It is the most common word a parent uses. It’s more of a reflex than a word, really.
When children ask for something or are doing something that we think is wrong or dangerous, “no” spills out before we even think about it.
Parents are busy. Kids are impatient. “No” is quick and easy. And sometimes wrong.
The other day, we were picking up our kids from a weekend with their cousins. Our kids were piling in the car when our son, Ben, asked to have one of his stuffed animals that was already packed at the bottom of the trunk.
In the milliseconds between his request and my answer, there were many things to consider. Did I feel like digging out the stuffed animal? Would all the other kids want theirs too? How much would they use these toys to bother each other (and me) during the hour drive home? How upset would Ben be if I said “no?” Would having the stuffed animal cause him to fall asleep in the car and then be up until midnight?
Usually, there’s not enough time to analyze all of the answers.
In most cases, it’s faster and easier to simply say “no.”
Saying “yes” without thinking through some of the consequences can be disastrous.
However, by using the common parenting knee-jerk “no,” our children can miss out on experiences that may be good for them. Or, it can cause a major meltdown that, frankly, was completely unnecessary.
The latter is what happened the instant I replied “no.”
Ben was tired but I hadn’t taken the time to consider this when I said “no.” I didn’t realize I could avoid a complete screaming fit by saying “yes.”
I considered reversing my decision when he started crying. If he calmed down quickly, I decided I would give him his stuffed animal. He didn’t. He got hysterical. Since I believe you will get a lot more tantrums if you give in to any of them, I strapped him in the car and drove home leaving his stuffed animal buried in the trunk.
After a few miles down the road, he finally calmed down and forgot all about his stuffed animal.
But I felt terrible.
I said “no” when I could have said “yes.” After taking time to analyze it, I realized there was no good reason to say “no.” It came out without even thinking about it and, this time, it turned out to be a mistake.
The reflex “no” is an absolute survival mechanism for every parent. However, I’m learning that sometimes there should be a “yes” once in a while without thinking too.
Al Watts is an at-home dad of 4 children living in west Omaha and the President of The National At-Home Dad Network. He writes regularly for The Good Men Project and Role/Reboot and is co-editing a book project titled “Dads Behaving Dadly: Chronicles of the Fatherhood Revolution.” Read him Wednesdays on momaha.com.