I Say 'Yes' Too Much, And Now I Have To Reel It In

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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A few weeks ago, we broke some devastating news to our kids. They responded with the typical stages of grief — first shock and disbelief, then a bit of anger, followed by a bout of sadness and eventually acceptance.

No, their grandmother isn’t dying, and no, we aren’t moving to Antartica. The despair in our household seen in the anguished faces of our three kids was due to a decision we, as parents, had made — namely, to put the brakes on “new stuff” for a while.

That’s right. No new apps, or iPad games. No toys off Amazon Prime. Or at the store. Not with our money. And not with their money. For one solid month.

We broke the news on April 1, when they came home with $20 each in Easter loot from Nana. The 2 1/2 drive home that Sunday evening was consumed with brainstorming and writing of lists—light sabers, stuffed animals, apps, Pokemon cards, LOL dolls, Shopkins… the possibilities were endless! (Because $20 is like a million dollars in little kid world.)

So you can imagine their horror when they heard Mom put the kibosh on all their hopes and dreams.

“Nope,” I told them. “No one is getting anything new until at least next month.”

“But it’s OUR money,” they wailed.

“I understand, and you’ll be able to spend your money on what you want eventually. Just not right now.”

I went on to explain that we (and by “we,” I mean them) have been getting a little bit greedy lately. “We” have grown accustomed to getting new stuff all the time and, therefore, don’t have appreciation for what we have. “We” tend to beg for something, get it (whether with our own money that we’ve earned or with Mom and Dad’s credit card), play with it for 0.2 seconds, break it, lose it, or forget about it, and then move on to begging for something else.

So guess what kids? That’s not how “we” are going to do this thing called life.

I’ll admit that I am partially at fault for letting my kids get just a teensy bit spoiled. They are growing up in the instant gratification/online generation. Apps are downloaded in seconds. Online orders appear within 48 hours. It’s easy to get what you want these days.

Also, I’m freaking tired. And because of that, I’m guilty of saying things like, “Fine. Yes, you can get a snack or a toy or a fidget spinner even though you already have 17 fidget spinners” as I try to buy their cooperation on long afternoons full of errands. And if you’ve never bribed your kids, and they are miraculous rainbow cherub children while you drag them to Target, the dry cleaner, Costco, and the post office, well good for you, Susan. Shut your trap.

Because most of us are guilty of spoiling our kids a little, whether it be to keep them quiet, keep them happy — or maybe, on rare occasions, just because we love them and are sick of being a buzzkill all the time, damnit. And honestly, I don’t think a little bit of spoiling is going to raise the next wave of the Trump dynasty.

But when I try to clean up our basement play area and the shelves are falling down with the weight of 984 toys that are collecting dust, it’s time for this family to check ourselves. It’s time for a little “not ONE Pokemon card, not ONE Lego, and not ONE LOL doll!” lecture. It’s time to fill some bags with donations and have a long talk about appreciation.

And as hard as it is for me to do, it’s time my kids heard Mom and Dad say the word “No.”

So here’s how it’s been going since the “no new stuff” apocalypse. My kids are 9, 7, and 5. They are sometimes paid for helping around the house, but not always. For example, they all pitched in with yard work this weekend. They also cleaned the house doing jobs like vacuuming, wiping down the bathroom, and tidying up their rooms. In return, we paid them via beds to sleep in and food to eat.

The younger two did some “science experiments” recently (without asking) that involved self-made slime. You know how that goes. Necessary ingredients, of course, included all of my conditioner and hand soap. So guess what? They each had to pay me out of that Easter cash they were hoarding to replace what they had used.

And I’ve also started implementing an “out with the old” policy before we bring in something new. If my stuffed animal-loving daughter wants another stuffed sea turtle, she needs to do some purging first. Same goes for my son and Star Wars weaponry.

Because the thing is, if I let them, they’ll spend and spend and spend. And take and take and take. And they’ll fill my house with shit and actually appreciate none of it. So changes needed to be made.

I still probably say “yes” more than I say no, to be honest. But I try to temper my “yeses” with a conversation attached. I’ll say, “Yes, you can have a friend over if you clean your room first,” or “Yes, you can get popsicles, but you need to pick up the basement before you can have one.”

But I also say no. A lot. Because there’s power in that word, and if we want to raise kind, contributing citizens who give a shit about anything, our kids need to hear it now and then.

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