Two of my girls were talking w/ a friend who said, "You know, when your parents say 'Because I said so!'" My eldest responded, "My parents don't say that." Wow! How cool. I don't say that!
When a parent says "Because I said so!" and "The answer is No!" and "Don't argue with me!" it sends a message to kids. That message is stated clearly in "Matilda" by Roald Dahl, "I'm right and your wrong, I'm big and your little, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Have you ever said "No!" in response to your child and then wished you could take it back? Here's a little secret, you can. Well, that shouldn't be a secret and it's not a little thing. It's huge to our kids! It's important that they know we are listening to them and thinking before we respond. I'll admit that I used to be fairly quick with "no" answers. My first reaction to almost anything was negative. How much more useful to at least say, "I need a minute to think about that" or "let's talk about that." In the process of decreasing my no's I learned that once I said "No!" and realized that perhaps no wasn't the best answer, I could take it back. This wasn't confusing to my children. It actually strengthened my relationship with my children. I would say, "I can tell this is really important to you. Let's talk and see how we can work this out."
The more I am able to be open to their wants and needs and ideas, the more comfortable they become in expressing their feelings and sharing their hearts desires. The more we take the time to discuss how we can meet everyone's needs in any given moment, the more they trust that I am taking their needs seriously, the more creative we all become in working to make sure everyone's needs are met.
To me, "Because I said so!" isn't good enough. My children expect better than that from me. They expect me to take their feelings into consideration. They trust me to be respectful and not lay down arbitrary rules just because I can. They need to know that I'm not going to make them do something just because I'm big and they are little. I'm only going to ask them to do something because there's a need or a real reason. They expect an honest answer if they ask about that reason. They expect to be listened to if they have a suggestion of a different way to do something.
"I'm right and your wrong, I'm big and your little, and there's nothing you can do about it." If you think about it, this is the voice of a bully. Some parents do parent through bullying. They parent through shame and scorn and belittling. They parent by control and making themselves feel bigger and their child feel even smaller. There are many problems with this type of parenting. The hurt and pain and anger that the child has stuffed inside may come boiling out, particularly during the teenage years. The child treats others the way they have been treated by their parent and struggles socially or in society. The child gets tired of being bullied and leaves as soon as they can, and doesn't return. The mental, emotional and/or physical health of the child may suffer. Then one day the child become a parent and they get to be big, they get to be in control, they get to be right and the pain gets passed on to a new generation.
Our children never need to do something just because we say so, there needs to be a real reason or need. And even then we need to take into consideration what we are interrupting with our request. It's rude to expect anyone to drop what they are doing to help us unless it's really urgent. We show respect for their time and interest when we say, "When you are done with that, would you be willing to help me carry in the groceries?" or "When you get to the end of that chapter would you like to go to the park?"
Some times the answer may end up being no, but first let's look for all the ways we can say yes. Our children have many wonderful and creative solutions. By making sure we understand what they are asking and then engaging in a conversation with them they feel respected and know we care, even if in the end they can't have what they want.
Our kids won't need to argue with us if we are already open to dialogue. If we have created a pattern of thoughtful discussions, and not of trying to control our children or the outcome of the discussion, we won't need to argue with our children.
We aren't right and they aren't wrong. We are all learning and growing together. We may be big now, but they are growing and won't be little for long, and there's nothing you can do about it.