Mothers Harness the Power of No


My daughter is just about 2 years old.  I’ve noticed that at times my instinct is to tell her “NO” more often than is really necessary. To avoid having to clean up after her or get some peace and quiet, etc. But that’s ridiculous. Kids play. They make a mess. They make noise. They get pissed and frustrated and they ask questions. How we deal with that will shape the kind of adults that they grow up to be.

My first priority is to empower my daughter because I know that it could save her life one day.

It’s not my job to teach her to be perfect or always do the right thing or even to be obedient. Robots can be programmed to execute tasks on command. My daughter is not a robot. She’s not a tool for someone to use for their own ends. She has a mind and the ability to make rational decisions so I fully expect her to use it.

Kids learn—people learn by trial and error. I don’t want her to be afraid of making her own decisions even if the result isn’t what she or I wanted. Mothers must accept that we can’t control our kids. We must teach them to control themselves, not mimic the actions of someone in control but to truly be in control of their bodies and their lives. More importantly we shouldn’t be trying to contain them, forcing them into boxes of appropriateness. That’s not my job. My job is to teach her how to keep going after disappointment and to show her what true respect feels and looks like. So, I have to ask myself, when I say “NO” to everything she does am I still respecting that she has thoughts and feelings of her own.

We can use the word “NO” without battering it over their heads. Make it conditional. Use it in a sentence or explanation. Use it to promote understanding not blind obedience.

As you can see I’m not one of the Because-I-said-so traditionalists. What they see as rude or talking back, I see as free expression. I remember being a kid and my mother reprimanding me for the tone of voice I used when I was angry with her. Not for the words I chose, but my tone of voice. To this day, I don’t know how you can talk to someone about what’s pissed you off when you’re pissed and not sound pissed. The only way I could make sense of that was that I wasn’t supposed to express being pissed. No anger. No frustration. Nothing that could be construed as aggressive behavior.

I won’t do that to my daughter. I won’t take her voice from her even when I don’t like what she has to say. If she’s crying because she’s had something taken away from her, I comfort her. If she’s mad and throws whatever is handy I remind her that when she’s upset she should put her head down (which is her method of self-soothing). We have to stop labeling our girls as bad for simply expressing the full range of emotions and we can’t take it as a personal insult when they’re unhappy with us. We can show discontent with their behavior without attacking their self-esteem.

Girls also need to be comfortable saying no to anyone or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Kids. Teachers. Preachers. Parents. No. It needs to be in their vocabulary.

Empowered women aren’t born. They’re grown. They develop. If we want our girls to grow up to be empowered young ladies and women then we have to start somewhere. We have to give them dominion over their bodies and experiences in some respect as early as possible. Teach them never to feel embarrassed about saying no and back them up when they do. Being an adult doesn’t make a person right. Being an authority figure doesn’t mean a person has  her best interests at heart. Who is going to stand up for her—protect her, when you’re not there?

She will. Prepare her for it.

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