Nope Nada Ixnay Negative Pass Decline

Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener and gentler. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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No! A Child's Experience

No! A Child's Experience

What would it feel like to be a small child in the world? I think a child encounters an awful lot of “NO!” And the vast majority of those negative statements would feel arbitrary and controlling. I think it would create unnecessary disconnection and frustration.

Last holiday season, I began the practice of saying, “YES!” It opened my heart. For an entire day, I said “Yes!” to anything anyone asked of me.

Why did I do this? Firstly, I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to see how much of the disagreeableness was due to my own perceptions and reactions with my family. Secondly, I wanted to see what would happen in my relationship with my partner and my children if everything they asked me resulted in a truly connected, “YES!”

Because this is not just an ordinary “yes,” this is a true, enthusiastic, “YES!” From my one day foray into the positivity last year, I know that in order to give this type of answer, I needed a few rules:

1. I need to stay fully present in the moment.

Staying engaged in the present will allow me to understand what is going on and what needs are not being met when a question is posed. I’m not distracted or disconnected from my family, so I can answer their question with less fumbling or playing catch-up with what is going on.

2. I need to be mindful of the experiences we were sharing.

If I’m fully present in the moment, then I can also check in to see what each of us is experiencing. This might be vastly different, especially in my family of strong wills and sometimes competing interests.

3. I needed to find a yes that respects my own and everyone else’s boundaries.

I can’t let anyone know that I’m saying “YES!” to everything or it would alter how we would react to each other. I might be more protective and unwilling to risk a question I’d be at a loss to answer yes to. Other people might take advantage of me if they know I’ll say yes to anything they ask me, of course.

4. I need to keep everyone safe.

This means looking for the Yes inside the No. For example, if my 5yo asks me if he can drive the car, I would have to figure out a Yes from that obvious No.* Allowing a 5yo to drive the car would obviously not be safe or legal. My answer is at the end, but I’d love to hear from you how you would answer this one.

With these ground rules, I set out on my experiment. I wanted to try 2 weeks because it covered enough space over a month to really see how never saying no would impact a large enough range of experiences. I ended up with 10 days, which gave me a large enough sample to draw some conclusions.

My first day, I caught myself saying no, and then corrected myself by saying, “Please give me a moment. I’d like to think about that decision.” Then, I would figure out a way to say yes. I swear it was as though I sprouted an extra head the way the kids froze and stared at me. They responded to this so positively that three things have come out of it.

  • The first is that they say, “Do you want to think about that before you decide.” I’ve even heard them say this to my husband when he says no to them. (Ha!)
  • The second is that they realize I give whatever they are asking me serious consideration before I decide something. Because of this, they are more accepting of a compromise or no when I say it.
  • And thirdly, they have started saying, “let me think about this,” complete with a finger to their lips, when making a decision. Of course, I pause and wait patiently for them to decide whether they would like a banana or an orange, for example.

I hadn’t expected this response, but it has worked out beautifully. This accident has given the kids another chance to exert their power to choose and to feel involved in decisions.

After the first day, I did catch myself saying no a few times, but I used this technique and was able to find the yes in the no more often. It got easier every day that I did it.

Those 10 days pushed me far beyond my comfort zone as a parent. Staying so forcefully present and searching for the yes in the no was draining and I found I was speaking less in other areas of my life. I stopped tweeting and writing. I became more quiet and thoughtful. Unexpectedly, a sense of contentment rose inside from this quiet, even though I missed and worried over my lack of online life. It’s something I intend to explore further-business and unquiet.

I think part of this was that since I was connecting with my family more, my need to connect online lessened. This translated into more physical affection with my partner, as well. We had more hugs, holding hands, and stroking each other’s backs while standing together. I hadn’t realized that was missing.

Yes! to PlayThe “Yes!” broke down some small walls in my family’s relationship. I don’t think I’m the lynchpin for the dynamics in my family. But, I believe that being around a person who is mindfully interacting with you and always open to whatever you have to say creates a comfort zone.  We were smoothed out, if you will.

The final part of the experiment was day 9, when I practiced staying present, but didn’t make my default “YES!” There was a definite change in my feelings toward my family. I found myself getting frustrated and grumpy about the kids bickering with me and my partner not listening to me. I don’t think this was because they were acting differently, but that they were hearing more negativity. Day 10, I reverted to “YES!” and it was an easier day.

From this experiment, I have decided that I want to live a life of “YES!” The part I have yet to figure out is how to reconcile this with people reading this and knowing about it. I have to do more inner work to understand and clarify my comfort boundaries.

