Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Just say no

 Not long ago I could not get Cherry out of her buggy to walk for love nor money. Being a big believer in children doing things for themselves as far as possible, this didn't sit well with me.

Fast forward a couple of months and you would have found me with Violet in a sling, with a firm hold of a protesting, resisting Cherry's hand, on a pavement on a bridge, next to a main road. 

And you would have heard me shouting 'we're going home NOW!'

Ugh. Not my finest hour. I loathe shouting at her and on the rare occasions that I do it, the self-hatred is abominable. I also loathe hanging on to a reluctantly squirming, screaming Cherry's hand or arm or on one particularly shameful occasion, the hood of her jumper, to control her, as if she were some kind of dog. 

But what other option did I have? Cherry was acting up, she wanted to be playing on the pavement right next to a very busy main road, it wasn't safe, we needed to remove ourselves from the situation.

Isn't this the down-side of gentle parenting? How do you remain respectful when you have no other choice?

Except it isn't, because the fault was mine and mine alone. And if you are following this pattern of thought with me you will have only one question in your mind.

What the hell were you doing with a baby in a sling and a toddler playing on a pavement next to a main road in the first place!?

And here comes the worst part of all.

We were on that pavement in the first place because I hadn't wanted to dull Cherry's enthusiasm for a walk, so I hadn't firmly insisted we go the other way (along a quiet residential cul-de-sac) instead of along the busy main road at 5pm because Cherry's new favourite hobby in the entire world is to 'look for the green man'.

I hadn't wanted to say no to her.

And so I ended up doing something far worse, picking her up and carrying her home kicking and screaming, with Violet screaming in the sling, whilst I pointlessly ranted at Cherry about the foolhardiness of playing on pavements on busy roads.

When I'd let her do it in the first place. Because I hadn't wanted to say no to her, because when I say no to her when she's had her mind really set on something an inevitable tantrum ensues and it's unpleasant and embarrassing and noisy and can go on for a while and while I fully appreciate it's emotionally draining for her, it's not exactly a walk in the park for me either. 

But clearly - clearly! - it would have made far more sense to get the paddy out of the way at the very beginning, by gently but firmly asserting that no, we were not going to go and play on the main road.

We can play by the river (although she will bloody insist on hurtling around RIGHT AT THE EDGE of it, but it's pretty shallow) or we can walk up 'the quiet road'. Which would you prefer?

One of the most difficult things about taking a gentle and respectful approach to raising my children is understanding when I have to draw the line and simply say no.

It's a confusing psychological tangle, actually. I am aware that I can lean towards the authoritarian, and this isn't how I want to raise my children. But in consciously choosing a more respectful approach I worry about permissiveness. I worry that the middle ground - authoritative, I have seen it called - is elusive.

When I think about it though, it's not. It's clear as day. 

It's not allowing your child to play on the pavement next to the main road because she fancied a walk and you didn't want to quash her enthusiasm when you've been DYING for her to take an interest in physical activity.

It's not allowing your child to whinge you into giving her another chocolate biscuit because she's wolfed the first and you could really do with five more minutes of quiet time and actually you'd quite like one yourself too.

It's not allowing your child to go to bed clutching two dummies because you chose to give them a dummy at night-time to help them settle, and they now want ANOTHER dummy because they happened to spot one lying about and pounce upon it crowing 'Dummies! Dummies!' triumphantly and you can't face the paddy when you say no just before bedtime.

It's listening to that voice in your head when you realise what your child is doing is patently ridiculous. And obviously it's not necessarily their fault - not their fault at all, in fact, when you are the one who has allowed it. But you know when enough is enough. I talked about this with a friend once (the situation with the dummies in fact) and she confessed her two-year-old had a similar, can't get enough attitude to TV, clamouring for the next episode the second the first was over. 'It's never ENOUGH for them, is it? ' she exclaimed. 'You think giving them what they want might make them happier but no! They just want MORE OF IT.'

I always talked a lot about children needing boundaries and I do believe this. It's only recently though that I have begun to consider what Cherry's boundaries should look like.

She loves to test her boundaries, so I have to be careful not to slip into an approach where her boundaries are me immediately saying NO to everything she asks for just because she likes to test.

But I am developing a strong sense of when Cherry is pushing and needs me to push back. I have nearly 31 years more life experience than my beautiful daughter. 

What use is it if I am to allow her to have whatever she wants, whenever she wants? What am I teaching her if I agree to her every request for an easy life, a quiet life, or to avoid that bloody tantrum? Or worse if I agree sometimes but put my foot down at other times, leaving her hopelessly confused as to where the line is to be drawn. 

When I know full well that if I say yes she will just ask for more, or immediately start asking for something else. And so I think this is, for me, the litmus test of boundaries. When Cherry asks me for something or says she wants to do something and I am not, in that moment, entirely sure, I have to stop and think. 

Is it because I don't want a scene?

Is it because I think I'm being too reactionary and second-guessing myself?

If I let her have this, will she be asking me for another/more/again in five minutes and then will I have to deal with the delayed tantrum when I say no next time?

In general if I am hesitant it is because I am aware that it's not a good idea for her to have, or do, what she is asking for. And sometimes I don't need to justify it either. I don't need to elaborately explain to her that no, Cherry, we don't play on the main road because it's busy and cars come by very fast and if they were to hit you you could be very seriously hurt and I have baby Violet in the sling and can't always move quickly enough to catch you if you are distracted enough by something you see on the opposite side of the road to forget that we always STOP and WAIT and TAKE MUMMY'S HAND.

What two-year-old could process that amount of complicated and grown-up information? Not mine, certainly. 

I am her mother. Sometimes, I have to just say no. 


  1. I am nodding along to a lot of this. I could have written this post. I hate when I lose my temper with Talitha and it is often because I didn't say no when I should. It's such a balancing act. I really aim to limit how much I say no, not by becoming permissive but by either redirecting when I can or avoiding situations where there are more likely to be "no's" (like a trip to the corner shop when she is tired and likely to pester me to buy her something junky). I'm with you in walking this line.

    1. I also find myself granting requests on autopilot from time to time and I think Cherry can sense this! If I'm not really concentrating - because I'm trying to cook tea or do something else that doesn't involve focusing on her - she'll issue a nonstop stream of demands. Often I find myself going along with it, to keep her happy, then realising that instead of getting the tea cooked so I can play with her, I'm stopping every 20 seconds because she's asked for a glass of water/a snack/to look out of the window/can't find her toy/wants her socks on etc.

      The same can apply to the bedtime routine, the amount of little rituals she wants to go through or items she wants in bed with her can increase rapidly and she's insistent on all of them. So sometimes I have to be kind, but firm, and say no, or I'd spend my entire day running around waiting on her which is disempowering for both of us. The answer of course is more attention when I am able to give it, and to encourage her to do these things for herself - if she wants them that much :) But your brain needs to be engaged to remember that, and I don't know about you but mine sometimes isn't! As she gets older I find I can explain to her that I need to do (insert task here) and that she can do (insert distraction here) while I do it, then we will play once I'm finished, and the demands are a little less incessant in these cases!