Sometimes I just don’t owe my children an explanation.
There, I said it. I bit the bullet. I have successfully swallowed my pride and admitted that 17-year-old me was wrong, wrong, wrong.
You see, I made a promise to myself ten years ago that I would never be one of those parents who says things like because I said so, and you’ll understand when you have kids of your own. No. I swore to myself then that I would actually take the time to explain things to my children. If they couldn’t have or do something, I would explain why, they would understand, and there would be peace on Earth.
I’m both laughing at myself and crying over my absolute naivety. At the time I didn’t understand that you really can’t rationalize with a three-year-old (otherwise known as a “threenager”).
So what if it’s almost dinner time? Why the heck can’t I have an ice cream cone as a pre-dinner snack? This is ridiculous and unfair and you’re an awful person for saying no!
So sue me for trying to establish healthy eating habits, kid. You’ll thank me for it later.
But you see, kids have no concept of “later”. They haven’t yet grasped reason and logical conclusions. It’s not their fault, really. Blame that underdeveloped prefrontal cortex which controls things like emotions and impulses, judgement, and weighing outcomes.
Now, some kids get it. At least, they appreciate the effort of something more than just “no, because I said so”. I was blessed with at least one of these, but reason still doesn’t negate that she wants what she wants. She is her own “woman” and wants to learn on her own why it’s dangerous to hang out in the middle of the street. She’s four going on fourteen.
The fact remains: sometimes we just don’t owe our children an explanation. In my personal experience, with my own unique little snowflakes, “why” is a loaded question. “Why can’t I have that uber-expensive toy from the store?” Sure, I could explain that money is not an unlimited resource–not for this family of 7, at least. I can explain that the necessity of food and lights overrules the want for toys. And no, credit cards are not an unlimited resource, either, you silly goose.
In my experience, “why” is never good enough. They don’t want explanations for the sake of knowledge so much as they want you to open the door to argument. They want to hear your reasons and then pick them apart, or they want to simply ask “why” until you’ve been sapped of every ounce of patience.
And there is another reason why I simply stick with “no”. Not only is “no” easy, cut, dry, and time saving when you’re in the middle of dinner, but “No” is a complete sentence. No is a complete sentence when I won’t give my children something they want, it’s a complete sentence when they grow up and are being pressured into doing things they don’t want to do.
I want them to understand in the long run–when they can finally comprehend “the long run”–that they don’t owe people explanations when they say “no”. No is no is no. They don’t owe anyone a reason why they don’t want to be involved in certain activities or with certain people. Their reasons are their own, and they’re not put out there for other people to pick apart and manipulate until those people get the desired result.
Of course, given that my children have a razor-fine understanding of hypocrisy despite not being able to understand that money is a finite resource, I also allow them their absolute “no” from time to time. Not when I’m trying to get them to do chores, of course. But when it comes to making decisions based on their own likes and dislikes, I try to let them make absolute choices.
“Do you want broccoli?”
“Okay.” When really I’m thinking: k, it’s delicious and healthy but whatevs.*
As always, the motto that will one day be engraved on my epitaph: Pick your battles. There are times when there is a true benefit, a true learning moment, in giving my children the “why” behind something I say, do, or ask of them. It’s all in the moment. Other times, when I just know that my four-year-0ld is looking for a fight, I stick to “no”. Well, I don’t always stick to it, but I’m getting better about just using this one word, followed by one of two responses, “asked and answered”, or “because I said so.”
My 17-year-old self is cringing, slipping on the headphones, and playing that one Tool track over and over again.