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Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2005 / 25 Teves 5765

Betsy Hart

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Giving in to those ‘precious experiences’ | "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" That's the refrain of a country music song I like. (Naturally, it has to do with the lovelorn.)

Newsweek magazine suggests a lot of us parents don't understand "no" either. A recent cover story highlighted the fact that we hate to say "no" to our kids, particularly when it comes to material goods.

Look, I can be a big part of the problem. My weakness when it comes to my four little ones isn't so much material goods, it's that I love "experiences." Particularly "precious experiences." I tend to think my kids just have to experience this precious vacation, or that precious opportunity to go to a sporting event, or a precious birthday party or holiday that's just perfectly perfect or they have to go to a particular new movie on the day it opens, or somehow it won't be the same. It won't be as precious.

Yep   —   I can be really weak.

But apparently there are enough times when I do say "no" that my oldest daughter, age 8, told me the other day that I'm "as strict as 200 moms." Sigh. Once in a while they even try to convince me I'm the meanest mom in the whole world, at which point I tell them that's because I graduated first in my class from "mean mom" school.

They hate when I say that.

(For the record, there are times when my kids tell me I'm the best mom in the universe   —   that's usually right after I've given them a precious experience. Double sigh.)

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In any event, even in my weakness I try to understand that "no" is actually good for my kids. It's not just the crummy part of good parenting, it's a good part of good parenting. And not only do kids survive being told no, if done rightly, they will be better people because of it.

For starters, they won't be hanging onto mom and dad's purse strings well into adulthood, a growing phenomenon perhaps best evidenced by the number of young   —   and not so young   —   adults going back home and living with mom and dad.

That was not my problem, by the way. I was kicked out of the house and into the workforce ASAP after college. One Friday in my new office, I actually had to sell a book of postage stamps to my colleagues to get enough money to make it home to my apartment and then back to work on Monday. I know, I know, woe is me. Again for the record, my older siblings would argue I got way more than my share of "yeses" too.

Anyway, the world is full of "nos." Or "you musts" and "you must nots." But there are too many adults today who have never learned to operate within that world, who have never learned that they just can't have what they want, or that maybe they need to change what they want altogether.

The only problem with the Newsweek story that I can see is that it focused too much on parents giving their children material possessions. But I think that's just a symptom of a larger problem: that we parents hate to say no to our children about anything.

Popular parenting advice suggests that parents find alternatives to saying "no," or with every "no" offer a "yes" too. Parenting advice guru Dr. William Sears says, "the fewer your 'no's' the better your day goes."

That's a shame.

I'm not for gratuitous no's. I think we can offer explanations when appropriate, and even let our kids "appeal" our no's. Sometimes we really do need to listen and let our kids make their case.

But there are times when we just have to say "no" because we are the parents, we know better than our kids, we have a special position in their lives, and they have to respect our authority   —   even when they don't understand it. It's a gift to our kids when we their parents believe that that's true. Whether it's material possessions or so many of the other issues of the family, there's a lot of kids who would be a lot better off at least occasionally hearing from a confident parent, "no   —   because I'm the parent and I said so."

It seems to me that if we parents really are willing to do that when it's called for, then we don't have to feel quite so guilty about sometimes giving in to those "precious experiences" too.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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