“Pretty Please…”

Misplaced kindness can be cruel in the long run

Some parents have a hard time saying no to their kids. And some kids, knowing this full well, take advantage of their parents’ weakness.

“Can I have one more doughnut? Please? Please? Just one?”

Mom doesn’t have a problem saying no, so she says, “You’ve had enough for now. No more.”

Unfortunately, Dad is a softy who can’t bear the disappointed look on his young daughter’s face. “Aw, let her have one more. It won’t hurt her.” No, it probably won’t hurt the daughter much, but it will certainly hurt Mom.

Mom complains. “My husband can’t deny the kids anything. He lets them eat junk food, stay up till all hours of the night, do all sorts of crazy things. He thinks he does all this because he loves them but I’ve told him a thousand times that if he really loved them, he’d do what’s best for them.

“I can’t be a normal parent to my children because my husband undoes whatever I try to do. Now I’ve got a household of spoiled kids who don’t like me because, according to them, ‘I’m so mean.’ ”

Negative Connotations

What makes a parent unable to say no?

Some people were raised in a laissez-faire environment, in homes where rules were virtually absent. They don’t know how to set boundaries because they were never exposed to the process.

Some people were raised in homes that were so strict, that they suffered constantly. Hearing their spouse utter the word no triggers a traumatic response and they feel a desperate need to save their children from pain.

But even without previous neglect, trauma, or overindulgence, it can be hard for people to say no to a child or teen.

“Oh, Bubby, I just love this sweater with the pink fur collar!! It’s my favorite! I know you said we had a budget but I really, really, really love this one! It’s exactly what I wanted!”

Can Bubby say no? She only sees this precious grandchild every six months. She wants the memories to all be sweet. Inside her, a battle is raging: What will happen if the other grandchildren learn how expensive this birthday gift was? What will the child’s mother say? What about her budget? And yet, her granddaughter’s pleading eyes, her excitement at possibly getting her dream sweater…. How can the grandmother dash those hopes? It’s such a hard call.

Making Up for Lost Time

It can be difficult to give a negative response to a child you see only rarely. In such a situation, one hasn’t had the chance to build up a track record of positive interactions that can buffer the occasional negative one.

This can happen with visiting relatives but it can also happen with busy parents who don’t get to spend much time with their kids. Parents say “Yes” to make up for the lack of quality time they spend with their children.

However, even when there’s plenty of time to establish trust and love, a parent may find it hard to deny a child what he wants.

“Mom, can you make grilled cheese sandwiches for supper? Please? Pretty please with cherries on top? You’ll be the best mother ever if you do that. Can you? Please? I’ll love you so much!”

Mom or Dad might be sorely tempted by the offer of unending love and adoration — after all, these things are normally hard to come by — and one can be especially tempted to harness the love when feeling dejected or rejected by others (“Well, my spouse may not get me, but my child sure does!”).

No Excuse for the “Yeses”

With all these reasons to refrain from saying no, virtually everyone says the occasional, inappropriate yes.

However, knowing and addressing one’s own vulnerability to no can help.

Are you saying yes because you’re afraid of losing your child’s love? Be sure to give love generously and to replenish your own heart with healthy adult relationships.

Are you saying yes because there hasn’t been time or opportunity to establish a secure relationship? Consider writing brief notes to nurture your relationship or to intensify in-person attention.

Are you saying yes because of your past? Address that directly instead of vicariously.

Are you saying yes because you don’t know how to say no? Read or listen to the wide array of parenting and assertiveness resources available today.

There’s really no excuse for any of us to shy away from necessary, healthy, and protective noes.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 675)

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Tagged: Family Reflections