Saturday, June 23, 2012

When you have to say "No"

There are 2 different kinds of saying "no" to your child. One is the basic you are not allowed to do that, it isn't safe, healthy, legal and so forth. This sort of saying no is basically healthy for the child. It helps them learn boundaries, rules and regs, adjust to the fact that they have to submit to authority other than themselves. It also helps them stay alive until they reach an age where they can have kids of their own to restrain. It also isn't that difficult for parents to deal with. We understand this sort of saying no is part of our job. It can even feel good to say no, knowing  have spared your child potential harm.

Its the other kind of saying no that is so hard. Usually it takes the form of "I'm sorry, you can go, we just can't afford that". Sometimes however it is a scheduling issue, or a transportation issue. Or maybe the child is available but the required parental accompaniment is not. Almost always though the reasoning is basically the same, your child cannot do/have the activity/item not for any reason relating to them, but because you, the parent, cannot provide the required element.

I think this sort of saying no is harder on the parent than the child. The kid after all knows its not his doing that the great whatever isn't happening, and aside from the social ostracism of lacking the proper tennis shoes or ticket to the midnight showing of the latest movie, he is ok. I ts the parent who suffers the remorse, not the kid. Inevitably the parent ends up feeling they have, in some way, failed.

Kids can be harsh about this stuff. "I reminded you again and again this is coming, why didn't you set a few bucks aside every week." Well because the extra few bucks bought milk and bread or bus fare. I wanted to try and set the money aside but the car always knows how much money I had, and deliberate leaks gas in just the right proportion to the quantity of my check book." Mom you ruined my life by never learning to drive, just so you know. " "I will be the only kid in the school who doesn't have new shoes when school starts." (never mind you got a pair 2 months ago that fit just fine)

I have a hard time with this sort of thing. Oddly its not the big things that I find so hard (I know we cant afford driving school, extra insurance at teenage boy level, and another car right now, so its not hard to say no to the drivers license.)  Its the little stuff  like seeing movies when they come out, or not being able to get a new sleeping bag before the next camping trip, so they have to use the old one even if its too short and the zipper sticks, or telling the daughter that she has to wait 2 weeks before I can get new pointe shoes, unlike some of the other moms. Its also bad when you tell one they cant have something the other one had, cause as a parent you want to be as fair as possible. (and boy don't they know how to play that guilt card.)

The worst is when you have to say no to something you both would enjoy and cant really repeat. Earlier this month I had to tell my daughter that there just wasn't enough money to go to DC for a concert celebrating Girl Scouting's 100th birthday. We had hoped to go up on the Greyhound, I secured the time off from work last year, and it was only about 2 weeks before the event that I fitnally threw my hands up in despair knowing that there simply wasnt the available funds. The guilt was compounded by the fact that I had managed to visit the 100th anniv Boy Scout Jamboree with her brother several years ago. We had attended the concert in 2007, and there will be another in 2017 but there was only one 100th anniversary, and only one perfect not quite teenage daughter trip to take of that sort. It helped my guilt not a bit to see press coverage the next day on the Sunday morning news shows. Fortunately the daughter was still in bed.

I know we cant give our kids everything, or that we even should give our kids everything. Goodness knows I didn't get it all when I was a kid, my parents had less money and twice as many kids as we do. Like a lot of parents I try to do at least a little bit better by my kids than my parents were able to do, on the whole I think we succeed. But of course the kids don't know where you are coming from, only where they are at right now.

I also don't think there is anything wrong with regretting the "no" a bit, or mourning that which you don't get to do or have, so long as it doesn't become more important than what you do manage to do, and what you do manage to have. Moreover, as long as we remember that for every time we look at others and feel like "have nots", there is someone else looking at us as the "haves", we will be able to keep it all in proportion.

Even  if our the kids are being deprived, mortified, embarrassed, and totally ruined for life.


  1. It sucks having to say no to those things and I often want to shake my fists in the air and utter "curse you parents of the child who has, does everything and then asks my kid why he doesn't!" But I just try to remember the stuff we expose our kids to that other kids might not be able to experience. It doesn't necessarily make saying "no" any easier, but you do so much for them. The baseball and dance classes and boy/girl scouts, music lessons.
    Kids can be harsh no matter how much you give them. But when they get a little older, they will look back and appreciate those things you did for them and they'll realize the sacrifices you had to make in order to make those things happen and I think that they will appreciate that even more.

  2. Well thats it exacty....I know in the long run they will appreciate it more, just like I did. I also think in the long run they arent nearly as traumatized by the whole business as we are. We're the ones who feel obligated to try and make their childhoods perfect. We're the ones who allow ourselves to feel like failures when it doesnt pan out too.