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Variations In The Key Of "No"

One of my parenting discipline choices
I’ve made is to say “no” as little as possible. I
try to give in to any reasonable request, so that when I do finally
say “no” the kids will respect that and accept it. At
the same time, sometimes I see the need to say “no”
just so they can practice their obedience and acceptance, so the
whole thing gets muddied. Add to that the fact that I desperately
try to never reverse myself, and so hold off saying
“no” until I’m sure I mean it and will stick to
it, and the whole “no” thing becomes a road fraught
with peril.

My kids, of course, have quickly learned that the word
“no” has many shades of meaning. For example, if one of
the girls asks me if we can go out for lunch as we head home from a
morning spent with friends, my mind will race through all the
ramifications even as my mouth opens. When was the last time we
went out to lunch? Do we seem to go out to lunch every time we have
a play date, and thus need to go home so it doesn’t become
taken for granted? What commitments do we have after lunch? How
much money do we have left this month?

What’s in the fridge that I can make lunch with, anyway?

So as I’m working through all this,
I’m stalling with an answer so I don’t say
“no” and then reverse my position in a few seconds
after I’ve thought it through. Plus, I’d rather go out
to lunch myself, most days. Which means the conversation goes like

“Mom, can we go out to lunch on the way home?”

“Well, honey, it doesn’t seem likely. I think today is
Tuesday, which means you’ve got ballet coming up soon.”

“Yes, but you have the ballet bag packed and in the car
already, so I can change at the studio.”

“Plus, it seems we go out to eat a lot on Tuesdays.”

“Ok, Mom, how about this – we go out to eat today, and
I won’t ask next week.” (Ha! Right.)

“I’m not sure, honey – let me think.”

“Please, please, please, please, please?”

“I’m going to have to say no,” I say regretfully,
because I’d love to go out myself but am trying to be a good
steward of that half-stale bread in the house. My kids can smell my
weakness and sense the “no” is half-hearted, and press
harder until I crack or get really mean.

This is, obviously a pattern of relating and thanks to some good
parenting books I recognize it and the scenes are getting fewer and
farther between. Clearly I’ve got a dozen different
“no”s in my repertoire, because sometimes the girls can
suss out the wiggle room, and sometimes they sense clearly that the
“no” ain’t changing. As in:

“Mom, can I climb on the roof of the swingset?”

“Absolutely not.”


There’s the “I’m still your friend, but sorry,
no” no, the “what have you been sniffing that you even
thought you might get a ‘yes’” no, the rueful,
“I wish I could say otherwise as I gently tell you
‘no’” no, and probably a half-dozen others in my
repertoire. And my children, bless their hearts, have their ears
finely tuned to each and every variation, and can play me like a

I’m working on it, I promise. Will I narrow it down to one

Um, no?


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