What do you think about saying an emphatic “YES!” to every question asked of you? Does it sound frightening or is this already your default answer? I’d love to hear from you.

*He did ask me if he could drive the car, and my playful reply was, “Do you have your driver’s license with you?” He said, “No, silly mom. Kids don’t have driver’s licenses. That’s for grownups.” To which I said, “Ah.” And that was the end of that.

 Image credit: doublecappucino and Ranken Jorden on Flickr

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

46 thoughts on “Nope Nada Ixnay Negative Pass Decline

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  7. Wow. I’m impressed. This was a tough experiment to try. But so, so valuable! Sometimes I find myself saying no to everything, and I kind of hate myself by the end of the day. I can actually see Baby T’s face change when I start out saying “no,” and I often try to change my tone of voice and make it a kind of jokey “no,” because otherwise it could turn into a battle of wills.

    But what really struck me was how you mentioned it was draining and that you found yourself talking less. And the way you described the sense of contentment that rose from the quiet. And how you connected more with your family. I’m excited to try this. I need to zone in to my family and zone out of my own head for a while.

  8. I try to do this as well, if only because my 21-month-old sees “no” as an invitation to throw himself on the ground and wail. That means there’s a lot of, “Yes, when we’re done grocery shopping,” or, “Yes, if you really want that, but wouldn’t you rather have a banana?” or, “Hm, let me think. I suppose you may have HALF a cookie.”

    I need to remember, though, what a long time it took me to figure out this secret, so that I’m more patient with my husband, who just says “No” and walks off … inevitably leaving the melting-down toddler to run to me, grab my knees, and scream. I don’t know what it is about the word “no,” but it definitely is the WORD that’s the problem, rather than not being able to have the thing he wants. Sure, he wants it, but he is quite willing to compromise with me as long as you don’t make it a battle by saying “no.”

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  10. I think I would have said “Yes, you can pretend to drive the car,” but then that is a game we let our 2yo play often. She loves to sit in the driver seat with Daddy standing next to her and/or Mommy sitting next to her. She loves to change the radio station, crank the volume, turn on the headlights, etc.

    I love the idea of saying YES and have read others write on the topic, too. I need some sort of reminder, though. Like a ribbon around my kid’s head or something to remind me to stop and think… to find the yes within the no. (That is a great way to word that, btw!)

    • Thank you, Momma Jorje. That is a great response. My kids love “driving” the car, as well.

      I’m planning some follow ups on how to actually do that. And I’m going to ask for questions/suggestions for situations, too :)

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  12. I can’t say I’ve ever fully tried to do this because I’m not quite sure how it would look. Thanks for the insight! It’s amazing how adopting a “yes” life heightened your awareness. Sounds incredible.

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  14. Wow. I actually want to try this myself. I have generally been trying to guide my son with “yesses” and alternatives rather than “nos” but I have not really made it a point to use that technique generally or with the rest of my family.

    Also – “Do you have your driver’s license with you?” Brilliant. Good thinking!

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  16. Like many of the others who have commented, I found this idea hugely inspiring. I read over your post last night, and have been thinking about it a lot. I love that it’s not just ‘yes’ but an emphatic, connected, conscious YES. I’m going to try your idea of saying ‘yes’ for a set period of time when things start to spiral. I may also try 10 days, (if I find the strength!) because I think it will help a lot. Years ago, I started off with the idea of never using the word ‘no’ when my boys were babies and toddlers, but recently I have drifted too far from this philosophy. Thank you for the timely reminder.

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  18. I love this. I find myself saying “no” (and “stop” and “don’t”) FAR too much. I don’t know that I’m ready to say yes to everything, but I really needed this reminder to take the time to really think about requests rather than just responding with an immediate knee-jerk reaction. Taking the time to be present with the request seems to have tremendous value, even if the end result turns out to be the same answer.

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  21. Wow Zoie you always inspire me. I have to sit down and think about this one…can I say Yes more/all the time? I think you are far more of a mindful present person than me. I am encouraged by the results you shared.

    Ok I’ve paused and pondered and I’m in. I’m going to try it for one day to see from there…I’ll let ya know!

  22. “Do you want to think about that before you decide?” – that cracked me up!

    What an amazing follow-up to your previous experiment – and surprising conclusions!

