Can You Say No and Mean it?
Sixteen year old Heather rushes into the kitchen one morning, harried and out of breath.
“Mama, can you please stop and iron my blouse. I want to wear this super cute outfit today, but I’m running out of time.”
Until recently, mom would have stopped fixing breakfast, taken the blouse from Heather, and then rushed to accommodate her frazzled daughter. Uh, why?
Several rationales come to mind. Let’s see. It’s what mothers do. I have to help her get out the door and get to school. I do a better job of ironing than she does. She’ll get upset at me if I don’t do it. Breakfast can be a little late today. I can make time…the list goes on.
Here’s the deal. None of these excuses have any merit. Being a nice and accommodating parent does not always translate into being a good parent. In fact, such accommodation can lead to Heather’s feeling entitled. That is, I can do what I want without consequences.
So, instead of “sure, honey. Let me get that for you,” mom sighs, takes a breath, and replies, “You know what, Heather? That’s not gonna work for me right now. I’m in the middle of putting breakfast on the table. How about you take the time yourself or maybe pick another outfit for today? Then you can iron what you need tonight for you to wear tomorrow without the rush.”
Wow! Can we do that as parents? In fact, yes. Actually, setting healthy boundaries for our children is an essential part of parenting. When you set boundaries, you convey self-respect, responsibility, value, and worth to your children. You also give them opportunity to take responsibility for themselves, accommodate, learn that actions have consequences, and plan ahead. Time crunches and crises are almost always self-induced.
Yes, you can say “no” and mean it. It’s freeing for you as a parent and it’s role modeling a critical quality of healthy relationships for your child. Setting healthy boundaries, active listening their upset and disappointment, and then helping your child adjust accordingly is a great teachable moment for all.
What kind of parent are you?
Did you know? Parents come in all shapes and sizes. There are dictators, push-overs, just friends, overbearing, whatever, and absent parents. Most parents try to do the best they can do. Some are overwhelmed and just trying to keep their heads above water. What kind of parent are you?
Maggie and I had Rachel after 7 years of marriage. We planned our family and were ready, or so we thought. Rachel ended up having the colic, probably for 4-6 weeks, but she played it for 4 months. At our wit’s end, we sought help from specialists at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. Only the best for our little girl. The doctor took 5 minutes with our daughter and 20 minutes with us. After giving us assurances that our little girl was fine, he noted, “You know, guys, Rachel is now one third of your family. She deserves one third of your time and attention.”
Wow! That comment hit me like a ton of bricks. You mean, I can have time for myself and for my wife? Yes, you can. In fact, such time adds to the quality of time you have with your children. In Amy Chua’s book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, the author makes a case for being all in with your child. She says, “demanding perfection and mastery, at all costs to you and to a balanced life, is worth it for your child to accomplish great things.” Well, no thanks. The price is too high.
Others prefer the role of “the soccer mom.” These parents seem to be at their children’s beckoned call, shuttling them to soccer games and other events in hopes of giving them “a well-rounded childhood.” Also at great cost to you. Neither extreme provides a balance of activity and responsibility among all family members.
Other authors, Elizabeth and Charles Schmitz, in their book, Building the Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprizing Secrets of Successful Marriage, advocate for keeping the marriage strong above all else. In Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I describe a Plexiglas pyramid, where above the point is God. As we are in relationship with Him, we have healthy resources for ourselves. As we are in relationship with ourselves, we can be there for our spouse. As the marriage is healthy, we can be there for our children. These pyramid relationships provide the balance of activity and responsibility within which all family members thrive. Where are your priorities, and what kind of parent are you?
It’s true! Parenting is a 24/7/365 job, with no time off, no vacation, no breaks. Remember when that little new born was laying on your chest right after their birth? Despite the pains of childbirth, and don’t let anyone try to convince you that it’s just “pressure,” new parents feel an understandable mix of joy, terror, excitement, pressure, relief, and dread.
Jody was sweating, her hair matted, and her heart racing after just having given birth to Hannah. She reached out to the nurse who held tiny Hannah and extended her to place in Jody’s awaiting arms. New daddy, Tommy, leaned in smiling, witnessing the blessing of their new family. Jody looked back and forth from Hannah to Tommy. Terrifying questions flooded her mind. Oh… my… gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into? Can I do this? Am I ready? This little bundle of human being is totally helpless and completely my responsibility.
It’s also true that raising children takes a village. We lucky parents have the available resources of our children’s grandparents, extended family, neighbors, co-ops, play groups, day cares, church groups, and many other, personalized resources. Being “alone” with your newborn is avoidable, but you have to reach out. You have to ask. When our children were home, Maggie and I developed the concept of what we called tag team parenting. When one of us was done, exhausted, at our wit’s end, we could reach out and tag the other, “You’re it.” Tag other people in your lives when there’s too much to do.
Other things to do when there’s too much to do include delegate, organize, make lists, plan ahead, streamline, and make time to chill out. Many new parents race around doing everything that was on hold while the baby was awake. Do those things with your new baby and she will get used to household routines and not scream for your attention endlessly. Rule of thumb for new moms. When Hannah is sleeping, Jody is sleeping, or at least resting, too. If you don’t give yourself time for your needs and feelings, called self-care, your time for your baby, called other care, will be less meaningful for both of you. When there’s too much to do, go for a balance between self-care and other-care.
Remember to... Just breathe
Do you have enough stress in your life? When a person finds The One and they marry, each doubles their stress load. Add children and the stress load continues to multiply. Like intersecting circles, each person requires time and attention as relationships form. For yourself, even in your growing family, it is critical for all to remember to…just breathe.
