Monday, September 12, 2011

Change Your Default Setting From "No" to "Maybe"

I have had many conversations about parenting in the past eight months since I started this blog. The absolute most frustrating type of conversation goes something like this:
Me: I like to help my kids get what they want.
Other Person: That's impossible! What if they want to go to the moon in a spaceship? I can't get my kids what they want every time they ask! I'd be broke.
Here's why I have a problem with this kind of thinking: It's focused on the impossibilities, the exceptions, the singularities. It's focused on what we can't do. How often do our children want things that are truly impossible to get? More importantly, how often do our children want things that are possible, and we brush them off because we have to teach them they can't always get what they want.

A parent who thinks this way has the default setting of No. She's at the grocery store with her kids, and they ask for a piece of  candy or a small toy at the checkout counter.
She thinks: We can't buy something for you every time we go to the store.
She responds: No, put it down. 
She's satisfied with the lesson: You can't always get what you want .
I guess the idea here is that the parent is afraid that if she "gives in" this time, the child will come to expect it every time.

What if she were to change her default setting to Maybe? Not the kind of Maybe that really means No. Not the dismissive Maybe Later, when Later will never actually come. The kind of Maybe that means all possibilities will be considered, and that the answer will sometimes be Yes. A child asks for something in the grocery store...
Mom thinks: Is it possible?
She responds: Maybe. How much does it cost? Let's figure out if it's possible today.

If the answer is: Sure, let's get it.
The lesson is: Mom sometimes gets you what you want.

If the answer is: We can get it if we put back one other thing from our cart.
The lesson is:  Mom compromises and sometimes gets you what you want.

If the answer is: I'm sorry, sweetie. We can't get that today.
The lesson is: Mom is kind and understanding when she can't get you what you want.
In all three cases, the child learns something about his mother. These are the kinds of things I want my kids to learn about me. I want them to learn that I am thoughtful, that I don't just automatically say no, that I do everything I can to figure out ways to honor their wishes, and that I am regretful when I can't do so.

I want my kids to learn that they often can get what they want. And if they can't get it immediately, but it's really important to them, I will figure out a way to help them get it as soon as possible. I hope they will grow up to believe that their wishes and dreams are important.

They will learn to be resourceful and persistent. They will learn that starting with the idea that something is possible opens up a lot  more options than the alternative. Yes, there are times when something is truly impossible to get. These are not the times that define our relationship. These are the exceptions. They don't expect a Yes every time, but they do expect me to think about it. They already understand that sometimes doesn't mean always.

What is your default setting when your child asks for something? Are you satisfied with the lesson your child will learn from it?