The more I honour, respect and celebrate my child’s ‘no’s the more I find space and confidence to honour my own ‘no’s.
Each time my daughter says ‘no’, I feel really happy. I am proud of her for knowing what she wants and expressing it so clearly and assertively. Of course that doesn’t mean she always gets what she wants (or doesn’t get what she doesn’t want). Very often I ‘honour’ her ‘no’ by listening to it, validating it (telling her I hear her and understand she doesn’t want what I am proposing, say a diaper change) and then go on to say that this is one of those times when mommy has to go ahead and do it anyway. It happens. But it is rare.
Most of the time, say if I ask for a hug and she says ‘no’ I look closely and find that she was already engaged in something and chances are I was ‘rude’ for interrupting with my sudden (selfish) need to express my bubble of love for her – with no respect or sensitivity to what she was doing. Afterall, my love will still be here in 10 minutes. Or if I say ‘do you want to go to the park?’ and she says ‘noooooo’, I wait. I know that in most cases (especially with something as tantalising as going to the playground) she doesn’t mean ‘no’, she means ‘not now… just let me finish what I am doing here, please, mom’ (but she doesn’t yet have the vocab, let alone the inter-personal awareness to express it this way). In a couple of minutes when she has finished the important business of putting all her toys in the laundry basket, I know she’ll tootle over to me and say ‘PAAAK’. She just needed a minute. I would extend the same courtesy (of listening and letting somebody finish what they were invested in) were it, say, my partner, so why not to my toddler just because she can’t say full sentences, yet. She can express herself very well, already.
As it is, I meet most of my daughters ‘no’s with a ‘yes’ (‘okay, we don’t need to do that, right now’). That seems to really help her trust that I am listening, that I care about what is important to her, that I will respect her wishes whenever possible. I also reckon the fact that 80 or 90% of the times Anya says ‘no’ our response is to smile (because it is so darn cute, apart from anything else), helps her feel empowered.
After all, imagine if every time you said you didn’t want something (sauce on your steak, to watch a re-run of ‘gone in 60 seconds’ with your husband…) not only were you forced to do it, but you were actually frowned upon if not outright punished for daring not to want something. What effect would that have? Would it not make you feel even more angry, hostile and disconnect from the one not listening to your wants?? It would me.
So, I respect my daughter’s fledgling right to self-determination, whenever I can… and as I help her uphold her own boundaries, I slowly but deeply register the importance of these, of ‘outer limits’, in our lives. I am doing all this, at least in part, because I want her to grow up strong in her own self-knowledge, in her ability to tune into herself and know what feels right and what doesn’t – in the moment (not 10 minutes from now) and to express it in a positive way. Somewhere in this process of supporting my daughter’s own, natural connection to her true feelings I find my own atunment growing stronger, too. And, in our relationship, at least, I find that because I have made so many deposits in the bank of ‘it is okay to say no’ I can make withdrawls from it, with confidence, too. I can say ‘no, sorry, you can’t have another go. It is time to go home now’ or whatever, confidently, too. I trust that she will hear me. I trust that she will know I am not just doing this to yank her chain or to exercise power over her. In fact, me being me, (in this example) I will already have told her that was the last go on the slide and we were going home soon, framed it positively and with regards to what is interesting and exciting to her (rather than saying ‘we are going home’, saying ‘do you want to open the gate’ – a big draw at this age)… I don’t just drop a ‘no’ on her, from out of nowhere. It is padded, usually. Padded with love, empathy and sensitivity for her needs, as well as a growing awareness of my own.
The interesting thing, then, is that as I help my daughter value her natural assertiveness, I notice my own finding more appreciation in me, too. All this gentle parenting stuff that I feared would make me weaker, a walk-over (as so many detractors warn us) instead is making me stronger, more in touch with my own feelings and able to express them. What I honour in my daughter I honour in me.