‘No’. A word every child knows well. Whether they use it to exert a sense of dominance or they hear it in response to their every impulse, a child learns the word ‘no’ before most other words.
Can I have this candy? No, you’ll spoil your dinner.
Can we go to the park? No, it’s time for a bath.
Can I use that jiffy marker to draw on myself? No, don’t be crazy!
No, no, no.
Of course, as parents, it is our job to create healthy boundaries for our children and that involves learning to say no firmly and with confidence. But what if for one day, we just said yes?
In the 2009 movie, The Boys are Back, actor Clive Owen plays a widowed father of two boys who tries to inject joy back into their lives by saying yes to everything. Although the protective mother in me watched the movie in horror, I couldn’t help but think there was some appeal to the idea of loosening up and saying yes more often. So when my 6-year-old twins came the following week asking if we could make whip cream pies to then smash into each other’s faces, I felt the word ‘no’ sensibly forming on my tongue but right behind it was the nagging reminder of “just say yes”. Before I knew it, “yes, let’s do it!” had left my lips and my fate was sealed.
A cream pie in the face is hardly as dangerous or daring as what the boy actors accomplish in the movie that started all this craziness but just the thought of getting to do something this silly had my boys so excited you’d think it was Christmas. Completely conditioned to hearing the word ‘no’, they couldn’t quite believe I had said ‘yes’ to something so outlandish.
True to my word, that afternoon we went to the grocery store, bought aerosol cans of whipped cream, and then this happened:
Perhaps it helps to understand that my husband and I tend to be strict parents and run a pretty tight ship. Our boys are used to high expectations whether it be of their behavior, their eating habits, their room cleanliness, or whatever else falls under our self-appointed parenting jurisdiction. While it might not be the best idea to start catering to a child’s every whim, the pie-in-your-face experience did have me thinking that perhaps my kids could use a little more “yes” in their lives.
Of course it’s true that parents need to create healthy boundaries by providing age-appropriate autonomy for our children to learn their own limits, but saying yes every now and then, when you would typically say no, is a simple and fun way to increase the joy in your kids and your family. As I reflected on this in the weeks after our pie-in-the-face adventure, I had the thought that although I might not be able to say yes on the regular, perhaps there was a way to turn the notion of saying yes into a once-in-a-while special occasion. And thus, a new Drisdelle family tradition was born: The Birthday Yes Day. One day a year where Mom will say yes to anything. Well, almost anything! There are a few exceptions -- each Yes Day request must adhere to the following guidelines:
- Be safe for everyone
- Stay within a specific budget
- Stay within a total allotted grams of sugar
In the first year of our new tradition, the boys were turning 7 and the Yes Day activities were fairly tame. When a shopkeeper offered them a candy, they were elated to realize that for once I would say yes to the question, “can we have this candy?”. When they wanted to take a bath in their clothes, my sensibilities were overpowered by Yes Day and they got what they hoped for. Fast forward a few years to their most recent birthday, and the boys are starting to get the hang of this Yes Day thing. There was pre-Yes Day planning, budgeting, and negotiations as they worked together to plan out the next day’s agenda and how they would spend their allocated Yes Day funds. I smiled to myself as I listened to them jockey for their preferred outings -- go-karting vs. the trampoline sports center, favorite pizza joint vs. sushi, the pay-in-bulk candy store vs. ice-cream. Decisions, decisions.
The next day, we tired ourselves out with back-to-back adventures while the boys carefully tracked their dwindling budget and their expanding sugar intake. By the end of Yes Day, we managed to squeeze in:
- pancakes and juice for breakfast (not a usual occurrence in our home!)
- 12 laps at the high-speed go-kart track
- lunch at their favorite pizza spot
- an hour of dodgeball at the trampoline sports center
- candy from the pay-by-weight candy store (a first!)
- shopping for the latest toy craze, the Beanie Boo
- ice-cream for dinner
After many laughs, high fives, and general good cheer, it was far past bedtime and we were finally on our way home, the boys nodding off in the back seat. Looming in the distance, I saw the bright lights of a carnival splashing against the dark sky as the rides twirled and spun. I held my breath, waiting for the kids to see it and knowing the very next question out of their mouths would be, “can we go?!” to which I, of course, would have to say yes. It was safe, there was no sugar involved, and they even had a few bucks left to spare -- I saw no loophole to save me from this one. As the dancing lights eventually caught their eyes, I heard the oohs and ahs from behind me, “A carnival! That looks like fun!”. As I prepared to do a U-turn, I heard two little sighs followed by “...too bad I’m just too tired.” And so we continued, homeward bound after another successful Yes Day.