Dear Legislators: I Am A Working Single Mom, And I Cannot Afford To Give In To Boundary Fatigue — And Now NEITHER CAN YOU.
Hi there legislators! Tough week, am I right? So — let’s talk about a thing that has suddenly become THE thing:
As in, Setting and Enforcing Them.
As in, SAYING NO.
And saying it again.
And — yes — again.
I’m the mom of an eight-year-old, and at points in the past several years I’ve been the mom of a newborn, the mom of an infant, the mom of a toddler . . . you get the drift.
And at first, I was pretty much f*cked. I was gobsmacked. Nothing in my life had ever even come close to preparing me for the bundle of need and demand that was suddenly, constantly, IN MY FACE.
And you know what part was the WORST?
I had *no* idea how to say no.
Apparently my public school education did not cover that one (although I’m sure all that time spent on the Pythagorean theorem will totally pay off . . . someday).
So I did too much and did it without enough help and slept almost never because I didn’t know how to say no.
Somehow I lived through the infant phase and then we got to the toddler years and he could talk and he could yell and pitch a fit — and it’s one thing not to say no to a baby; while it might be hell on me, you cannot spoil a baby.
When the creature on your hands is a toddler . . .
Who can ask for . . . anything. Everything. Candy, to eat nothing but mac and cheese, to drive the car, to jump off the monkey bars, for a new toy every time he sees one . . .
You CANNOT say yes to all of it. Heck, you probably shouldn’t say yes to any of it, and luckily some of it is so ridiculous that it’s pretty easy to say no to.
But a LOT of it is NOT easy to say no to, and it’s relentless, and no matter how reasonable your No is, you are stuck with the discomfort, and quite possibly the Huge F*cking Public Meltdown, of the human to whom you have said your NO.
And you know what?
You HAVE TO do it anyway.
No longer just for yourself, but for the human in front of you.
Why? Well — here’s a list of things that would be true if I had not learned to say no to my son, and say it repeatedly, and hold the line, and remain calm in the face of whatever reaction he had:
-he would still be breastfeeding at age 8
- he would still be using diapers at age 8
- he would have attended school for the first 10 minutes of kindergarten at age 5 and then never again
- he would have exactly *zero* vaccinations
- or visits to the doctor, for that matter
-his teeth would have rotted out of his head, due to the steady diet of candy, macaroni and cheese, and breast milk
-our home would be an ocean of shiny plastic toys and stuffed animals, at least hip-deep
-oh and I would have lost my job, seeing as my son would have declined attending day care, so I’m not entirely sure we’d be housed . . .
You get the picture.
Luckily, I did manage, somewhere along the line, to enlist some help. I hired a therapist (JESUS CHRIST THANK GOD FOR THERAPISTS, ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW). I talked to a wide spectrum of parent-friends. I read parenting books, and some carefully chosen (because OMG the extremes!) parenting blogs.
And I practiced saying No.
Preferably calmly, but frustratedly and/or angrily if that was the best I could do.
And — it fatigued the hell out of me. I didn’t expect that — the sheer exhaustion just from the act of saying no to someone. From HAVING TO say no to someone, over and over again.
And also? Dealing with the public tantrums made me want to die inside. Our cultural messages are abundantly clear — the public, or at least the media-depicted-version of it, would much rather you spoil your kid rotten than dare allow a child to be loud, crying, or in any way behaving unpleasantly or even visibly experiencing discomfort in their line of sight.
I did it anyway.
I said no.
I stood in the middle of the grocery store with my face burning like wildfire as he made a fuss (“fuss” is an understatement. A HUGE F*CKING FUSS.)
And something amazing happened.
NO, he didn’t magically stop asking for crazy-pants stuff.
And NO, he didn’t stop having tantrums (not for a long while, anyhow).
What happened was:
It got easier.
Saying no got easier.
HOLDING MY GROUND GOT EASIER WITH PRACTICE, EVEN IN THE FACE OF WHATEVER REACTION I GOT.
And Legislators — you need to hear that right now.
