Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Saying “No” Can Bring You Closer

Among all my friends, I had the strictest parents. (And my friends were mostly bookish honor roll-types from church-going families, so that’s saying something.) Like many high school students, we partied as often as one particular set of parents (not mine) with enough space and a good set of nerves would allow. We were mostly good kids. I thought my friends’ parents were very cool and certainly more lenient with things like curfew, or allowing a boyfriend to drive you to and from school or to a party. These were among the NO’s at my house.

Once, in 11th grade, I so wanted to go to a U2 concert in Philadelphia with our group, and we had it all planned. We lived in a small beach town in South Jersey, and the ride would take 1 ½ hours each way through the lonely pines. The boys had the cars and they would drive.

As you may have guessed, my parents gave a decisive “no” when I asked if I could go. I was crushed, and knew I was the only one not going. I felt hurt and frustrated, and hated them -  especially my mom, who was the personification of caution in my eyes.

She followed me into my room were I had plopped down on my bed, crying my eyes out. “Let’s talk about this” she said sitting down next to me. We always talked about “this” when she had said “no” in the past. But I was in no mood to talk, listen or be reasonable. She ignored my body language and the crying.

 “Heidi, rock concerts are very dangerous. There will be drugs and alcohol, the boys will certainly be tempted to drink, they’ll want to be cool. There may be guys hanging around who get a kick out of dropping something in a girl’s drink. There will be no one there to protect you if something goes wrong. And the boys will have been drinking before you get into their cars for the long ride home.

Picture me sitting by the window, terrified if you’re late. You are the dearest most important thing to me. Imagine me if something happened to you, and I had given my o.k. knowing all the dangers.  Keeping you safe is my number one job. I love you and there will be lots more rock concerts when you’re older.”

Despite my resistance I had begun to listen. When she left the room I could visualize what she had said. She was right about one thing - the boys were going to be drinking beer, because they had planned to take it along. Knowing what a car accident would do to my parents made me a little sick to my stomach.

I had a choice to make: I could stay mad and we would all be miserable, I could go without permission, or I could forgive them for wanting me to be safe. I went into the living room, hugged my mom, and told her “I got it.” She thanked me for loving her enough to listen and weigh the pros and cons.

There are lots of ways to say “no,” and I heard them many times in the homes of my childhood friends:

“The answer is NO and I don’t want to hear about this again!”

“I don’t care what other parents do!”

“The answer is NO and I’m really too busy for this now!”

Impatience and preoccupation make these answers understandable, particularly now that I am a mother myself. We are all only human. We instinctively know, however, that this is not the way to have a close relationship with your child.

So, if you have to say “no,” always remember to say why. The why is the most important part of what we do, or choose not to do.  Your children will feel that you respect them if you explain the why, and doing so teaches them the process of making good decisions.  After all, one day they’ll be on their own. Children who are only given “yes” and “no” answers don’t learn how to make the best decisions for themselves.

So, again, if you have to say “no,” tell them why, and remind them that it’s your job, and that it comes from love.

Good luck with your goal!


  1. Wow, can I send this back through time to my parents? And then put it to retroactive use with my own children? Somewhere along the line my children seem to have picked up wisdom such as you write about and their children have the benefit of it.

    To be perfectly fair, I was seldom told no. Mostly I knew I would be and didn't ask. Perhaps it was the same with my children. They almost never asked for things we had to deny them. So life was not as grim as my previous paragraph may make it sound.

  2. I am not sure what to make of this story.

    I agree the why is very important but the selfish, "I will be sad," answer seems to make it worse. Plenty of teenagers manage to have fun at a concert even drinking and have a sober person drive them home. And your story makes it sound like you would have been responsible. Life is for living not hiding every time something could go wrong. And people grow immensely from new circumstances that push them out of their comfort zones.

  3. I understand your point Carri. I should perhaps have been more clear that I really did agree with my mother about the danger. I don't think wanting to protect your child from legitimate danger, like teen drunk driving, is selfish. I didn't actually have my license at the time, so I could not have been responsible. And I honestly don't see how I could have grown from that particular experience.

    There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to parenting, and each situation calls for an honest look at the pros and cons and the potential danger (and its likelihood). In this story, I believed my mother's judgment call was the right one, and still do. My friends did drive home after drinking that night. No one got hurt, but that was just dumb luck.