There they stood: my three oldest sons, mouths wide open as I put a scoop of icing onto each of their tongues. This was their reward for smiling for a family picture without a meltdown.
Yes, I bribe them for things like this. And yes, I am far past the phase of feeling guilty for doing so. So there I stood, tablespoon in hand.
As the icing dripped from their mouths, they looked up at me giggling and said, “You’re the best mom ever.” Then they looked at each other smiling. They couldn’t believe the reality of the moment. I was having fun too — until I heard my oldest son continue.
“No, Mom. Really, you’re the best. I can’t believe you’re letting us eat icing out of a can.”
Suddenly, my stomach dropped. He meant it to be a compliment. And the innocence of his accolade to my amazing mothering skills should’ve made me feel happy too. But instead, I felt a need to step back because I could truly see it in his face. He really thought this was me showing him my love — evidenced by his dimples practically jumping off his face.
I couldn’t help but remember what had happened the night before with this same son. I had told him no to something he had wanted to do, and he got so upset with me. He couldn’t understand why I would say no to this one request of his. But I stood my ground. And I remained strong. “No, son. You just can’t do it.” And he was angry.
I heard nothing of how great of a mother I was then. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Is it really that simple to them? Is love, to them, so skewed? As I pondered this, the laughing and the giggles confirmed the answer was “yes.”
So I thought long and hard the next day about what I wanted my sons to know about my love. Then I wrote this letter to them (and really to myself too):
I want to teach you a lesson about what makes me a good mom, and what makes me a mom just wanting you to smile for a picture, so here goes.
In life, you’re going to hear me say no more than you’re going to hear me say yes. And when you hear that word “no,” I want you to know it’s another way of me saying, “I love you.”
Yes, I know. It’s doesn’t feel like that. It feels like I’m blocking you from what you care about. But you’re wrong. Because what I’m really doing is blocking something from hurting what I care about. And what I care about is YOU.
So you’re going to hear me say no — a lot. Or at least a lot more than you want me to. And you don’t always have to understand my reasoning. You don’t always have to understand my ways. I don’t even care that you do.
I just need you to know that most often I am being a better mother when I give you limits than when I do not. I would not be loving if I did not do so. Sometimes love says no.
And don’t get me wrong, I will say yes as much as I can. Because I love to make you happy. But me loving you is not always about making you feel happy. So please don’t confuse the two.
And about that icing last night, a good mom may have chosen to say no to you because she cared more about your teeth rotting and obesity and the sugar high that would prevent you from going to sleep easily after eating all of that sugar. That love you thought you tasted? That was bribery.
My actual love for you is so much deeper and sweeter. And don’t you forget it.
Your Mom Who Is Going to Tell You No