At some point, it just became my default: “No.” Sometimes I added an optional exclamation point (or four!!!!). Sometimes it was uttered in complete exhaustion or repeated for the 100th time.
And at some point, the automatic response from my children became, “Mommy!! Why is it always noooooo?!??!”
I don’t exactly know when this became my go-to answer.
With a 6 year old and a 3 year old in tow, there are a lot of decisions to make every day: what to feed them, where to take them, how to dress them, etc. And to be honest, there were moments that I took pride in being the “firm” parent, even if it meant that I was more often the one to say no to something.
In essence, I became the Debbie Downer of the family.
But there was a moment a few months ago that I had a small turning point. I said yes. It wasn’t anything major: the girls had asked to jump on the bed. Earth-shattering, I know. In the past, this would have been a solid no.
But this time was different.
I was at the tail end of a week of solo parenting, and I was a bit fried. This was our last night before my husband got home, and the kids had asked for a pajama party, which quickly morphed into a dress up party, which quickly morphed into a jumping on the bed party.
And I said yes.
In that moment, as I saw them in their pajamas and swim goggles, giggling and jumping, I realized that even though my default was no, it was more out of habit than reason. I didn’t really have a good, solid reason for saying no.
In the midst of their screams of joy, I had an honest moment with myself, and I realized that I had been saying no because I was scared of something turning out to be messy. Or because I was tired. Or because I was afraid of failing.
I’d been saying no for the wrong reasons.
So I said yes to jumping on the bed….and nothing terrible happened.
And then I kept saying yes to more things. Forts that take up the whole living room: yes. Science experiments that completely destroy the kitchen: yes. Painting during a home-improvement project: sure!
I even declared this the “Year of Yes” (admittedly without much thought…I mean, why not? What was there to lose, other than my sanity?). I didn’t read a book or get inspired by an article. It was just an epiphany that I had one night.
I said yes to painting, hiking, orphaned bunny adoption, staying up past bedtime, requests for dessert, and yes, even jumping on the bed.
And wouldn’t you know it? This new habit of saying yes extended past the kids. I started using it for myself. I started giving myself permission to say yes to me.
Yes to things I never really considered before: writing gigs, group exercise classes, marriage counseling. And the list goes on.
I even splurged and bought myself a brand new coffee travel mug…because it quickly became evident I’d need my caffeine to be portable if I was going to keep up with this new pace of yes.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I still have a good, solid “no” in my back pocket, and there are certainly days when it’s my default.
“No, we do not have candy for breakfast.”
“No, you may not ride the dog.”
“No, we do not get into the pool without an adult.”
“No, I do not want to read yet another Disney princess book.” Come on, we all have our limits, right?
So, while all of the “yes” things haven’t panned out (ahem, the pet bunny lasted 36 glorious hours…rest in peace, Nutmeg), it has actually been nice giving myself (and the rest of my family) a little grace.
I still fail at a lot of these things, and I still say no a lot. But change doesn’t always have to be radical. Sometimes it just happens in tiny amounts.