It’s ok to say no to your children. In fact, it is imperative. It is not your job to keep your children happy all the time. We are bombarded every day by images that portray smiling children surrounded my their young, stylish, doting mothers and fathers. Guess what? It’s not real. At least not all of the time. And it is certainly not the norm. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be.
Setting limits and saying NO is one of the most important things I can do to ensure that my children feel safe and loved. Setting limits and following through, regardless of the tantrum that ensues, is crucial to my ability to raise children that I can trust out in the great big world. Knowing that my children respect my authority and the limits that I have set for them shows me that they will know how to act in the face of danger or during risky play. They will learn to respect their own limits and limits placed on them by the environment.
Let me tell you a story... Last Spring, on one of the first warm days after a long cold winter, I headed out to our local park with my three children to meet up with a bunch of our friends. Needless to say, the park was bustling with nannies, parents, and tons of children. My two older kids took one look at the wet, MUDDY field, and after a quick glance to me for the a-ok, stripped off their socks and shoes and luxuriated in the mud. I mean, they really went at it (Like pigs in you know what). There is a little creek that runs adjacent to the park and they proceeded to run back and forth from the muddy field, to the creek to wash off, and back again. This occupied them and filled them with utter JOY for well over an hour. Upon my instruction, they were careful not to get the mud on any other children or on the climbing equipment where the clean and dry children were playing. My children were able to run and play freely with wet, muddy, bare feet, and still respect the other people at the park. I knew I could trust them to do this because I have been setting firm limits for them since they were babies and they have tested my boundaries every single day. That is their job.
Obviously, the mud play earned them a few strange looks, and I, as their mother, got some SERIOUS stink eye from a few other adults. That's totally okay with me. I am confident in my ability to parent my own children and I realize that my choices might be different from others. As I often say to my children, "Different families, different rules."
I overheard someone say disdainfully, “Those children have no rules.” Well, let me assure you, my children have more rules than most. I believe that it is because of those rules, limits and boundaries, that my children are able to play confidently and freely. They are not afraid of what others think, they are confident in their choices.
A lot of people ask me who cleans up the vast messes that my children occasionally make. People want to know why I am able to allow my children to use real saws and power tools from a young age. People ask me how I get my children to cook for themselves and for one another... and clean up. There is one collective answer to all of these questions....
My expectations are clear and there are consequences when they are not met. Do I sound mean? I know it can come across as harsh, but I assure you, it is love that fuels my decisions. I am not afraid that my children will not think of me as nice. I am not their friend, I am their mom. I am their confident leader who is able to guide them. Part of that guiding is done by setting up clear expectations and limits.
It is because my three children understand what is expected of them that we are able to go on such fun adventures. I am able to let them wander out of my eyesight in the woods because I know that they will come when I call them. I am able to travel with all three of them on my own, because I know that they will pitch in and help me.
Do they listen all the time? NO WAY!
Do they step out of line? ALL THE TIME.
Talk back? Yup.
Dawdle when it is time to get ready. YOU BETCHA.
It is their job to test limits and boundaries and it is my job to be firm and clear about the consequences. Most of the time I use logical consequences. I find that logical consequences work, and make the most sense in our world. Of course, I am not able to do this all of the time. Sometimes I lose my patience and then things turn topsy turvy. There are definitely days where no one is feeling it and we all fall apart. But you know what? That is totally ok. Those are the times we can refer to when we communicate about what works for us as a family and what does not work.