Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Art of No

So, just when did "no" become a four-letter word?

As my husband and I navigate the sometimes-choppy waters of rearing a young teenager, we're starting to wonder if we are the reason for the moodiness, the backtalk and the too-often-for-our-taste disrespectful tone coming from Earbaby. Don't get me wrong, most of the time EB is a really, really great kid. But it's like that old ditty about the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she's good, she's very good, but when she's bad, she's horrid.

We're relieved that we are the only ones who actually see the "horrid" side. The worst she has been in public is silent and slightly sullen. Not unpleasant, but not outgoing either.

But with her dad and me, the tone sometimes gets ridiculous. We're still having that fight (which I fear will go on forever) where she has to have the last word. When she was younger, her dad and I would never say shut-up. We thought that was rude. But as she got older, bolder, obstinate and more mouthy, "be quiet," or "hush," or even "stop talking" and "shut your mouth, now" couldn't stop her. She still has to say something, anything, even when told not to say another word. So yes, once you've reached the limit, "shut-up" enters the lexicon. I would say I have no idea where she gets that stubborn streak, but since I always have to have the last word myself, well, I'm not going to tell that lie.

Still, no is a word we've tried not to use too much. As an only, overindulged child, EB only rarely isn't given what she asks for. And sometimes that makes her ungrateful, and nasty. And mouthy.

So I've started saying no. After several particularly obnoxious backtalk sessions, I've put my foot down. And kept it that way. Recently when she decided she was going on an outing with some friends for a birthday celebration (a rather pricey outing at that), she promptly followed it up with a few days of no-doubt hormonally-based major attitude. I told her she wasn't going. She didn't believe me.

Which I can understand. Most times, after a half-hearted (and sometimes full-hearted and tearfilled) apology, we relent. But we're quickly learning that her good behavior and apologies are shorter lived when she eventually gets her way. So imagine her surprise when I said the ultimate four-letter word, and stuck to it.

She appealed to her dad, who had already been warned not to undermine my decision. Because we're both softies at heart, it's tough when one parent doesn't agree. But this time, because we've both been frustrated by the utter lack of gratitude and disregard for the rules, he was on board, although I was going to go to work that night and he'd be stuck with the sniffling, emotionally distraught child, who didn't get to enjoy her outing with her friends.

But guess what? She was OK afterward. She missed a good time, and learned a good lesson. Actually, she learned more than one. She learned that every invitation isn't an automatic yes, even when you're nasty and act as if you're entitled to whatever you ask for. And she learned that we can actually say no. And mean it. Well, maybe that last lesson was more for us.

Yes, I know, she'll be the one making our life decisions for us when we're old and infirm, and she could hold this over our heads. But she'll also learn that respect and gratitude will carry a lot more weight in life than an obnoxious sense of entitlement.

Saying no and meaning it is a lesson for all of us. If she learns to hear it, she won't be devastated the first time she doesn't make a team, hired for a job, or get picked for some honor. If she learns to say it and mean it, she'll know how to stand up for herself when someone gets too familiar or too pushy, either physically or emotionally.

That two-letter word isn't just for toddlers anymore. Hearing it, saying it, and meaning it is a lifelong lesson for all of us.

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