Every morning, it starts with jumping on the bed. We have a queen side-carred to a single mattress and boxspring on the floor to maximize co-sleeping, and for small boys, this makes an irresistible trampoline. They can’t hurt the mattress. They can’t fall far. But they can bounce high.
They disarrange the covers. They run into each other. They screech. But there isn’t really harm in it. So every freaking morning, every time, I grit my teeth and say, “Yes, you can jump on the bed. Just don’t somersault over the baby.”
Sometimes it’s fun and easy to say yes to my kids. “Yes, you can wear your dragon costume to the zoo!” “Yes, you can eat ice cream for breakfast just this once!” But other times, saying yes involves gritting my teeth and squashing my inner mom. It goes against my parenting instincts and requires a level of patience and tolerance I don’t always feel. It’s not all whimsy and mudpie, this “yes” business.
Take coloring. I like to color. Like almost everyone else, I like to color within the lines, because to me, that’s what coloring is effing for. You color inside the lines and make a picture. Sometimes, my boys don’t feel like coloring inside the lines. Sometimes they want to make giant flame-like blocks of color over Anakin Skywalker. I think it’s ugly. It feels like a waste: Couldn’t you do that on a regular piece of paper?
But when I snap, “Why don’t you color in the lines?” I see their faces fall. They don’t want to color Anakin the way I do. Or we’ve studied luna moths, and I hand them a picture, and I get a rainbow-colored moth in return. It’s not what I wanted or expected.
That’s the hardest part of working on saying yes—adjusting expectations. We expect that pens are not for faces, even when preschoolers see them as perfect to make pirate mustaches. We expect that puddles are not for jumping, and dead bugs are not for taking home. We reflexively say no, because as parents we’ve been taught to say no.
It’s realizing that internalized “no” that’s the key to saying yes. We need to open ourselves to see the world the way our kids do. Beds might be for jumping. Ketchup might go well on chips. It might be worth getting muddy, just because it’s fun to get muddy and you have time to wash off in the tub afterwards. It’s OK to wear your swimsuit to Target and run barefoot down the hiking trail. We reflexively say no. But can we say yes instead?
It’s hard to adjust your expectations when you’re parenting. Saying yes means lots of dirty faces and mismatched clothes. It means going up the slide instead of down. You can be a walking threat to other parents: Why do they get to jump in the mud when I have to stay out? Why can’t I wade in the creek, or wear my princess dress to Food Lion? Why does that boy have marker on his face? Other parents might resent you. You’re sowing chaos, and chaos has a (sometimes delightful) way of spreading.
My son wore his Boba Fett costume to Target the other day. We got a few high-fives and lots of smiles. An older teen said to me, “If you can’t go to Target as Boba Fett when you’re 5 years old, when can you do it?”
You’re only 5 years old once. Kick that internalized “no” to the curb. You have a lifetime to go to Target dressed in sensible clothes, to color in the lines, to go up the stairs and down the slide. Your kids have a whole future ahead where they’ll hear “no” a lot more than they hear “yes.”
So let’s give them the “yes” now, and in doing it, give ourselves some “yes” back as well. Let go. Calm down. Adjust your expectations.
Take a deep breath. And say yes.