Even when things weren’t necessarily in “lockdown” mode last summer, our family (like many) still limited gatherings and traditional summer break activities. As a result, usual XBox time limits were sacrificed for the greater good of keeping my kids safely connected with their equally-confined buddies. That screen time freedom, however, created daily requests for gaming currency: V-Bucks, Robux, every kind of buck there is. I said “no” more than “yes,” and “yes” more than I probably should’ve. Eventually, I made this and merely pointed to it when a child wandered in to plead his case:
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say…Mostly
We’ve all been there: we say “no,” and we mean “no,” and we really do intend to keep saying “no,” but then our resolve crumbles to the puppy-dog eyes, whining, reasoning, or tantrum. It seems easier to give in than it does to stand firm. After all, does one more freezer pop or juice pouch really matter? Does “just one more” episode or another $10 credit hurt anything in the long run?
But what happens when we say “no,” and absolutely mean “NO”? The kind of “no” where “If Mom Says No, Go Ask Grandma” tee shirts need not apply. I found myself in this situation recently, and it broke my heart.
My hardest parenting “NO” so far
Our oldest son sustained a mild concussion during a spring soccer match, but tryouts for the upcoming fall season were only a few weeks later. We allowed him to try out even though we were skeptical about another season of club soccer. See, that concussion, while “mild,” was his third in five years. Seth isn’t accident prone, per se. We just grow “fun-sized” kids (as one coach put it), and one wrong hit can have a really problematic outcome. Three wrong hits equal a cumulative disaster.
The day after his tryout, Seth was offered a U15 spot at a fantastic club: exactly what we would want for his last year of club play (he is a rising 8th grader, and high school soccer was on the horizon). What would have been an easy decision a few weeks earlier was now anything but simple. Logic was saying “no” because of the risk; emotion was screaming “yes” to avoid the heartbreak of what would be lost. We wrestled with the pros and cons, consulted coaches and physicians, and ultimately, sent our firstborn into early retirement.
I expected anger, slammed doors, begging, bargaining; instead, we got real tears, a stony silent treatment, and quiet defeat settling like a heavy blanket on the shoulders of a man-child. It was awful. I felt like the absolute worst mom in the world, and braced for this to be the choice he never forgave us for. I wanted to do ANYTHING I could to make him feel better, but in actuality, all I really had to work with was time and love. Here are a few things that helped our family lessen the hurt as we stuck with “no” being our final answer.
Three ways to ease the ache
Empathize: “Me, too” goes a long way
Seth felt really singular in his grief. None of his friends were giving up what they loved or felt like their whole identity was threatened. Loneliness compounded his sadness. I sat at the foot of his bed that first night and told him that even though his friends wouldn’t get it, I did. Being a soccer mom is all I’ve ever known, and many of my closest friends are parents I sit the sidelines with. They were going to move on, together, without me, too. Ouch. Letting him know his feelings were valid and that I shared them didn’t make the sadness any less, but it took the edge off feeling alone. We were hurting, but we were hurting together.
Redirect: there is power in choice
“Would You Rather” is effective as an ice-breaker or time-passing game because it’s fun to have a choice. When you’ve had to say “no” to one thing, set it up so that you can say “yes” to something else. If your toddler wants a sucker, offer her the fun of choosing a healthier option: “Something sweet does sound yummy! Do you want apple slices or strawberries?” If the grade schooler is sad that a pricey trip to the trampoline park isn’t on the agenda, let him pick a free activity: “let’s either go to the park or build a pillow fort — you pick!” In our case, we presented Seth with some alternative non-contact sport options to try. Tennis, golf, and swim now fill his days, but we’re seeing a particular fire in his eyes on the tennis court. Who knew?!
Recommit: you’re in this together
Maybe you’re at the start of your motherhood journey, or well on your way to veteran status. Either way, I bet you’ve made a parenting choice or two that has been questioned or criticized. Birth plan, feeding, diapers, vaccinations, schooling, electronics: the choices keep coming. Remember: only you, Momma, will know what is right for your child. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and no one should ever try to guilt or shame you into changing your “yes” or your “no.” When you make a choice on behalf of your child, stand firm, and emphasize to them and them only that you make it with love and with the most wisdom you have in that moment.
This isn’t a perfect formula, and I’ll admit, I padded this strategy with old-fashioned bribery. (Well, not bribery, exactly. But I did give Seth free reign with the $100 earned after I sold his uniform kit.) I’m happy to report Seth is once again talking to us, and plans to channel his love for soccer into a lucrative refereeing career. (Good! Now he can buy his own V-bucks.) We grew from this situation. And I’m a lot more confident in my freedom to say “no,” and really mean it.