It’s funny how you never quite know what kind of parent you will be until you are right in the thick of it. I am in the thick of it, and it is no secret what kind of mama I am.
I adore my kids, I will fawn over them, I will tell them a thousand times how wonderful they are, but just as many times they will hear from me: “I love you. No.”
I love you. NO.
This has become one of those affectionate, but serious jokes between my children and I. They will be four and eight this fall and have heard more than their fair share of it. But we have years to go, and never will I hesitate in my answer. They have heard it often enough, and are old enough that I have actually told them why I say it. That while I love them like crazy, I always want the best for them. And sometimes, I want to protect them or guide them somewhere they may not want to go. Or I feel that with a home filled to the rafters with love and “stuff,” they don’t always need to pine after things they don’t have.
And because I love them, I don’t feel guilty saying “no” when I think it is the appropriate answer.
If I don’t say it, who will?
Yesterday, I caught a tweet from the lovely Susan Campbell Cross, who was taking part in a conversation amongst the Social Media Girlfriends. (You can find them on Twitter by searching the hashtag #SMGirlfriends.)
“@SusanCross1: Your kids have a lot of friends, but only ONE mother. Do your job. You're not there to be their buddy. #SmGirlfriends”
I shared it with a +1 at the time, but it immediately got me thinking about my own take on motherhood. It is an enormous emotional undertaking to raise a child, or children, and to be able to draw lines and set boundaries as they grow. Well, let’s say it’s no easy task. When they are young, we teach manners and basic skills, set expectations and help our kids grow into the adults they will become. As they develop and grow into themselves, they become more independent, more opinionated and yet we must still be nearby with ready boundaries. For every exploration we encourage, every risk taken, every act of bravery, there are actions and undertakings we cannot encourage or allow. If anyone gets through the “terrible twos” and thinks they are through the hard part, they are sorely mistaken.
Many of us have gone through this, haven’t we? We struggled through exhaustion with our newborns, waited through difficult toddler years, only to be told “oh, wait until the threes and fours, they are worse. Wait until they are nine or ten. Wait until they are preteens and miserable. Just wait until they are teenagers…”
Sound familiar? It never ends. And that’s the secret, right there. There is no easy phase. There is no magic age. It’s not a curse, it’s not negative thinking. Every day, you will be having an effect on your children. Every day, you will get up, take a deep breath and do the hard work of parenting. You will make rules, model respect, ask for the behavior you expect and toe your own lines simply because you believe in the future. You believe in your kids. You believe that every hard conversation is an investment in their well-being, and that discomfort on both sides is a small price to pay for kids who grow up to respect boundaries.
We all want to raise kids who know their own minds, who won’t be pushed around by peers, and who can be counted on to speak up if mistreated or taken advantage of. But just as strongly, we should hope our kids grow up to respect others, to consider rules and boundaries before arguing or crossing them, and to feel secure and safe within their own homes.
My children’s friends will come and go. Some will have their best interests at heart, some won’t. Some will stay, some will go. Some will tempt them into trouble, others will dig in their heels when my kids raise a devilish eyebrow. But let this be the realm of friendship, of peer groups, the natural give and take of youth. This is not where I belong.
I hope by the time my kids leave my door for the last time, they leave full of grace and confidence, and with happy hearts. I hope that I will have said yes to them ten thousand times.
But I will never regret the times I told them, “I love you. No.”
What about you? What's your parenting style? Do you find it easy to say "no" to your kids? Why or why not?
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