Long time readers will know, I like to surprise my kids by saying “yes.” At least twice, I’ve written about the value of saying “yes” to your kids (here and here). Today I’d like to show a little love to good ol’ fashioned no.
Here in the U.S., we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday. That got me thinking about gratitude vs. entitlement, which brought me around to Harry Potter: the fictional boy wizard that was raised by relatives who despised him. If you don’t remember, Harry Potter lived with his cousin Dudley.
Dudley’s parents (Harry’s aunt and uncle) mercilessly spoiled their son. They unreservedly said “yes” to Dudley, but to Harry, they only said “no.” Under their rearing, Harry developed kindness and generosity, gratitude and perseverance, while Dudley became truly horrible.
Anecdotally, we understand this phenomenon. But, every parent with an extra nickel must also apply the lesson. Sometimes we have to say no, only because it builds character.
When my kids complain about the lack of cereal in the pantry, to me, they are saying, “Don’t buy cereal. You haven’t said “no” enough lately.” Similarly, if they complain about having to do the dishes, it means, they need to wash dishes more often.
In the short run, this means more pain for the parents: more complaining, more sullen brooding or outright tantrums. But in the long run, it means you get pleasant, respectful people to live and grow old with. Those kids grow up to be respectful to their teachers and to their bosses and to the police. If your child is 12 years old and still does not help do dishes or fold laundry, do yourself (and the world) a favor and start saying no more often.
But, don’t make the same mistake I often do, saying “no” with an edge of discontent or dissatisfaction. Prepare yourself in prayer. Clothe yourself in humility before God, and with gratitude at the sacred task you’ve been given. Then, you can say “no” with joy, not as a punishment, but as a gift – with an eye on the long road ahead. AND, your kids will feel that difference, because “the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food.”
Raising kids is incredibly challenging. But now with an 8, 12 and 15 year old, I can testify that it gets easier as they grow – if you are willing to walk through the minefield of saying “yes” and “no” with prayerful care.
Final thought: Amy and I have been parenting this way for years, but we’ve only ever done it badly. We are hypocritical, inconsistent, and irresponsible failures much of the time. And yet, we’ve got great kids. So keep stumbling forward, receive God’s grace, and start fresh again today, with thanksgiving. That’s what we’re going to do.