It DOES get easier.
But only if you keep at it.
— — — — — — — —
Last summer my son and I were visiting a tiny beach town, and we stopped in the gift shop of the park so I could buy some postcards.
What I could not have known from the outside was that the shop was also full of (bright, shiny) (cheap, easily broken, annoying) plastic toys.
And my son asked for this one. Or no, maybe this one. Or no, maybe this stuffie.
And I did waver for a millisecond — because saying yes both feels good in the short run, and is so, so easy –
But I’d been actively choosing — practicing figuring out what I actually WANT to do, instead of just giving in -
And I’d been saying no long enough –
That it came out calmly, with no drama or hedging or remorse.
“No honey, we didn’t come in here for toys. We have plenty of toys with us.”
And my son was not happy with me –
and I knew I could live with that.
The woman behind the counter — an older lady, very grandparent-age — smiled approvingly and said “It’s a relief to see that some parents still know how to say no to their children.”
And maybe it was judgy about my generation or kinda weird of her to say that, but you know what?
I F*CKING BASKED IN IT.
Because I felt like “Finally — maybe this NO thing IS getting easier. Is coming naturally.”
(And I basked in it because frankly, random strangers almost never comment *positively* about your parenting, so you milk that compliment for all it’s worth.)
Someday, after enough sheer repetition, it will come out calmly and with no drama and with less fatigue, I promise.
You CANNOT waver.
You CANNOT give in because they asked for the same thing seven times.
You CANNOT give in just because they refused to do something you wanted them to because you said no, or threatened to retaliate.
You CANNOT give in just because they repeated the request day after day after day.
You CANNOT give in to whining, and it’s better if you don’t even give any clue of being annoyed by it.
You CANNOT give in to threats.
You CANNOT allow them to move the needle — when you find yourself considering Yes not because you agree to their request, but just because one request seemed closer to reasonable when compared to their other requests. You must remember to think of each request in ABSOLUTE, not RELATIVE, terms: “do I *want* to say Yes to this?” NOT, “well that seems like a reasonable request compared to the last one . . . ” NO COMPARING. If you wouldn’t say yes to it in a vacuum, say NO. Because whether you’re dealing with a sociopath or a toddler — same things some days, amirite? — they are onto that trick and they will walk you all the way to the edge of the cliff, if you let them.
You CANNOT stop trying if you slip up once and say a Yes you should not have. GET BACK ON THAT HORSE RIGHT NOW AND KEEP AT IT. You DO NOT have time for self-recrimination.
And you know what else?
Sometimes — even if you do everything right — they will find a way past your No. A grandparent who didn’t check with you first. A co-parent (hello Republican congress!), who just wants to say yes all the time because frankly they, too, would like to live forever on candy and breast milk, and/or they can’t bear the effort it takes to say No.
And you have to remember — your No counts even then.
Them getting around it CANNOT mean you don’t say no anymore.
You speak your NO even when it gets overridden.
Because at those times, it’s YOU who needs to remember your no, needs to remember that you still get to say no.
And they need to see that it hasn’t crushed you that they got their way anyway.
You’re still right there, calm and ready.
One battle may be lost, but you know you’re playing the long game.
— — — — — — — — — — —
Legislators, my son is 8, life is quite a bit better — and you’re the ones with the toddler now.
And I’m sorry for you — God, how sorry I am — and I know that you don’t get any of the good parts of having a kid like I did, as I had to learn to say No and stick to it, as I fought the fatigue and pushed through.
But for me — the only stakes were my son growing up to be a decent, kind, hopefully healthy, hopefully well-adjusted adult.
For YOU, the stakes are nothing less than — everything. ALL of our lives. The whole globe.
Do whatever you have to do to bolster your resolve and KEEP it bolstered. Take time out to watch puppy videos. Hire a therapist. Hire seven. Hell, the entire Democratic caucus might just wanna get a few therapists and a masseuse on call, and a flotation tank for the worst days –
And then dig in your heels.
Face that damn toddler, like I did.
And then -
Just say no.