Joanie is a new mom, again. She has newborn Jamie now, along with his three preschooler siblings. Tom works long hours just to keep current with all of their expenses. He helps when he is home, but with his work that’s not much. How is new mom Joanie ever going to meet the needs for time and attention from hubby and her brood?
Philosopher Mitch Thrower notes that “one of the best things you can do when the world is storming around you is to pause.” Pause. That doesn’t take a lot of time. About the time it takes to take a deep breath. But that deep breath is critical to the health and well-being of you and your family.
A deep breath is a calming technique used for stress management. There are lots of affirmations tied to that deep breath. I can do this. I’m important too. I can relax for a moment even in all of this turmoil. I will restore my perspective and my soul.
In my book, Teachable Moments, I offer directions for “Chillin’ Out.” This is a way to help you focus on the moment, turn worry into curiosity, and fully relax by noticing the happy place you visit in your mind where all of your five senses come alive.
Joanie paused as she diapered Jamie at the changing table, and she took a deep breath. She transported herself to the beach last summer, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face, and hearing the gulls in the air and the waves tumbling on the sand. She smiled softly, finished changing her newborn, and then directed the other children to pick up all the toys off the floor around her and return them to the toy box. Her deep breath helped her energize, prioritize, and realize the joy of family.
But What About Me?
You know, some child development and parenting experts say that it’s vital for you to be there for your kids 24/7. Not me! If your emotional fever is high, and you’ve got something causing major stress in your life, it’s critical for you to take a step back and tend to your needs and feelings. Jesus gave us a commandment that covers this. In Matthew 22:38-39, he says, “The greatest commandment is to love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And the second greatest commandment is to love one another as you love yourself.”
So, what does that mean? God wants us to love and be there for our children in the same way in which we are there for ourselves. If you are out of gas, you’ve got nothing left to give to your children. You are, then, at risk for doing more harm than good. There’s a reason why airplane pre-flight instructions tell passengers to put the oxygen mask on themselves before putting it on their children in case of an emergency.
How can we be there for ourselves? Two resources come to mind for you. First, daily time alone, without distraction or pressure. This often takes the form of devotional time with God. Did you notice in Scripture that Jesus went off to pray before his miracles? Also, after a big day of teaching and healing, he frequently went into the mountains for respite and to pray again. Most devotional guides take about fifteen minutes of quiet time. Morning works best for me, as it centers me for the coming day. Some families extend devotions to include family devotions and couple devotions, but I would always include private time with the Lord.
My daughter was maybe 4 years old. I was outside talking to our neighbor one Saturday morning when Rachel came up to me. While I’m talking, she tugs on my pant leg and tells me, “Daddy, I need some attention.”
Wow! I know some dads who would have brushed their daughter’s hand away and dismissed her with, “Not now, honey, can’t you see I’m busy?” That would have been taking in the big picture, prioritizing my needs and pulling a power play at my daughter’s expense. Thankfully, I did not do that. I motioned a pause to my friend, knelt down to be on eye level with Rachel, and asked, “Okay, Sweetheart, what’s going on?”
I can’t think of a more loving thing that my daughter could have done in that instant than to identify her feelings, seek consolation, and get feedback. Rachel was loving herself.
Many children live in an environment where they should be seen but not heard. To the contrary, as loving parents, we want to encourage our children to love themselves. In Scripture, Jesus calls us in his second greatest commandment to “love one another as you love yourself.” That is, loving myself, which means understanding and attending to my needs and feelings, is a prerequisite for loving one another.
Children, and grown-ups for that matter, can demonstrate loving themselves by several specific ways. First, make time to both eat and sleep well. This is how we keep our bodies strong and resilient. Exercise healthy diet, be active, and make time for fun. Second, have family and friends with whom you can share your honest feelings. Some people call this a confidante relationship, oftentimes found in BFFs, someone with whom you are Best Friends Forever. Third, children and adults alike often benefit from keeping a journal of events and feelings. This is like being best friends with yourself, celebrating today’s challenges and victories, while making plans for tomorrow. Finally, as a part of developing a personal relationship with Jesus, make time for individual and family devotion and prayer. This involves sharing your day and hearing from Him about questions and circumstances.
Do your children love themselves? They will take their lead from you. Developing these 4 habits will help us all move from surviving this life to thriving.
Make Time for Self-Care
The Pharisees in the Bible were trying to discredit Jesus by asking him to pick his favorite of the ten commandments. Of course, He knew what they were up to, so he flipped it into a Teachable Moment. In Matthew 22: 35-40, He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
I call this the Codependent's Commandment. It's about balancing self-care with other-care. When we care about others, our children, to the exclusion of caring about ourselves, we set up conditional love. In essence, I'm going to do this for you, but you owe me. We don't say that, but it's implied. When your child doesn't pick up the message, you both are left with anger, bitterness, and distance in the relationship. Not a fun time.
Throw some self-care into the mix and you can offer unconditional, or agape, love. I have tended to my needs, so life is pretty good. I'm doing this for you because I can. Have a nice day. No condition, no anger, no resentment. A win-win. You are then able to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
People confuse self-interest, selfish, and self-care. The first two are activity based. I have the time and opportunity to do this and it's fun. See you later. That's self-interest. I'm going to do this even if it bothers you. Get out of my way. That's selfish. I'm at low ebb and I need to fill me up, so I can be at my best and be there for you. How can we make this happen? That's self-care.
Lead in your life and in your family by example. Can you balance self-care with other-care? What a teachable moment. Make time for self-care.