How I Found Balance By Saying 'No'

by Toni Hammer
Originally Published: 
permissive parenting saying no
NadyaSabeva / iStock

My kids are 2 and 3, and those are some difficult ages with a difficult age gap. It’s hard for all of us parents, but what we’re going through always seems the hardest because, well, it’s our reality. The level of difficulty I found myself in was overwhelming and so, rather than pushing through or reading books or taking up some morning mantra, I chose to give in and let my kids call the shots, permissive parenting at its best. What’s the worst that could happen?

Fruit snacks at 9 a.m.? Sure. Hours upon hours of TV? That’s not so bad. Not even bothering to make them try what I cooked for dinner? Yep.

In a matter of months, I had somehow managed to lose all control of the fact I was the mom, and suddenly I woke up one morning to find I had created children who didn’t understand they weren’t in charge. My kids had learned from my example that if they whined long enough and cried loud enough and protested with fury that I would give in to their whims just to make them stop yelling. In a type of out-of-body experience, I saw myself as weak and powerless and being a really shitty mom.

It was eye-opening and flat-out embarrassing.

It would’ve been easy to continue sweeping the defeat under the rug. I could have shrugged it off as “not that bad” because I was compensating for the fact that, though we live in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t drive and taking them to do “fun” things isn’t easy, so I was just making up for it in other ways. I had told myself that for months. I was just trying to be a fun parent according to my limitations. But that was bullshit. The truth is that I wasn’t accepting and embracing the hardships of discipline and boundaries and motherhood, and I was ashamed of myself.

It’s been a few months since I had that awakening, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to retrain and reprogram both myself and my children. I had created a tangled knot of disobedience and rewards and good vs. bad behavior, and I was untying it a little bit at a time. Sometimes that meant saying no without any real reason other than to begin teaching my kids—children who should’ve learned this lesson a long time ago—that you don’t always get what you want. That’s now how life works, and now, it’s not how this house works. Regardless of how much you raise your voice and stomp your feet, this world is not going to bow its knee to whatever it is that you want.

And that’s the lesson I had to learn too. Sometimes I just want my kids to leave me alone for five minutes, and I want to turn on one more episode of Daniel Tiger or give them one more pouch of fruit snacks so I can just have a moment’s peace. But that is me putting my needs above theirs, and sometimes (most of the time) I’ve gotta suck it up and do what’s best for them in the long run. In the stage we’re at right now, telling them no is what’s best no matter how much I want to rip my ears off of my head in order to shut out their squalling.

Parenting is a delicate balance of saying yes to some things and no to others. There are still days when my kids get a little spoiled—not because of permissive parenting, but because it’s nice to do it sometimes. And there are days when I’m sure my children believe I’ve lost all speech capabilities save for the word no. We’re learning to find our way. I’m learning to raise kids who understand the world doesn’t revolve around them and that what mom says goes. They’re learning how to be respectful members of society. The mess I made before is still being cleaned up, but I know I’m doing what’s right for all of us.

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