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I think I did alright in the child-raising department. There are a lot of things I don’t do well, and a few I do very badly, but I think I’ve been a good parent, particularly in the last decade or so. There’s quite a bit of on-the-job training involved in parenting — hardly any other kind, in fact — and I think I was better at it when I finished than when I started. I’m sure my older children would second that, perhaps with more vigor than I’d like.
If I could pass on a bit of advice, it would be on the important topic of saying “no” to your children.
There are other things, of course, essential things: love them and don’t let them doubt that you love them, control your temper, never be cruel, show them that you love their mother and respect their father, give them security. I’d like to simply assume those things, because they’re pretty obvious and, as I said, essential.
What isn’t obvious to everyone — and I think this is particularly true for single mothers — is that it’s good for children to hear “no.”
I think a lot of parents feel that they have to justify a “no,” that they have to be apologetic about it, or have a defense ready in case the child responds with “why not?” That’s nonsense: parents have enormous discretionary authority, and there’s nothing wrong with using it. If “no” feels right, don’t think you have to defend your answer — and certainly not when you deliver it. If “no means no” is ever true, it’s true when talking to children.
Kid have nothing but time and will argue, whine, wheedle, negotiate, and act as if nothing in the world is more important than the thing they want right now. They’re wrong. Not only don’t they need to watch that show/play that game/eat that dessert/buy that thing, but they’ll ultimately be happier if they develop the ability to accept defeat, shift their focus, and go find something else to do. They won’t be scarred by disappointment.
Children who can’t accept “no” as an answer are going to be unpleasant to deal with, and are going to face difficulties in life. They’ll grow up acting like typical progressives: nothing will ever be acceptable except exactly what they demand. By all means, discuss your decision-making process with your kids. But do it at your convenience, not theirs. Getting what they want is the highest priority for children, and nothing is ever more pressing for them: if they really want to discuss it, let them come back when it’s convenient for you.
Above all — and, this is particularly important for single mothers — don’t think for a moment that you are going to lose your child’s love if you say “no.” Mothers have an enormous, primal claim to their children’s love, and nothing short of sustained, monstrous misconduct will endanger it. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you think it’s the best answer.
Two final points.
First, learning to say “no” is particularly important at meal time. Kids should learn to eat what’s served. We made it a point not to make meals that were especially difficult for any of our children; those simply weren’t on the family menu. But, beyond that, the kids were expected to eat what was put in front of them — and, after some learning, they did.
Secondly, if your children are fortunate enough to be in a stable, two-parent household, they should learn that the first “no” means “no”: if mom says “no,” don’t ask dad, and vice versa. Having both parents on the same page communicates to the children that their resistance is futile — and heightens their respect for parental authority.Published in