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March 23, 2006


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Great post! I am both. I will read whatever page the one year old flips to, definitely. But I also would have said no about the apple-tossing. Sometimes I fear I care too much what oothers say about my kids. And because of that, I sometimes say no too often. Getting the right balance is such a challenge, isn't it?
Mary, mom to many

I think I am both, too. My daughter is definitely more interested in turning pages and opening and closing the book (to see if it's still the same the 12th time around) than reading in order, and I'm happy to do that with her. I think, too, about all the ways I direct her life that she has no say in (when to get dressed, when to go out, when to have her diaper changed), and that makes me try to think several times about when I really want to say no and when it's a knee-jerk reaction. But I worry both ways: that I'm restricting her in public over fear about what others will think and that I'm giving her too much leeway because I hate to see her frustrated (and, of course, deal with her frustration). So I think it's laudable to notice your own tendencies and then just think about them.

"Growing Up Again" (which was published by the Hazeldon people, and has lots of multiple-choice "choose your response" situations, which I find are fun to read when one is a tiny bit sleep deprived) has a similar sort of concept, staying on the highways of nurture and structure, not driving into the ditches of neglect or suffocation, abuse or marshmallowing. I like that book a lot.

I'm a yes mom for some things and a no mom for too many other things. My mother was just here for the weekend and I think she's a little shocked (not to mention mortified) by a lot of the stuff I tolerate.

I think what worries me most about my no moments is that they're so often a response to how I imagine other people are judging ME. You know? It's not that _I_ care about some particular behavior, but I have to say no (and often quite unkindly) because I'm imagining how other people will judge me if I don't. Not just in public, either. I'd trust the "no" moments more if they didn't seem rooted in so much personal insecurity.

I'm definitely a yes mom. But my no thing is public behavior. My goal is to teach the kids that acting up in public is disrespectful of other people, so I don't feel one bit bad about coming down hard on inappropriate behavior in public. But at home I'm all about yes, unless it's making fart noises and personal assault on little brothers.

Hrrmmm... It depends on the kid and the situation and how much sleep I've had.

I guess because of how I was raised I lean more toward the no camp, but I do try to say yes as much as I can. Most days.

Oh, and I wouldn't have let them chuck apples in the neighbor's yard simply because I wouldn't want the neighbors chucking apples into my yard. Still, it wasn't like you were telling them to aim for the windows. ("The WINDOW, Alex, the WINDOW!!!) Plus, have you met my neighbors?? Egads!

I know someone (not a mother, actually, but a caregiving grandmother) who literally does not say "no" to the children. Once, on a playdate at her house, I saw her baby grandson crawl up to an electric outlet and attempt to stick something in it. "No, no, baby, don't touch that, it's dangerous," I said, and the grandmother, realizing what the child was doing, responded with a warning of "buh-buh-buh!" I didn't feel bad about saying something to the kid -- I believe we all have a responsibility to stop any child from doing something so dangerous -- but I was left feeling as if I'd broken some bizarre house rule by saying "no" to the child.

I have no problem saying no, and it's getting even easier as my kid gets older. My motto is to say yes to reasonable requests (yes, you can have a banana even though dinner is in 15 minutes, since a banana is nutritious), and to insist that all requests be framed politely before I answer them. But I can and do say no. I want Dorian to know that his desires are important to me, but that he doesn't rule the world. So I wind up saying things like "no, I can't come build a train shed out of blocks for you right now, I have to get dressed." And if he does something like aim a screwdriver towards an electric outlet, you can hear my "NO!" from two houses away.

I don't know if I'm basically a yes-mom or a no-mom. I am certain, though, that I am a laughing-at-inappropriate-moments-mom, which is probably the most dangerous mamatype of all.

I am still smiling over the "I am SO blogging about you."


I can't wait to tell Jim about the brick wall/jelly fish book. He comes from a brickwall family I come from a jelly fish family and we are both, as we talk about our future adopted daughter, very clearly children of our families. It will be interesting to see how we can blend and end up with a backbone.

Not sure which I am, except also a "laughing at inappropriate moments" mom! Sometimes, though, my 4-year-old ends up joining in the laughter at his own over-the-top behavior, and it seems as if he actually might get it -- "yeah, I am overreacting." Maybe not, but it works to distract him at least.

