I promise. Kids are smart. They know what works. They know what doesn’t work.
The Pros to Saying No
So if you find yourself saying “no” over and over again and feel like the worst mom ever, trust me. You’re doing the right thing. Your future self will thank you. You are giving your children the skills needed to accept no’s… and possibly even skills to know how to negotiate better for yes’s as well.
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