Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On shifting from saying "No" to saying "I can't see why not"

Something I've been practicing since Sarah was a toddler was biting back my natural inclination to say No to everything.  Children naturally have lots of ideas.  Lots of impractical, annoying, messy, impossible ideas.  And my gut reaction is almost always, "No."

When I first became a parent and I was youthful and idealistic, I wondered why parents were always discouraging their children.  Children are so enthusiastic.  They want to do so many things.  And the adults in their lives are always telling them no.  Sometimes because it's an inconvenience to the adult.  But about half the time it's not a tremendous inconvenience; the adult just feels that it's not something "done" or it's not "appropriate" or it just seems extremely impractical.

I began to experiment.  I would only say No if I could think of a good reason to say No.  I began to question whether or not my reasons for refusing were "good" reasons.  I found, upon investigation, that the majority of my refusals were because of social discomfort, or because I was choosing laziness over my child's exploration of the world.

I began to try: "I guess so."  Or perhaps a more enthusiastic, "Go for it."  Or, if I was really reluctant: "How do you plan to do that?"  or "Here's what my concern is.  What is your plan for that?"

I also tried to get into the habit of saying, "Sounds great" when they said anything that seemed fantastical to me.

I was thinking yesterday about the time they captured a bird.  If you would have asked me if a 2nd grader could capture a bird, I would have said, "How absurd! Capture a bird!?"  But since I have mainly broken myself of the habit of being negative about their ideas, back when he was in kindergarten and he asked for a piece of bread or a bag of popcorn so he could set a trap for a bird, I pointed to the closet and asked him why he wanted to capture a bird.  It turns out he had plans to eat it, so we discussed shechita and kosher birds.  Three years later, he came running into the house that they had caught a bird.  It was incredibly exciting.  I was incredibly excited.  They put a box over it.  I wondered if it was sick or injured (since everyone knows you can't capture a bird, darn it!) and discussed the diseases and transfer of diseases.  I think the boys made plans to call animal control or a vet.  But the bird somehow escaped and flew away.  And that was the adventure of the time the idea of capturing a bird came to fruition, with three years of perseverance.

Imagine if I had not practiced saying yes.

Another time I came upon the boys.  They had a huge pile of papers.  And lots of tape.  And scissors.  And a big mess.  I walked in.  They looked up and smiled.  I had a flash of a thought that what I was unconsciously expecting from them was to freeze in fear and wait for me to yell at them.  I asked them what they were doing, they happily shared, and I asked them if they would clean up when they were done and to please call me if they needed help cleaning it up.  I have no recollection of whether they cleaned it themselves or if I helped, but the lack of freezing in fear remains with me.

Imagine if I had not practiced saying yes.

In my next post I will go through some categories of reasons I want to say no but why I (mostly try to) ultimately say yes.

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