I have been lurking here for awhile now, and I LOVE your blog. LOVE IT! This issue is so interesting, and one I consider daily.

I am a fan of rephrasing "no," as in, "we can do that after lunch" instead of just saying "no" outright. This helps because you don't hear "no" back at you as much, and it (hopefully) helps to teach agreeability to your child? If I'm in public and my kid does something socially awkward, I will often tell an observer, "we're working on this," and then turn to my child and, well, work on it. This response helps me from feeling too judged -- that is, it shows I'm aware of the behavior's inappropriateness.

Like you I was raised "brick wall," and it's been an interesting journey. Occasionally I worry that my attempts not to be "brick wall" result in bypassing "backbone" and crashing (smooshing?) into "jellyfish." My mother actually did tell me once that she wishes she'd not said "no" as much as she did . . .

When I had my first, I read a quote from someone or other who claimed that there are so many times you *have* to say no to a child (issues of safety, for example) that you should say "yes" whenever you can.

Eating duct tape sounds like a plenty-fine occupation to me!

I don't think I've been a mom long enough to know whether I'm a yes or no. I like to think I'll always be a perfect balance!

Right now, with my nearly 11 mo DS, I just consider danger and definite boundaries, and leave the rest for him to learn on his own. Is it really going to hurt him to dig in the trash and shred (and, yes, eat) a few old receipts? Is it really going to hurt him to crawl out the door with no socks on in February? To take some good tumbles? To spread CDs and videos all over the living room 497 times a day? I just try not to have everything off limits (though I briefly rethought this when he broke my favorite mixing bowl ).

I'm probably more of a "yes" mom than a "no" mom. And I'm with Moxie, most of my no's come from teaching how to be respectful of other people's property and space. And I try to find ways to say "yes", such as "You may have a cookie after you have finished your lunch", even when the request for a cookie is made upon waking.

This is a great line! "Before I actually had children I was an amazing mother." Guess I've still got another couple years left at being the best mother ever!

Most of my understanding of no vs. yes isn't about permissive vs. strict discipline. It's about whether you phrase the rules in terms of what you cannot do, or what you can. So there are plenty of ways to teach respectful treatment of strangers and other people's property that don't involve the word no.

Just to clarify that distinction as it exists in my mind. When I turn to the reflexive no, it almost always arises from exhaustion, defensiveness, or irritation on my part: NOT any profound difference in the rules from the days when I say yes.

Example: "No, Elba, don't take that girl's shovel!" vs. "Elba, here's a truck for you to play with, that shovel belongs to this girl." No vs. yes. Not "don't take other people's things" vs. "anything goes."

Thanks; as someone with no experience yet, I found this post (oddly? not so oddly?) very reassuring. We're told so often that there are rules for raising children - you mustn't let the baby learn to do this, or teach him to do that; chewing on this that or the other is bad for his health/teeth/brain - that it's nice to see a relaxed approach.
I wonder, though, if it's harder to keep the 'yes orientation' in religious families. I used to think that was especially true for religious Jews, because you're constantly emphasizing the food restrictions and activity restrictions: No, we can't have ice cream after chicken. No, we can't play with the crayolas today. But now I wonder if it's not just inherent in any observant household. Lent has its rules; Sunday morning is not a time for sleeping in. Of course, maybe the external structure encourages one to be as flexible as possible within those boundaries ...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Like a previous commenter, I've tried to follow advice I heard before I was a parent, to say yes as much as possible because there would be plenty of unavoidable nos. I try to rephrase my nos, to redirect, etc., but I too often find myself starting every sentence with 'no' - even when no is not what I really mean!

I heard another piece of advice on this, which was in the morning to put 10 'nos' in your pocket, and when you've used them up, that's it for the day. I'd like to work toward that, for a start. When I hear my daughter saying 'no no' to other kids, I worry.

I really hope to have a balance, with just enough of each. I do try to say yes as much as possible, but I think I am too uptight and say the no no no too often.

When "You might get hurt" or "it might make a mess" is too often the reason for the no, I have to remind myself what being a kid is like and that getting (minorly) hurt and making messes are part of childhood.

