by Ginger Carlson
"This way, Mommy. Do you hear the rocks crunching under my feet?
My son Zeal darts past me on the walking trails near our home. We spend the morning snooping in the bushes, snacking on the plump berries that practically fall into our palms, and sprinkling "fish food" (crumbled autumn leaves) into the creek. Today is a "yes day," a day in which I consciously choose to say yes to my child, to honor his spirit, his desires, his choices. Today there is no, "We need to?", "Time to go?", or "One more minute...", and (practically) anything goes.
Regardless of whether you are a stay-at-home parent, work out of the home or some combination of the two, days can often be run by places we "should be." Many of these places we actually need to be. Many are common "parent-have-to's," outings we go on for the benefit of the child: the library, playgroups, music classes and community activities.
We find ourselves running into power struggles and negative interactions in order to get to the places we feel we should be. Professor Charles Smith of Kansas State University says, "Although saying 'no' tells children what not to do, only by being affirmative do we actually teach them the skills that will be important to them throughout their lives. Learning to make choices - and take responsibility for their consequences - is an important element in developing a courageous spirit and a healthy conscience."
Families can work towards getting past power struggles by building connections and trying to understand each other better. Consider the following when planning your own yes days.
Question your agenda
Questioning your agenda can serve as an extended exercise in being a more mindful parent. Getting past reflexively saying "It's time to go" or "One more minute" can create an environment in which we can say yes more often.
I've often found myself entering into a power struggle with my own child as we are getting dressed, getting buckled in or just plain trying to get out the door in the morning so we can go somewhere that he will enjoy. But if I impose my agenda, that only trains him to look to others for direction, rather than himself.
Consider holding a yes day or even a yes moment on the spot if there is nowhere you really have to be. Then you can pay attention to the quality of each experience as it comes.
Sovereignty for a child means gaining autonomy - a lifelong goal for anyone. Children deserve to live in a world in which their ideas and desires are not seen as "childish," but are taken seriously. Like all people, children are entitled to be loved and to find strength in that love.
Yes days can give children the space and time they need to develop fully. When we consciously choose to listen to our children, we gain the opportunity to stay connected with them. If our child imagines that a mouse lives in every clock turning the hands, we can consider it an opportunity to gain insight into her exploration of the world, rather than always correcting her observation. This can be difficult if we are in the habit of "seizing the teachable moment."
Free yourself from "have-to's"
Home is a haven, one in which we can be sheltered from the barrage of outside stimuli. If at all practical, give yourself permission to be free from your schedule every now and then. Follow your child's lead, and spend the afternoon curled up in bed reading books. Cancel your meeting and spend some one-on-one time sipping cocoa in your pajamas. Remember that the world we are creating for our children will directly affect the world they will create as they grow into adulthood. Being pulled away from something a child deems important is a direct instruction that teaches him to run his own agenda on others as he grows up.
You can't please everyone all the time
If you are a parent of siblings, surely you know that the adage "you can't please everyone all of the time" rings true. Consider what my friend and her husband do every year. While juggling the schedules of their two children, they plan what their family calls "yes trips." These trips offer one-on-one time with mom or dad, without a sibling to compete with. They spend the specified date doing only what the child wants to do: going to the beach, stopping for a hike or at a lookout on the way, eating when and where their child wants to.
My friend says, "These 'yes days' have been a reminder that even though we are a unit, we are all individuals. We need to take the time to work on each individual relationship, because the pieces add up to more than the whole."
Consider the ripples
Saying yes and affirming our children as
human beings is a gift to everyone involved. So go ahead, say yes
to your kids. As we learn to say yes to each other and to the ebb
and flow of the world, yes days are in fact training for us to
live yes lives. And perhaps our yes lives will inspire our
children to create a yes world.
Ginger Carlson is the author of the book Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children. She lives in Oregon with her husband Raphael and son Zeal. Their days are spent in pursuit of answers, discovering new questions, and experiencing the joy of everyday life, learning, and love.