H turned six last week, and O turns four tomorrow. To celebrate, we’re hosting a combined birthday party this weekend for all the little boys in both their classes. But tomorrow, just as we did last week for H, we’ll celebrate a different way: Mama Can’t Say No Day, a new (and rare) tradition in our house.
“Mama Can’t Say No Day?” you say. “That sounds like a bad idea.”
But it’s not. Actually, it’s pretty great. This re-post below tells you about our first Mama Can’t Say No Day, and proves that empowering your kids can go a long, long way.
Mama Just Can’t Say No – May 3, 2010
“Maura, I have your son here in my office.”
I have to be honest—I’ve received more phone calls like this lately than I care to admit. “Is everything ok?” I ask. “Is he hurt?”
“No, no. He’s just refusing to take a nap. It’s disrupting the other kids. We’ve tried reasoning with him and ignoring him and putting him in time out. Nothing’s working. What do you suggest?”
What I think but don’t say: “Have you tried bribing him? Or taking away his toys? Or smoothing his hair and rocking him to sleep?” But I’m too ashamed of my “works like a charm” Bad Mom tactics. Instead, I say, “I’m so sorry! Daycare has been such a huge transition for him. We’ll talk to him again tonight. Meanwhile I’d welcome your advice…”
“Do you practice discipline in your home?”
I think about O, my sweet, snuggly 3-yr-old mama’s boy and am instantly defensive. In a family of huggers, he hugs the longest and the hardest. He holds my hand as he falls asleep and smiles when I wake him in the morning. O is just a lovable, jolly kid who happened to inherit his mother’s exaggerated stubborn streak. In our house, discipline usually turns into one massive standoff, with me saying “No!” and him saying “Yes!” until we no longer remember what we’re doing.
“Barriers are important. Kids need structure. They want it, and they thrive on it. Don’t be afraid to be the boss.”
I thank her and we say goodbye. After a minute or so of burying my face in my hands, I take a deep breath and get back to work.
The truth is, I say “no” constantly. No jumping on the bed. Eat your grapes, or no dessert. Keep your feet off your brother. Stop moving around on your chair. No! Non! Nicht! Não! Enough!
I’m not a nag by nature, and I’m not a bossy person, so this constant setting and enforcing of rules goes against my general grain. I do it because I have to. Because I know I need to. Because, like every other mom, I’ve read all the experts, and I’ll do anything it takes to keep my kids from dragging my name through their therapy sessions 25 years from now.
Even so, EVERYONE needs a day off once in a while. That’s precisely why today was so outstanding. For the first time, I decided to just scrap all the parenting rules and follow nothing but maternal instinct.
I hear two sets of little boy feet coming down the stairs. Two smiley kiddos appear with stick-uppy hair.
“Hi Mama!” H says gleefully.
“Hiya, pumpkin. What day is it, buddy?”
“The Day Mama Can’t Say No!”
“That’s right! Hey O, what does that mean?”
“We’re the bosses!”
“And what do the bosses want for breakfast?”
“Chocolate chip muffins!”
Well. Chocolate chip muffins it is.
Here’s what else the bosses did today:
- Chose their clothes and got dressed by themselves (something they do every day—just not so eagerly)
- Brushed their teeth without argument (even if they did select the Thomas the Tank Engine toothpaste for toddlers, rather than that nasty “Sparkleberry!” flavored crap)
- Made tantrum-free movie selections at Blockbuster
- Talked me into racing the Target shopping cart down an empty aisle or two
- Ordered bacon—five pieces each—and ate quietly all through lunch
- Laughed their little blond heads off through two Phineas and Ferb episodes, then announced they were ready for a nap
- Had a massive Star Wars lightsaber battle with Uncle SC without antagonizing one another
- Enjoyed a very bubbly bubble bath
- Went to sleep at 9:00, exhausted and happy
It’s clear to me. When I loosen the reins on these guys, when I guide them rather than lord over them, when I tell them I trust them—and they actually believe me—then eight times out of 10 they’ll make good choices. They’ll stop railing against me in their little boy way. I guess in my heart I’ve always known this about them.
I make mistakes with my boys every day, and I count those mistakes as I fall asleep each night. But in the end, I can’t help but think: If they know I love them fiercely and obstinately and blindly and devotedly and proudly and without a hint of desire to change them, then they’ll believe in themselves, and they’ll want to do what’s right.
I wonder what the experts would say about that.
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