I fell in love with my husband for a host of reasons: his thoughtfulness, sense of humor, boyish good looks, spontaneity, ability to pair a button-down dress shirt with a tie-dye t-shirt. It was pretty clear from early on that we were compatible. However, I have found since having children that even if we shared every interest in the world, the most crucial measure of compatibility – and the one that will make or break a marriage – is our parenting philosophy.
Thankfully (miraculously, even), Matt and I have very similar morals and values, and this has made our journey into parenthood a little less rocky. When my older child is working her hardest to push my buttons, he backs me up. (And just an FYI for the men out there, giving your wife a breather and taking over during a tantrum is worth SO much more than any romantic gesture.) If I had to give it a name, I would say our philosophy, when it comes to our kids, is “Just Say No.”
Children are going to want certain things. In the past couple of days I’ve heard, “Mommy, can I watch a show? Can I play on your phone? Can I have some candy? Can we stop at Dunkin’ Donuts? Can I jump in Ceci’s crib? Can I bring (insert random toy or object) to school? Can you buy me a princess doll? Mommy, why can’t I watch a show? Can I not have a bath? Can we not wash hair? Can I have books in bed? Can you sing me another song? Can you read me another story?” And this is just one child talking.
When Maggie was littler than she is now, my family thought that we were a little too strict with her. We used the southern reprimand “No ma’am!” whenever she did something naughty, which they thought was crazy- who calls a two-year-old “ma’am”? We offered her foods that were healthy and unseasoned while limiting those that were sweetened and processed. TV was a treat: one show a day. For Christmas and birthdays, we asked grandparents to give her ONE gift, not ten- and boy, do they still try to get out of that one!
To some, our parenting style became a running joke. One of my elderly relatives told my mom, “I’m going to say a prayer that Jenny lets Maggie eat a French fry.” When we stated in our adult Sunday School class that we’d like to remain a one TV family, we were met with outright laughter. To me, though, it’s really not funny. At some point, our society decided that childhood should be a time of gratification – what could be more endearing than the smile of a child who just drank his first Coke or opened his first iPad?
Every time my child asks me a “Can I?” question, there are two possible answers. “Yes” is nice, and “yes” has its place, but will it make her happy? Healthy? Will it improve my relationship with her? Will it teach her to handle boredom and disappointment? Will it help her to be independent and think for herself?
So I stand my ground. I will continue to say no to my child. No, you cannot watch a show- go look at your books. No, you cannot play on my phone on the ride home from daycare – let’s play “I Spy” instead. No, you cannot have some candy- eat a good dinner and we’ll see. No, we cannot stop at Dunkin’ Donuts- and I am trying desperately to break my own habit. No, no more songs or stories- it’s time for bed, and don’t you even think of getting out after that light goes out.
I’m human, and I have my moments of weakness, but when it comes down to it, I am a person of strong principles. I could spoil my children with junk food and gifts. I could teach them that they are the most important people in the entire world, and that they deserve everything in it. I could give them their way, give into their whims, let them get away with disrespect or disobedience. I choose not to do these things. I do not want my girls to take and take from the world, always expecting more, always expecting to feel good. I want them to expect less and be pleased with what they get, to live simply, to value relationships over material satisfaction.
I know they’re only little kids. I know I’m idealistic. But what can it hurt? Say no. Enjoy it, knowing that, in the long run, you are doing your child the best possible service. Then take a picture of your child crying about it, post it on Instagram, and have a good chuckle. Responsible parenting feels amazing, doesn’t it?