Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saying "Yes"

"Don't say no. Always say yes. Or some form of yes. See your role as helping her get what she needs rather than negotiating for what's most convenient for you."
Joyce Fetteroll

What does it look like when we say "yes" to our children?

My youngest daughter wanted a playhouse. Finances are limited and our yard is more hill than flat. She also doesn't like bugs, particularly spiders and things that fly and sting. She's nine and a half years old, so her interest in a playhouse may quickly be outgrown. She tried building a playhouse out of cardboard, but it just wasn't what she wanted. She figured out that what would really work was a real playhouse, in her bedroom.

We talked about different options and we decided to try and find a playhouse that someone else was giving away or perhaps we could find one at a second hand store. Once you start saying yes it can be amazing how things work out. (Perhaps not always, but a really awe inspiring number of times!)

We had friends who had a playhouse that they were considering replacing with a swing. I asked if it was available. My daughter followed up with an e-mail. Less than a week later they delivered it to our house! My daughter's room tends to be a bit chaotic because it's the preferred creative play space in our home. My husband, Jess, and I tag teamed cleaning out the room, w/ our daughter helping her dad for about a 1/2 hour of the process. It was a warm day, we don't have air conditioning, and her room is upstairs. I sorted and recycled and got rid of garbage. I vacuumed.

The girls squealed with delight and danced around the empty room. My daughter gave me a huge hug of appreciation for all the work I did to get her room ready.

Our family worked together to carry the pieces of the house upstairs. Jess screwed the pieces together. I dug out some fake ivy vines and flowers. Jess and I decorated the outside w/ greenery while our daughter started fixing up the inside. We decided it needed lighting, so I got the box of holiday lights out of the attic. The sisters joined in the fun of putting woodland creatures (stuffed animals) in and around the house. We found flower fairies we made years ago to tuck into the flowers and vines. We put a small table and chairs on the "back patio" that has a view of the flower fairy mural on the wall. Upon request I found a tablecloth. The end result was named "The Cottage in the Woods." It's really charming. 11:30 last night I was asked to make toast and iced tea for a tea party at The Cottage in the Woods. After tea was served I headed to bed.

The girls have already spent hours playing in and around The Cottage.

That is what happens when we say "yes." We take our child's desires seriously. We get creative with them to support them in meeting their needs. We do our part to fill in the gaps that they may not be ready or able to handle, in this case clearing out a messy room and putting together the house. We enjoy the process with them, but we don't take ownership.

As parents we can discount our child's desires without giving them much thought. "You don't need a playhouse." "Playhouses belong outside, having one in your bedroom will take up too much space." "We don't have the money to get a playhouse."

As parents we also often forget to listen to what our children want. If we had gotten a playhouse but insisted on putting it in the backyard, spiders would have moved in quite quickly. We would then be tempted to say, "We got you a playhouse like you wanted, but you never play in it!" My daughter had already thought this through and had come up with a solution that met her needs. We just needed to stop and listen.

As parents we tend to put up roadblocks or barriers. "You can have a playhouse but I'm not putting it together for you until you have completely cleaned your room." We can easily create frustration and tears and power struggles. This can last for days and create a lot of unhappiness in a house. In some cases it might even result in the playhouse sitting outside in pieces so long that our child has lost interest. On the other hand, we can choose to clean the room with whatever help our child feels able to provide. When I clean up a child's room because I love them, and I know they prefer to have a tidy space, their appreciation for my work on their behalf is so sweet and real and wonderful. If you've never felt that from your kids, you are really missing out!

When we say "yes" to our children we empower them to follow their passions. They know we are there to support them and that we are willing to express our love for them in actions, not just words. When we say "yes" to our children and support them unconditionally we find that our children are then increasingly able to say "yes" and to support us when we are following our passions, too.

This is what it looks like when we say "yes" to our children:


  1. Awesome! Very inspiring. :)

  2. Thinking about their joy in this moment makes me feel really good. Thinking about how they will look back on this moment when they are grown makes me cry. You have given them such a precious gift! And knowing that this gift is representative of a mindful parenting practice is, as JoAnn said, hugely inspiring.

  3. :)
    What is hard to explain to people is the harmony and joy and fun that comes from saying "yes." When we are able to embrace being a partner with our children and join in the adventure with them, w/out getting in their way or making things difficult by trying to control them or the situation, or by thinking it would be easier not to do what they want to do, suddenly everything is easier.

  4. That's a beautiful playhouse. I wish I had had one when I was little. I've just spent a great visual fantasy moment of ME (little me, four years old) with that house. NICE! Thanks for writing all that up and sharing the photo. It's really beautiful.

    There are more "yes" notes (and writing by Joyce) here:
    also, about not going too quickly (some families have had problems with the "always say yes" when they haven't read the whole article):

    Joyce said at the Santa Fe Symposium earlier this year that she regretted having said "Always say yes" because some people are not reading the whole thing.

  5. :) Sandra, Thanks for the comment and links. I do think that some parents us "always say yes" as an excuse to unparent, and others try to parent by saying yes and end up over whelmed. Hopefully sharing examples of what "saying yes" looks like in practice will help families as they learning new ways to live in partnership with their children.

  6. How wonderful! A very inspiring post. I came across it through Bob Collier's Parental Intelligence newsletter. Fantastic inspiration for parents everywhere and a lovely experience for your daughter.

  7. I keep thinking about this and returning to it... It's just so...wonderful! And I loved how it worked out with our daughter (the former playhouse owner, age six). Instead of "putting my foot down" and saying, "M, we are getting rid of this. You never play with it and it's taking up too much room," we had a conversation with her about how E. would love a playhouse in her room, and we could have a bench swing or a hammock instead(things M. happens to adore when she is in the Robertson yard)...and it would make E. so happy and we could visit the playhouse in E's room!

    My daughter could have said No, of course! And we would have respected that and kept the house. But she said yes, and the yes didn't change as the idea became reality... the house was taken to pieces and transported to the Robertson abode, and when M. saw the transformed cottage the other day and played in it, wow, the enchantment on her face was priceless. Plus the joy that I felt from E. and her sisters... if I could bottle that and sell it, I'd be a millionaire in a week.