It was my son who approached me the other night after supper and prefaced his request to go play in the creek with, “I know you’re going to say no, but…”
He was right, I did say no. It was getting dark, it was already cold, and he had chores to finish and homework to do. But that preface bothered me a little.
“I know you’re going to say no, but…”
Meaning I must say no to him a lot. A whole lot.
And that bothered me to the point where I began keeping track of the ratio of yeahs and nopes I give my kids over the course of a normal day. Finished my research the other night. The results were…well, I’m not really sure yet what the results were. All I have is numbers. Their meaning is still up in the air.
According to my calculations, I tell my kids no about ten times a day. Where that fits on the scale of Excessive Parenting is debatable. Even I’m not quite sure. Considering how much I talk to my children, I suppose ten isn’t an unreasonable number. But when I consider the fact that for most of the day they’re at school and I’m at work, ten sounds like a lot.
In my defense, many of the things my children ask to either have or do are things few parents would allow. Few children should have an elephant as a pet or their own television show or be allowed to dress like thugs and prostitots.
They, of course, do not see the wisdom in my refusals. And I have no doubt I sometimes transform in front of their very eyes from Nice Daddy to Mean Tyrant. Once, my daughter even told me I wasn’t cool.
But stripped down to its most bare essentials, saying no is what parenting is all about. I’ve learned in my nine years of being a father that kids will ask for anything—anything at all—without much thinking involved. Their tiny minds are based on the principle of immediacy. It’s now they think about, and seldom later.
That’s where I come in. As a father with thirty-nine years of experience in later, I can testify to the wisdom found in keeping one’s eyes forward rather than the small amount of space at one’s feet. Life has taught me this one thing: everything leads to something else. Everything has a consequence.
I tried a little show and tell about this with my kids once. We were sitting by a pond. I told them to watch as I tossed a rock into the water, then explained how the things we do are like the ripples that come after the toss. They reverberate.
They didn’t get the lesson, they just wanted to throw some rocks of their own. To them, it was the splash that mattered. The ripples were inconsequential.
I can’t blame them.
I was like that once.
I often still am.
To them, I can be the mean parent who won’t let them have any fun. That’s okay, because God willing one day they’ll be mean parents themselves.
But there’s more to this.
The study of my ten-times-a-day No has made me realize I’m somewhat of a hypocritical father. It’s not always easy to answer my kids in the negative, but I’m comforted by knowing it’s for their benefit. Children need boundaries, and they need to be kept safe. And bottom line, they really don’t know what’s best for them.
That’s why it’s a bit disheartening to realize I act like them when it comes to the things I ask for from God.
He tells me no a lot, too. Probably more than ten times a day.
I once thought that was because He didn’t love me or because I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t worthy.
I know better now.
The truth is that He does love me, and that both His yes and His no come from that very love. Being good and worthy doesn’t matter much. I know it’s because I need boundaries and to be kept safe. And because bottom line I really don’t know what’s best for me.
And that’s okay.
Because He does.