Parents Need To Learn To Say No

SheKnows is proud to offer The Parent Trap column, by mother and writer Lain Chroust Ehmann.
Lain Chroust Ehmann

Let's face it: Most parents don't like making their children upset. My natural inclination is to preserve the peace, to give my kid whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, in order to avoid a temper tantrum, tears, and/or mommy hatred in later years. And I know I'm not alone in this desire.

Just the other day Benjamin and I were cruising around one of the local toy stores when a professionally dressed woman came clacking in on high heels, heading straight for the counter. "Do you have Pokemon gold cards?" she asked, breathless. "No, but we have these green ones," the saleslady answered. "Uhhh? okay, give me three packs," the lady decided quickly, handing over her Visa. "I hate buying these things," she turned to me and confided in a low voice. "It's ridiculous."

I shrugged noncommittally and half-smiled. I wanted to ask, "If you hate it so much, why are you doing it?" But I didn't say anything, instead feigning distraction as Benjamin attempted to scale the Lego display. I knew what her answer would be: "My child wants them."

It sounds like a good reason. After all, the sure sign of a successful mommy is one whose child is perpetually smiling and sunny. But the truth is, desire on our child's part does not necessarily demand action on our part. In fact, sometimes the best thing we can say is "No."

It's not fun, I know. And it's a lot easier to advocate in others than to practice yourself. I'm as guilty as anyone.

There was the time we were traveling in a strange city and staying in a hotel, which always leads to more television watching than normal. After all, there are a limited number of things you can do with a two-year-old after 8 PM at the Holiday Inn, once you eliminate bouncing on the bed, ice fights and running down the hallway naked (him, not me).

So we were flipping channels, and I came across one with a group of pre-teen boys -- Benjamin's favorite creatures. He seemed enthralled, so I paused, and let him check out the program. After a couple of minutes, my mind started to drift off until I was rudely yanked back when I hear the word "slut." "Bye-bye!" I said, and clicked on.

No sooner had I pushed the remote button, though, than Benjamin erupted. Though he didn't spell it out, his meaning was perfectly clear: "Hey! I was watching that!"

My first inclination was to turn the channel back, just as I'd do if my husband or another adult objected to my channel changing. But then it hit me. I don't have to do what he says. I'm the mommy!

It was a revelation of sorts. This toddler, despite his huge personality and undeniable ability to express himself, was not my boss! In fact, I was in charge! Wow!

Why hadn't this occurred to me earlier? Maybe because as a baby he was in control. He ate when he wanted to eat, slept when he wanted to sleep, played when he wanted to play. He cried, and I came. He woke, and I woke. He laughed, and I laughed.

But as he gets older, that "center-of-the-universe" philosophy, by necessity, begins to fade. He has a place in this family and this world, and like it or not, it's not always first in line. Sometimes he gets what he wants, and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes it's fair, and sometimes it's not.

I do understand the temptation to give in to our children whenever possible. After all, Benjamin is going to learn all too soon that the other members of the human race aren't falling all over themselves trying to make things easy for him. Why not do what I can now to buffer the edges?

Because those edges aren't going to feel any softer five or ten years from now. In fact, they'll feel a lot sharper if I haven't done my job.

Not that I'm going to say "No" just to show him I'm in control. Although, I admit, it's tempting-especially when "Madeline" conflicts with "E! Fashion Emergency" and we're fighting over the remote control.

Side note: Lain and her family are proud to announce the birth of Kinsey Fay, on August 2,

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