This is a fascinating discussion, I love your post. I had never thought about parenting in those yes/ no terms.

I think I am more of a "yes" mom compared to my brother and sister-in-law, though, but I can definitely sey no to my boys. Compared to my husband, though I am very "yes." What happens when the parents disagree about this like in our case, though? I am in a similar situation as Jennifer even though I think my family was not fully jellyfish :) Maybe I should take a look at those books.

Lilian, my husband and I struggled with this in a minor way when our older son was first crawling. I felt (and feel) very strongly that you shouldn't put negative messages in your kid's head. If your kid falls off the slide it won't be because you didn't tell him to be careful; it'll be because he wasn't careful (or another kid pushed him, etc.). So why put the idea of getting hurt in his head if he's doing perfectly fine on his own? My husband, OTOH, grew up with a mother who borrows trouble on every possible topic ("Mom, I got a raise." "Better hope the comapny doesn't go out of business. And now you'll have to pay more taxes."), so he was raised hearing, "Be careful--you'll fall!"

I worked really really hard to step out of the way of my husband and let him have his own relationship with our son from the beginning, but I knew my husband had no idea he was sending the negative messages and predictions. So we talked about it, and he was stunned when I pointed it out. He became more mindful of what he was saying ("Watch your feet!" started replacing "Don't fall!") and I think it actually made my husband feel better about what our son was capable of, too.

I sound like a real know-it-all, don't I? Sorry. I just thought that was a good example of how people are raised in No families and don't realize it. Have you discussed it specifically with your husband? Mine has always felt that he's too cautious and not experimental enough, so when I pointed out that he was giving more No messages he got what I meant and was on board with changing his initial response pattern. I'm betting your husband is not even aware of it and would be totally receptive to becoming more Yes if you talked about it.

I was thinking about the Yes and No parenting approaches and how interesting it was. And then I went to the post office. It was a nice suburban post office, small, old-fashioned (meaning the old fortress kind, no windows you can see in from the outside). I was waiting in line about 8am. And the woman behind starts talking to a small boy. She asks if he is alone, he was. She asks how old he was, he said 3, but his birthday is March 29th and then he'll be 4. And she asked where his mother was, and he said in the car outside. The little boy had a letter, already stamped. I suggested he go before me, when my turn came. He gave the postal worker his letter and he left to go to his mom, in the black car he said. The woman behind me watched him leave safely through the small window. She was outraged that he came in alone.

And I thought about the yes / no thing. Was his Mom saying yes? Letting him do something he felt very confident about? He seemed willing, yet guarded about talking to the inquisitive woman behind me. The postal workers didn't seem to know him, like he came in every day or anything. I wondered if there were sleeping twins the mom didn't want to carry in. But there is a mailbox right outside, next to the street parking lane. When I left 2 minutes later, the Mom was recapping his trip with her son. He seemed to really want to mail this letter, by himself. I didn't see any babies in the car.

We have two preteens boys from my community who have been missing for ~2 weeks, without a trace. Sure this was suburban, but it still made me worry (especially with the architecture of no windows to watch him from the outisde and back exits that might be reached with some ingenuity.) But I know child abduction is rare. Was this crossing a line? Would you let a 3 or 4 year old go alone?

I did have the thought that I had to put this in the comments to this entry, even as it was happening :)

parenting involves making repeated judgment calls about yes and no.
my thought was always to make the no be for sufficient cause that it would not be ignored.
safety issues are a big one
but sometimes you have to let a child make a small mistake to prevent them from making the big ones
judgment, always

This is a fascinating discussion. Thanks Moxie for addressing my concerns, I really like the way you described your experience. I'll definitely talk about it with my husband... When I read your comment I was just thinking that his and his family's way of acting have actually influenced *me* more to the "no" side than the other way around, and I should try to change as well :)

I re-read this tonight and felt like commenting this time. I do both, but I know that I lean toward finding ways to say yes. I love giving the kids a choice. I love being positive. But I also find value in saying no. It's nice to be able to be firm in some things, and clear that THIS activity will not fly with me.

Interesting post, Jamie. Very thought-provoking.

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