When you become a parent, you’re suddenly confronted with a breathtaking amount of parenting advice. Some of this advice comes unsolicited from friends, family, or total strangers. Some of the advice is sought after—from those exact same groups… including total strangers in the form of random online articles presented by Google. Sometime in the fragile months around Daphne’s birth, I read something somewhere like this:
Try to structure your lives (everything from your schedule to your physical space) in such a way that you almost never have to say “no” to your child.
That was the gist of it. And it made sense on some level. Behind this advice lies the conviction that parents should not quench the fires of curiosity and exploration with “negativity” and relentless restrictions. Children, after all, are wired with an insatiable hunger to “figure out” what the world is and how the world works. “So let them,” this advice says. Don’t stand in their way. Let them flourish… don’t say “no” often.
Fast forward a couple of years. The advice haunted me over the last couple of years. Because we say “no” to our children, and we say it a lot. The mind boggles how often. And as I’ve paid attention, we say “No” in a surprising number of ways.
There is, of course, the most obvious venue for parenting. “No” as Correction:
“Please stop doing that.”
“We do not throw food on the floor.”
“Come out of the fireplace.”
But when we’re not correcting them in real-time, we’re also saying “No” to them preemptively… for their own good. We restrict their physical movements, curb their appetite, help them understand their own limits. We try to encourage their joyful embrace of what will make them flourish. them down a path they’re going to take before they have an option. Every parent does it differently, but it’s “No” as Boundary:
“You always hold Mama or Papa’s hand in parking lot.”
“We’re only going to have three jelly beans.”
“I know you want to keep playing, but it’s night night time.”
And if that’s not enough, I notice the subtle “Nos” we must often speak over literally area of life—from vocabulary to counting to hygiene to biological limits. In particular, our two year-old receives a gentle “No” disguised in the most creative, positive terms we can find:
“We say ‘feet’ not ‘foots’… but—YES—normally that’s right.”
“…three, four—no—not eighteen—five comes next…”
“It DOES look like a comb, but we don’t comb our hair with a toothbrush.”
“Oh baby, we can’t look straight at the sun.”
As much as I would love to heed the advice of a complete stranger, we have not been avoid saying “no.” We love our children and so we say “no.” A lot. We say “No” to keep both them (and the world) around them healthy, whole, and flourishing. We say “No” to protect them from dangers both without and within. We say “No” to help them know how the world works. Our “No” is the shape of love in the face of endangered joy.
We say “No”
as Guidance into
a deeper “Yes.”
Our “No” is always Deeper “Yes.”
Maybe that’s what that parenting advice was about. Always say “Yes” to our children, even when responsible parenting demands we tell them “No.”
“Yes” to their safety.
“Yes” to treating others with respect.
“Yes” to learning how our language works.
Hopefully we tell them “No” only for the sake of their flourishing.
I’ve been thinking about this “No” and “Yes” of parenting, because I think it’s the way God operates. One of the ways God guides us into eternal joy is by saying “No” to that which is not.
Imagine we began believing in our bones that God’s “No” is always guiding us into a deeper “Yes.” How would our lives change?
What if his “No” about a particular behavior, is not an arbitrary, prudish opinion? What if God’s “No” to sin is a “Yes” to being fully alive?
What if his “No” to our fervent faith-filled prayer, is a “Yes” to better requests we don’t know to ask?
What if his boundaries are beautiful? What if his corrections are correct? What if God—even in his “No”—is gently teaching us how the universe works?
What if God’s “No” is always a Deeper “Yes”?
It’s a leap of faith to internalize and live into, but perhaps God is always always always “Yes” to us. It may be “Yes” to the last things we want, but our Father knows the deepest things we need. And he’s always saying “Yes” to our eternal joy. May we learn to see it, receive it, and (eventually) say “thank you.”
If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7.11, CEB)