I appreciate modern parents’ focus on kindness. We refuse to raise bullies, and that’s a positive and powerful thing.
But I personally have no intentions of insisting my daughter play with someone if she prefers to be alone. And her toy or book? I’m teaching her to share when she’d like to but to also feel comfortable saying no or not today.
Because I was a child who always said yes if someone asked. Oh, you’d like my favorite toy? I wasn’t finished with it but since you asked, I’ll end my play to give it to you.
And I was a teenager who always said yes. Hey friend, you want my slice of cafeteria pizza? I’m actually super hungry today and have been dreaming of that slice all morning. But I won’t tell you that because that wouldn’t be kind. Here, it’s yours!
And I was a young adult who always said yes.
Hey boyfriend, I’m not ready for our first kiss yet, but you are? It would make you feel sad and rejected if I said no? I wouldn’t want that. I’m a kind person!
And I was a wife and mother who always said yes. Oh school, you need volunteers? I’m honestly stretched very thin and only sleeping about six hours a night right now, but saying no would be so selfish of me! I’m sure five hours of sleep will suffice.
It may seem like a stretch. It might sound like something parents could and should speak to, a necessary clarification. But . . . at what point will our children move from always saying yes because it’s kind to feeling comfortable saying no?
It took me over 30 years of saying yes to things I didn’t want to do, of doing whatever others asked of me in the name of kindness even at the cost of my own health and well-being, of feeling responsible for others’ happiness—to finally begin to say no. And I’ll be darned if my daughter won’t learn how from the start.
So here’s what I will raise my child to do . . .
I will raise my child to know if she and her friends are playing together and another child asks to join, they should include them. I’ll raise her to see and empathize with those sitting alone, to strike up a conversation, to invite them to join her.
But I’ll also raise her to know if she wants or needs time alone and someone asks to join her, it’s perfectly kind and appropriate to say, “Actually, I need a little time to myself right now. Maybe next time!”
I will raise my child to clearly see and appreciate all of her blessings and to recognize the needs of others. I’ll raise her to give when she can and to share freely and often with no strings attached.
But I’ll also raise her to know that she doesn’t have to share just because someone asks.
I’ll teach her to recognize when someone is taking advantage of her or when she simply doesn’t have the bandwidth they’re requiring—and to not feel one tiny bit guilty about saying no or not today.
I’ll raise her to understand that her personal boundaries are important. I’ll teach her that others’ needs and desires should not always trump her own.
And I’ll raise her to respect your child’s boundaries too—when they say they’d rather be alone or that their toy is very special to them and they don’t want to share. I’m teaching her to honor your child’s wishes and to choose not to allow someone else’s personal boundaries to cause her to feel sad or rejected. It is a choice.
I’m showing her by example that setting boundaries isn’t unkind . . . that the unkind thing would be to fail to respect someone else’s boundaries even if they are just a kid. And I’m praying that when she’s a teenager and young adult and wife and mother and anything else, that she’ll have the strength to respect herself.