While waiting in the kindergarten drop off line at school a couple weeks ago, my son asked me if I would buy him a rolling backpack like one of his classmates had. I told him, "No." I didn’t bother with a lengthy explanation of why or my personal belief that the thing he wanted was ridiculous. Much to my surprise, he didn't whine and argue with me. He accepted my response and then he thought about it for a little bit and asked if it was something that he could earn. I bent right down to his level and gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him to have come up with that on his own.
This past month, I've also had some really unexpected interactions in the workplace that got me thinking about this simple interaction with my son and just how important it is that we teach our children - both sons and daughters - that we're allowed to say "No" as their parents.
Over the course of the past month, I've had a male colleague in HR go above my head when I responded to his request with a "No" and a simple explanation why I couldn't sacrifice my team to assist with his request. I've also had four different vendors resort to blatantly ignoring me when I informed them that we had to do things a certain way in order to continue doing business with them.
Unfortunately for me, I was born with the ability to tolerate much more BS than the regular person. My initial reaction to adversity or discourse or tension is just to be the bigger person and make the situation right, to acquiesce. My second reaction is tears, and it often ends that way at some point once I've been pushed past my limit. My third reaction, once I've been given a healthy amount of time to process the interaction, is anger. I have SO many unsent thoughts and messages and emails just being held up in Drafts folders across the board!
Why is it that my six-year-old son was able to handle the word "No" so much better than a grown man? The only thing I can come up with is that these men were not told "No" on the regular - by anyone in their lives. By that, I mean their parents failed them. Their spouses failed them. Their peers failed them. They have been led to believe that "Yes" is the only answer they should come to expect. I can't help but wonder who else has told them "No" and under what circumstances and what the result of that interaction was.
I'm allowed to say "No" and my son is going to hear it and that's a good thing. I'm teaching him that there are boundaries - boundaries set by me as his mother, and boundaries set by him as a person worthy of respect.