Somehow, in our world, we’ve gotten the idea that saying “no,” that disagreeing, is a bad thing. We forget that when our babies are little, saying “no” to playing with the electrical outlet, to running into the street without us, to going in over over our heads when we can’t swim, is necessary for survival. We begin to think, early on, that being “friends” means nodding blithely to everything our children ask. We don’t want to upset them, we don’t want them to think we’re not their allies, and we definitely don’t want them to think we are “strict” compared to other parents. Somehow, we start to believe that parenting with courage is a bad thing.
We get scared that telling kids no is bad parenting.
I’ve written before about fear in parenting. I think it’s our own insecurity raising its ugly head, when we hesitate to do the hard thing because we’re afraid of our children being upset at us. But what is it that makes us think, in our world, and even within the realm of those who claim to be Christians (meaning, proclaim to follow Christ, using the Bible as their authority for life), that “saying no,” or drawing a line in the sand, is a bad thing?
My dad and I have a wonderful relationship. As adults, both my husband and I can call on him for wise advice, and we can also be sure that he will challenge us when he disagrees with us, or believes we are making a decision that will bring us, or someone else, harm. My dad and I also thrive on the occasional good-natured debate. (Not everyone in our family does, so sometimes it’s a source of irritation!) Not long ago, we discussed for a second time our decision to go through a “Whole 30” challenge as a family, including talking with our then-7-year-old son about choosing not to have a traditional, refined-sugar-sweetened, artificially-colored birthday cake. We made a modification and made him a naturally sweetened dessert with a very small list of ingredients. It was an emotional decision for us as parents and for our little boy, but it led to some beautiful discussion with him, and as a family, about self-control, about choosing restraint for long-term good, and about how sometimes “saying no” is an act of love.
It’s ok to say no to the child you love. In fact, telling kids no can sometimes be the best way to love them.
My dad disagreed with our “Whole 30” decision, respectfully. A year after that birthday, we were again discussing our choice to say no to our son, and my dad’s grandpa-heart firmly opposed what he thought might have been a wrong decision. He and I talked at length about our reasoning, and we came to one mutual thought:
It is odd that making healthy decisions, or decisions for their protection, in our childrens’ lives is sometimes viewed as deprivation.
Think about it! Why in the world would my fellow mom think it was bad for me to tell my child no to a treat that could damage his immune system, cause tummy distress, cause behavior issues, and interrupt healthy eating patterns? Please, don’t get me wrong. We choose “junk” plenty of times. We hit up a local fast food joint last night on the way home from a weekend at the shore, and my kids were as happy as clams. I chose to wait and make my own meal at home, but the occasional splurge is a choice we can make. And in other situations, why would another parent think I was “weird” for saying no to an activity for our teen that we knew held risk for their heart and moral character?
I think the root of criticism for other parents is often that when another person makes a decision different from ours, it somehow makes us doubt our own choices.
Instead of then questioning our choices in a healthy way, we feel threatened and want to attack the one who parents differently. Or, instead of standing firm in our choice to parent our child in a given situation, in what we know to be the wisest and most loving way, we doubt ourselves, for fear of what they, or another parent, may think.
Criticizing other parents is a huge problem on its own, but I’m talking about daring to do the hard things for the love of our children, and not letting ourselves be bound by our own fear. While of course we all know that we have to FIRMLY teach our children to keep their fingers (and other objects) out of the electrical sockets, we have to hold fast to our confidence as parents (and as Christian parents, to the confidence we have in the God who has given us instruction through His word), even as our children grow.
Our own parenting is adapting by the day in our current season. We have children ages 8-19, and in seasons from grade school to work-and-higher-education. We are constantly having to shift and adjust to parenting them with varying levels of authority. But no matter what ages our children are, we cannot parent them from fear.
No matter what season of parenting we are in, we have to be courageous to parent our children with love and truth.
Sometimes, parenting with love and truth means saying just plain “NO.”
Do you ever struggle with fear as a parent? Do you worry what other parents might think, or do you tend to criticize another parent when they make a choice different from your own? Be encouraged, friend. You haven been called to parent your children, and in Christ, you have all you need for the wisdom to do that in grace, with courage, and in love.
I’d love to hear how you walk this season as a parent, or how you’re being challenged as you do! Would you share in the comments?
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