    I think I would find this really difficult in some ways, though I find the check of ‘what harm will it really cause (if I let her grab that thing from the table, if she persists in removing a diaper, etc.). It does help put it in perspective. But then there are other areas of high unwillingness to let go of that control. I would really like to, though – especially considering the results of your experiment. Another thing to think on for the new year… :)

    Thank you for sharing Zoie!

    • Thank you, Kelly. Yes, the kids are all about the negotiations right now. I’ll be interested to see what my husband does after reading this post (because he actually read one, for once!) He wastn’t privy to this experiment, but now he knows my “YES!!” in life policy. I wonder if that will alter things.

  23. Wow I loved reading this! A while back I got an email from the Scott Noelle (from EnjoyParenting) talking about this and I was inspired to also give it a try…but it can be hard to find the Yes answer to some obvious No questions…sure need a lot of creativity there! BTW I loved your answer to the driving the car question. Awesome!

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  25. This experiment rocks. I’m totally sharing this with Tom – I think we could both benefit from trying it!! Your response to the car question was awesome. I probably would have let Kieran pretend to drive in our driveway (but I like how you handled it better.)

  26. What a gift to your family! I can only imagine how taking the time to find the yes in all of their requests made each child, and your husband, too, feel important to you and respected.Thank you for sharing your reflections – this is something I’d like to try now as well. I look forward to learning more as you continue your “life of yes.”

  27. I love this, Zoie! What a great experiment. I can see how you’d want to establish boundaries even as you make more of a practice of saying YES. I’m really impressed by the change on the day that you didn’t say yes. I love the way you handled the car question and would love to hear more examples of yeses in tricky situations. I think I’ll try the idea of saying I’m thinking about the decision first!

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  30. What a wonderful and inspiring idea. In fairness I’m not sure I say ‘no’ all that often, generally being fairly easy-going and open to new ideas. But definitely when I’m tired or feeling drained, I start to get stubborn and tend to want my own way. Or if I’m pushed for time and want to get things done. Sometimes it’s hard to put your own agenda to one side and remember your child’s needs to do what they’re doing are just as important as your own. This has really given me something to think about – my responses to those in my life. Thanks. :)

  31. I love this! I have always liked the idea of excluding the word NO from my vocabulary, its such a crushing, harsh word isn’t it? As you mention, we often say no before really even considering the question. My son is still small and I have managed to not bring no into my vocab with him, but he isn’t asking me crazy questions yet! I would have replied ‘Yes of course, when you are 18 (or 16 in the US) :)

    Looking forward to hearing how you work through this… Im going to really consider having a life of yes too… you have inspired me :)

  32. I’ve been trying this, at least as far as I can at present.. if the answer to a question needs to not be yes, then I try to find a way to phrase it that isn’t simply “no”. I can’t always do it, and DH isn’t exceptionally helpful, but it feels a bit better when I do.

  33. Great experiment! This is something I’ve actively worked on too. Before I ever say No to Baby, I take a moment to step back and consider whether it is absolutely necessary. It almost never is. When I do have to say No, I add a but clause, and that works well.

    I’ve also worked on saying yes for things having to do with myself. I’ve found in adult life that I am just programmed to respond No to offers of help or things that would be treats for me. Now, I try harder to say yes.

  34. Is ‘letting go’ like SURRENDERING? ~smile~

    I agree that the more we say ‘yes’ the more we strengthen relationships. In my priorities for 2012 I have decided to say YES to myself more often, instead of choosing the ‘martyr’ role. There has to be a way to say YES to the kids and to myself at the same time.

  35. I don’t know if I could do this! I’d love to try. My dear hubby gets on to me all the time for taking too long to respond to his questions and I fear this would just exacerbate our communication gap further. But, on the other hand… maybe a little “yes” could help in the long run. =)

    • Thank you for commenting, Sarah. One of the things I only hinted at in this post (a bit more in the previous) was that you’ve got to first find the safe space inside where you can say the “yes!” in the “no” to yourself. It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask first and then assisting those around you. Just making the decision of “yes!” changes the way you view the world and how people react to you.

      One thing that I do often since last year is, any time the day is going badly, like when the kids are hyping up toward the mega-whiny hour and we’re all increasing our intensities in relation to one another, I take 3 deep breaths and decide to say, “YES!” to anything anyone asks of me for a set period of time. It could be 20 minutes or an hour. It is incredibly freeing. And, you know what? Eating ice cream for dinner or going for a bike ride at 10pm hasn’t caused any damage. In fact, it has strengthened our relationship.

      It’s the letting go of control that feels scary. But, once I’m on the other side of that tightness, I have found it is fun and nourishing.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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