The other day I was making dinner while my 3 year old daughter Campbell was playing in the kitchen. She was repeatedly opening and closing the dishwasher door, which had no dishes in it at the time. I told her “Campbell, stop doing that and go find something to play with.” As she walked away, it dawned on me, I didn’t really have a reason for telling her to stop. She wasn’t slamming the dishwasher door or doing anything with the potential to damage the dishwasher in any way. There were no dishes in it, clean or dirty, so there was no chance she was going to hurt herself on something sharp inside, like a knife or food processor blade. She wasn’t even in my way while cooking! I was on the other side of the kitchen. She was just being a curious 3 year old, and she was enjoying exploring something while being near her mommy. And I made her stop for no reason.
As I thought about this situation, I began to identify a myriad of activities throughout the day to which I put a needless end. I say no a lot! I think I have it on auto, I just say no without even thinking. I don’t think it was always like this, but over time I’ve settled into a habit of telling my kids not to do things that honestly aren’t hurting anyone.
What effect must this have on them? What am I teaching them? “Adeline, you don’t need to unfold your sandwich to eat it.” “Anderson, don’t hold the computer mouse while you’re watching the show.” “Campbell, get out of the exersaucer.” Why? Adeline still eats the sandwich, whether she opens it and digs around at the peanut butter with her finger or not. Anderson doesn’t throw the mouse around or damage it in anyway, he just wants to hold it because he’s enthralled with technology. Campbell, although she is 3 years old, doesn’t weigh anymore than many 1 year olds, she’s not in danger of tearing up the exersaucer.
The bottom line is, at the end of the day, I often feel run down and a little guilty over the way I parented, and I often couldn’t tell you why. I think the reason is that I’ve just squashed their little curious and creative spirits by telling them no so much. I would guess some of you experience the same feelings. Now, there are things we should certainly say no to and behaviors we should definitely stop. But what if we took a chill pill and just let them do some of the things that really aren’t a big deal? As I type this, Anderson is singing at the top of his lungs some ridiculous made up tune with nonsense syllables. I am fighting the urge to tell him to sing quieter. Why should he sing quieter? The babies are not asleep, he isn’t bothering anyone. Let him sing.
The truth is, I feel great about my parenting when I choose to give them freedom. I enjoy seeing what silly things they try to do, and the ways they explore their world. They are fascinating to watch, and they’re having a great time. I don’t want to impress upon them the thought that every little fun thing they want to do is wrong and should be stopped. They are little kids, with perfect little imaginations. Maybe Campbell was exploring the sound that is made by opening and closing the dishwasher door, and I ended her experiment. I don’t want to be that mom. I want to be the mom who says “go ahead” more often than “no.” I want to be the mom who encourages her kids to make up their own little games and explore sounds and sights and (within reasonj) jump off different objects in the house to practice their landings.
I have to tell you, after a few days of paying attention to how often I say no and making a real effort to say it less, I don’t feel as run down and guilty at the day’s end. My kids don’t seem as frustrated, either.
Do you struggle with saying no? I challenge you to spend the next week saying no less. See if you don’t feel like a weight has been lifted. It’s liberating!
Can you think of anything in the last few days you’ve told your kids not to do that really wasn’t hurting anyone/anything? Tell us your stories!