Finding the art of “yes”

Sometimes, it takes the wisdom and jibber jabber of a three year old to highlight a flaw in your parenting. Take, for example, the following exchange that happened a couple days ago:

“Come here, No-no,” my middle daughter encourages to my crawling-curious-about-walking baby.

“What’d you call her?” I ask, thinking surely I had misheard her.

“‘No-no,’ because that’s what you always call her,” she explains with her usual bit of flair.

It took me about 24 hours to realize that I do (lovingly) say “no no no no” a lot, like when the baby is trying to roll over on the changing table (before I’ve completed the changing process) or when she is crawling toward an area where I don’t want her going. In fact, the more I started listening to myself, I realized that “no” is one of the more frequent words I say. Now, granted I have an inquisitive five year old, a stubborn three year old and an exploratory baby, but why is “no” at the top of my phrase list?

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call "Nono"

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call “No-no”

When my oldest was younger, I was very conscious of avoiding using the word “no” too often. I’d offer alternative actions and phrases that highlighted the positive, saving “no” for a serious offense or key moment. In fact, I spent the last nine years working for an organization that believes in and trains staff on “going with the yes.” Instead of saying “no, but…” staff learn the art of “yes, and…” It’s a training I’ve taught many times and a mantra I adopted and absorbed into all facets of my professional life.

Somehow, though, when it comes to reserving “no” for critical moments and “going with the yes” with my kids, I’ve fallen short. When inundated with seemingly endless questions, my default answer is just “no.” When they ask me “why” I realize that my knee jerk negativity is backed by little reason other than that was the word that came out. That’s not much of a reason at all.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids hear “yes” plenty of times, like when they want to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” for the umpteenth time, play “I spy” literally every time we get in the car, or when they want to have five more minutes before bedtime. But still, “no” has become a fast and easy default, so much so that my kids now just call their baby sister “No-no” as a nickname. Oy.

I want to raise my kids to be flexible. To be positive. To be accommodating, compromising and adaptable. To be strong and determined, but not stubborn and closed off. To be powerful women, and to assert the power for good, not as a roadblock for those in their path. And that all starts with me. They need me to role model how to do these things. That might mean taking an extra few seconds to listen to question upon question… or the same question over and over again. And it might mean that I let them do something that my first instinct was to reject. But, it also means they will hear more positivity and have more room to explore.

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

So, for the next few days, I am instituting my own creation that I’ve dubbed the “Just Say Yes Challenge.” I am making an active choice to be more aware of the power behind yes – to let my kids explore with fewer roadblocks. To let them hear a positive option instead of a negative response. To have a reason behind saying no, aside from it being the easier answer. I know it won’t always come naturally and will take a concerted effort to “go with the yes.” But I also know that the results could be wonderful and that makes it all worth it in the end.

Who’s with me? Do you want to try the “Just Say Yes” challenge with your kids? Comment below or on my Finding Mom-me Facebook page to pledge your participation in the “Just Say Yes Challenge!”*

*I’ll update the Finding Mom-me Facebook page with updates on how the “Just Say Yes Challenge” is going, so if you aren’t already following the page, click here to do so!

Finding affirmation of a mother’s instinct

Day after day, I read article after article about how to be a good mom, how to raise ______ children (that’s a fill in the blank because it could be happy, resilient, well adjusted, vegetable eating… just to name a few), how to parent with confidence or with intention or with patience or with any number of other things, all without royally screwing up my kids. I own a shelf full of parenting books about sleep, discipline, nutrition, and so on. My husband and I discuss, analyze and sometimes agonize over the choices we’re making, the actions we’re taking, and the ins and outs of our kids’ choices and actions. I talk with friends about the battles we are (or aren’t) picking with our kids. I’m on multiple listserves for moms – from finding great deals on Zulily to area mothers’ group functions. I read the Huffington Post Parents Facebook feed religiously. I attend lectures about hot parenting topics. At one time I thought this might all be a bit obsessive. And while all of this is truly informative, it’s even more exhausting! But the harsh reality is that this is parenting today.

Great Job gold starWe’ve all heard about, talked about, even joked about helicopter parents. Have we ever stopped, though, to ask why this generation of parents is hovering so closely to their kids? The truth is that helicopter parenting is a result of helicopter media telling us how to parent, why to parent, when to parent, what to parent. There’s a study and an answer for everything. Access to information has never been so easy. And, there’s plenty of mommy bloggers (myself included!) spouting their own opinions about everything from…well…everything.

But at the heart of it all – the literature, the studies, the scientific findings, the opinions and the judgments – isn’t there still a mother’s instinct? Where has trust in our own instincts gone? We have so diluted this instinct that we are now dependent on others to tell us what’s right. Sure, there’s always learning to be done. And yes, we should absolutely share with one another – it definitely does take a village. But where are the affirmations that we’re doing just fine? The confirmations that our instincts hold some weight? The declarations to moms everywhere of a job well done?

If I could write a letter for moms everywhere to see, it would go something like this:

Dear mothers everywhere,

You’re doing great. Yes, the sleepless nights (whether from a crying baby or newly driving teenager out past curfew) are rough. Yes, you haven’t slept in weeks/months/years. Yes, your patience is tested daily and your perseverance hourly. And yes, life is different than you imagined it would be. But the biggest yes, the biggest affirmation of all, is this: you are a great mom. You are doing a great job.

The dishes piled in the sink from dinner last night or the baskets of laundry yet to be folded acting as your family’s communal dresser are more affirmation of a job well done. You are busy. You are tired. You are juggling a million balls in the air, and you’re doing it well. At the end of the day, a parent’s job is never done, and to this you are no exception. Because whether you tackle the dishes or the laundry, or you take a break, you are doing a great job.

Raising children is no easy feat. From cooing/crying babies to terrific/terrible toddlers to children going on teens to teens going on thirty, you’re doing great. So next time you want to pull your hair out, or you question your abilities, your instincts, or your knowledge of whatever is making your three year old (or thirteen year old) throw a tantrum, remember this: The days are long, but the years are short and moments (and frustrations) are fleeting. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Enjoy every moment you can (and those that you can’t will be over before you know it). You’ve got this and you’re doing great.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.