Father’s Day is approaching this weekend and so I felt particularly compelled to spew some new thoughts. As I reflect on fatherhood, I can’t help but remember the father who taught me so much. Raising a toddler, I seem to have learned that there is one word that can turn a perfectly wonderful day into a downward spiral of tantrums and turmoil. The word is NO. It can be one of the toughest things to endure as a parent when your child realizes that he/she might not get what they want. I want to share words from Julia Storm, Director of Production of The Mother Company.
“Why is it so important to create clear boundaries and rules for children? Children are trying to figure out the extent of their reach – What are the rules of the road? What is okay and what is not okay? Does “No” sometimes mean “Yes?” (A very critical point I am going to come back to.) There are 3 peaks all children have to scale in order to grow up and function in the world and often they involve hearing the word NO.
Learning these will not happen if the child always gets what he wants. In order to tolerate frustration you have to be frustrated, so as a parent you have to give the NO response when appropriate, however we say it, in order to teach the child to manage disappointment.”
I know this subject can be very controversial. I often have fellow parents giving me advice on “softer ways of saying “no” without having to say “no.” Some even suggest using the word yes, with an alternative explanation such as “well yes son you could do that, but why don’t we try doing this instead?”
Growing up, my father, who was a man ‘of few words, never minced “no.” It was a declarative and definitive directive. It meant no, it did not mean anything else. Whether it was for more ice cream, more furikake on my rice, or staying up late. There were never exceptions or alternatives to no. Although my father had limited English he definitely did not lack knowledge of life. My father was always working, always busy leaving no time for long conversations explaining “no”, but it was clear, I did not question it. Eventually I learned that if I got a “no” response there was no further negotiation. This did not always mean that I did not rebel or do something I was told emphatically that I could not do, but I did understand that there would be a consequence to doing so.
For many years I served on the Board of Directors of a Domestic Violence organization and it became clear that we were not getting to our youth early enough. Our children are exposed to violence (even when we don’t realize it) in various forms whether it be through computer games, movies, sports etc. It is my wish that we would make an effort to spend that same (if not way more) time teaching respect, integrity and compassion. Something I feel a father is responsible with teaching his son.
I want to share something very disheartening and tender, and share an example of why I think teaching our children the power that lies behind the word “no”. I learned that a friend was victimized by a predator. More tragic than I can possibly represent in this short blog, The point I want to make is that t in a forced act of violence, “NO” was completely disregarded. Have we blurred the clarity of this word? We have a responsibility when raising our sons (and daughters) to be respectful, to be dignified and to treat all persons with a level of respect. When does it become blurred for someone that “no” might not mean “NO”?
I promise to not shy away from teaching my son the power of “no.” Like my father, I commit to not let my no’s be yes’s. I pray that he will find role models in myself and his community and that he will grow to respect the value of life, humanity and consequence. My father might have said no often, and while I didn’t understand it at the time, it’s beginning to make sense now. He was teaching me, not only for that moment but for a lifetime of choices ahead. So to all Fathers on this Father’s Day I urge you to raise our son’s (and daughters) with respect, dignity and responsibility. The choices we make for them today will impact the choices they make in their future.