why I'm failing as a Yes-mom

April 9, 2012

Around the hippy-dippy side of the parentosphere I see a lot of discussion of what I call "Say YES!" parenting. Kids hear a lot of no. They're faced with a world of restrictions, what they can't and shouldn't do– what better way for us to loosen our grips and empower them than with letting them hear YES. Unless they're in danger, hurting themselves and/or others, most of the reasons we say no are pretty flimsy. What they want to do is messy, inconvenient, annoying. Those are our problems, not our children's. Let it go. Say yes.

It sounds dreamy. It makes me want to sprinkle magical granola all around my unwashed hair so my squirrel-sisters can pick it out as part of our forest commune. I read about "Say YES!" and my heart says, "THAT'S BRILLIANT. I want to be the mom that says yes. I WANT TO SAY YES! YES YES YES–" I jump out of my seat screaming, "Hey Jude, let's go break something AND NOT EVEN CARE."

- Yes! Play with my yarn and unwind it all over the house. Have fun.
- Yes! You take my knitting needles and use them as drumsticks on every surface.
- Yes! You can run around pantsless.
- Yes! Go dig around in the dirt and hit stuff with sticks. Whatever.

This is when I take a break in the bathroom and congratulate myself on my awesomeness. There I am, in the mirror, I am Yes-mom, hear me roar! We are having gentle exploratory non-restrictive fun and we are liking it! Explore the world! Make a mess! By the time I'm done with my granola party I have vomit all over the front of my shirt from how awesome I am. It's gross to be this awesome.

Meanwhile, in toddlerville:
- Yes, please attempt to pour Scary Fish's bowl into the TV.
- Yes, please throw your shoes at the window.
- Yes, please run outside and then hover directly next to the electrical box while pretending to touch it and laughing.
- Yes, please empty my purse into the dog water.

This is when I head back into the bathroom a broken woman to flog myself for my failure. There I am, in the mirror, the mom that says NO. NO NO NO NO NO PLEASE NO. This time only bile comes back up when I hork and I don't bother to wipe my mouth afterward. This is the pale, slightly-sweaty face of a monster*.

*Regular mother.

Truly, those are all good, safe, perfectly valid reasons to bring down the hammer of "No," ones that shouldn't sully the good name of secret-mission "Yes!" but it still feels like a slap in the face coupled with well-meaning comments like, "Well I find that if I just say yes we have a much more pleasant family atmosphere and also rainbows and kittens come out of his butt with every toot, have you tried that?"

I can't be Yes-mom as often as I would like. I can't be Yes-mom because I don't have Yes-kid. I have THAT CRAZY THING that needs a firmer touch than any of the organic granola I've found can provide. In sum, I have to parent my kid, not the kid it would be nice if I had, not my friend's kid, not your kid, and not Dr. Sears' kid. At the heart of my job is providing what Jude needs. Not what I want to give, or how I want to do it, what he needs. It doesn't matter how much I want to say yes if yes isn't what he needs to hear right now.

I still feel moved by the magical grass-skirts and flowered passion of "Say YES." I think it brings up a critical question– why am I saying no? Is it for a good reason or an arbitrary one? I like the reminder to ask myself that throughout the day. However I have to concede defeat to other, prettier, better parents with very different children. You get on with your bad selves. I think a world of YES! sounds pretty fun, pretty completely-unrealistic-for-us fun. I'm probably just jealous.

Aiming for a higher percentage of YES! in the yes/no ratio of our day is the best effort I can make, along with a better understanding of what the Jude needs. Evidently, that includes no. Sorry super squirrel commune, you'll be sitting this one out for a while.
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