A make-up free selfie of Jennifer Garner made the rounds, last month, showing the exhausted mom of three after her fifth-annual “yes day.”
When hearing about the actress’s yearly trend of indulging every whim, no matter how much it beat her down in the process, I wondered if I could ever commit to a full day of only saying yes to my kids.
I already do my own version of this with my kids, in a way. During the week, for example, I limit things like junk food and screen time, but on the weekends or special occasions, I let the kids indulge a bit. It’s why you might see my kid eating nothing but cookies at a birthday party. He rarely eats them, so for him it is a splurge. Surprisingly, this method has taught him some self control. At a recent synagogue function, he ate a few cookies and declared he had enough.
I learned quickly as a parent that in order for those “yes” moments to work, I need to be able to say, “no,” too.
And, saying “no,” wasn’t — and still isn’t — always easy for me.
I was raised by a very strong, take-no-nonsense mother, so you would think I would have no problem saying, “no.” Well, some aspects of my personality are just innate, and standing my ground on things didn’t always come easy to me. My desire to impress, to be liked, to be noticed, often meant saying, “yes,” to things that were harmful to my mental and physical well-being. I never agreed to anything dangerous, but they weren’t all “smart” decisions. Yes, it was me being young, but at the core, I did a lot to make others happy.
Then, I had kids. My first born took occupied every bit of space I had in me to care about things. His needs were so high, that I often sacrificed my own for his. Suddenly, my desire to please others began to matter less and less to me. I had to start saying, “no.” I turned down party invites, even though I felt bad, for missing the second or third event in a row. I spoke up more about what I could realistically handle at work, leading me to the decision to quit my unsustainable job.
But, it wasn’t enough. As my son grew older, I was still saying, “yes,” too much. I had mastered managing the expectations of adults in my life, however, I was still indulging my own child. I was striving to keep him happy at all costs, and ended up paying the price of my own well-being.
Adding another child into our family, meant even more strain on my capacity to please everyone. I also had to deal with the reality of often rejecting my older child’s wants in order to provide for the survival needs of my newborn. Other times, it was my youngest who got denied attention in favor of the oldest. As much as I wanted to give them everything at every moment, it was impossible, so I adjusted.
I now am the proud parent to a precocious school kid and energetic toddler. Everything they want is “important,” and not getting something is the end of the world for them. There are plenty of tantrums when I turn off the T.V. or won’t let them play with my phone during an outing. There are fights at bedtime and tears at leaving playgrounds. I am often the “mean mom.”
In those moments when I hate being that mom, I remind myself that saying, “no,” isn’t saying, “I don’t love you.” I learned I can’t expect my kids to like or even love me all of the time. I learned I can be a better parent by managing my kids’ expectations. I learned saying, “no” to some things meant I had more of me to give for the stuff that really matters. I could still be a good mother. I could still give them the very best of me.
I am far from a super strict parent. As I mentioned, I am fairly lax on certain occasions. There are also moments when I am so tired, my kids can get me to agree to just about anything (a tactic they already know how to work all to well). Other parents might scoff at how much I let my kids “get away with.” I am always improving and striving to do better.
In this era of YOLO and bucket lists, saying, “yes” to everything is widely encouraged. There is a certain freedom in letting go of restrictions and going with the flow. Setting boundaries for myself and my children often means denying them and myself a fun experience. Yet, I hope by doing so, I am helping them navigate a world which won’t always be kind or forgiving. I hope I am helping those special moments of indulgent stand out. I hope I am being a fair but firm parent.
Here’s to putting the “No” in November.