A couple of weeks past, our school held a community talk on 'How to say no to your child'. These events are normally really informative, but I decided to give this one a miss. You know...don't you just say "No"? Sometimes I think our generation of parents spend too much time dancing around our kid's emotional well being. Sometimes we all just need black and white, we need someone to clearly draw the line and stand by it. Plus, I felt I had an idea of what the speaker was going to say. I know all the alternatives to "No" - distraction when they are toddlers, offering alternatives, reasoning and explaining when they are older. Yip, I've tried it all. On the days when I have woken up with my Mary Poppins head on, I've embraced positive parenting with a slightly manic look on my face, but by the time bedtime comes round, Mary Poppins has packed her bags and flown out the window.
There is no doubt that positive parenting works, but it is utterly exhausting. I have met some parents in New York who made a decision from before their kids were born to never use the word "No". Maybe this happens elsewhere, but it is the first time I have encountered it. I recognise that you have to be a very resourceful, creative and strong parent to do this but I wonder what happens when that child becomes an adult and has to cope with the big hitting "NOs!" in the real world. So, I have adopted a position somewhere in between the two styles and I really feel that it is this kind of inconsistent, schizophrenic parenting that makes me the mother I am.
The ability and frequency with which I utter the word "No" on a daily basis with my kids is verging on Olympic and living in NYC has produced a whole new set of "Nos". Here are some daily examples. Mum, can I have homemade chocolate pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast [on a school day]? No. Can I wear flip flops to school, x does? No. Can I wear makeup to school, y does? No. Can I throw my apple peel out of the window [on 21st floor]? No. Can I race the elevator by running down the fire exit stairs? No. Can I jump over the subway turnstile? No. Can I walk the rest of the way by myself to school? No. Can I have a ice cream double cone with M&M, oreo, rainbow sprinkles [at 8.15am]? No. Can I have a dunkin' donut? No. You get the picture. By the time I have picked them up and had the same conversation, but exactly in reverse on the way back from school, I realise that I have not given a positive response all day. If the community talk had been "How to say yes to your child", it would have been more up my street.
Wanting more, pushing and questioning the boundaries are exactly what kids should do, so I realise my kids are not alone in this behaviour. [PLEASE let them not be alone!?]. As a human race, the fact that we are always questioning, pushing, wanting and driving has enabled us to do amazing things...finding cures for diseases, inventing the world wide web, creating SpongeBob Square Pants. But I wonder when does it all gets too much? Where do you draw the line? Rather than being a cumulative cycle of growth and discovery, you start to get into negative territory.
My exasperation with my kids' demands was brought down to earth this week, when my husband correctly pointed out that the kids are only mirroring our behaviour. We have always been active, interested and engaged people in the community and world around us, but living in New York, that active mind set has developed into a near drug like habit. There are so many great things going on, all easily accessible that I feel like a child in a sweet shop. I want to do it all....I just can't say no. Take this week, I have packed every minute with an activity, accepted every invitation to go out and still managed to fit in a duathalon on Mother's Day. I then spend the next few days wondering why I am so tired, under the weather and frankly, a bit to jumpy on the "No!" front with the kids. I need to slow down, recognise that this is not a sprint. New York (hopefully!) will be my backyard for a long time so I need to take the slow plod approach I used on my duathalon instead.
New York is the ideal place for the energetic, the driven and the hungry but every once in a while you have to say "No", because in the end we all need to hear it once in a while.
Yours, trying to resist opening an email entitled 'Free, fun activities to do with your kids in NYC, NOW!'