Do You Really Say “Yes”?

My sisters and I had my mom pegged, and we never grew tired of teasing her about it. When we asked my mom for something and she said, “We’ll see”, it always seemed to lead to a “no”. “Maybe” usually turned out to mean “yes”. So we would whine and beg, “Just say maybe, pleeeeeze!”

Now that I’m a mom and have learned that parenting is an endless list of really hard decisions that can make your head throb, I empathize with my unfairly outnumbered dear mother. Saying “no” never feels good, and yet parents must say it often, and with conviction.

But wise and witty clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, author of the inspiring books, The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and The Blessing of the B Minus, said something truly enlightening at a recent lecture I attended.  How often do we give our children a resounding YES?  Not the ‘okays’, the things we agree to but have reservations about and give begrudgingly, or the ones our children have to badger us into and will then feel vaguely guilty about, but an unadulterated, wholehearted, YEAH!

Yes, sweetie, you can throw a penny into the fountain…in fact, take 3 and have a blast!

Yes, I’ll sit with you boys while you sell lemonade on the corner. Great idea!

Yes, my beautiful, responsible teenage daughter, go to the party with all those older hormonal teenage boys and have a fantastic time! Enjoy!

Has this been you? This hasn’t been me nearly as much as I would like it to be. And I wonder…is it hard for us to give ourselves full-fledged permission? Can we freely indulge a wish and feel certain we deserve it? How often do you say YES to yourself and to your children with gusto, and without doubt or guilt?


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I love this. Saying yes can be so hard, not just to kids but in life. I noticed that whenever my husband and I ask each other if we want a glass of wine we say “sure” … but not “yes!”. I think we need more yes in every day life. Great post.

  2. I guess it matters how you say the word “sure” as in “sure thing!” or “certainly!”. When I was about 12yrs old, my 7yr old sister, Beth, told me that she loved it when she asked me to do something and I responded with “sure!”. It made her happy that not only was I agreeing to do what she asked, but I was actually glad to do it. My little Beth’s comment has stuck with me. As a parent, wife, friend, co-worker, daughter, and sister, I have tried to remember the power of “sure!”. When I do manage to respond that way, I look for the spark of joy that is ignited. Sometimes it makes all of the difference. Thanks for your terrific blog.

    1. Yes, I think the way we say things makes a huge difference, and you make an excellent point about remembering the power of “sure!” Ginger, thanks for your inspiring comment.

    2. I love this! My daughter and I “Sure!” at each other a lot, even sometimes when it is something less fun like “Will you make dinner” or “Can you deposit more money in my account.” It does make me feel very happy and loved when she replies that way, so I hope it does the same for her.

  3. YES! This post is such a great wake-up call for me. Even though my babies are still babies, I am of the ‘Adam Walsh Generation,’ raised in an inherently ‘unsafe’ world. I know – without a shadow of a doubt – that unless I actively try to do different, I will be one of those mamas with “No!” on her lips. Constantly.


    1. I know what you mean about the ‘Adam Walsh Generation’. It was hard for your parents to avoid the deep level of anxiety caused by a horrific story like that one. But I’ve found that self-awareness is key to making adjustments in the way we will parent, and you certainly have that. We all project our issues onto our children, and becoming aware of those issues is what makes parenting an educational and therapeutic process for us.:-)

  4. I regularly hear this from my four-year-old daughter:
    “Mommy, I love it when you say ‘yes’ to me.”
    She also has been known to say, “Thank you for saying ‘maybe,'” and then giving a me kiss on the cheek for good measure. She is no dummy, that kid.

  5. This hits me at a good time, Janet. My teenager has hit a few typical speed bumps in the past couple years and I’ve gotten into the habit of a thousand questions whenever she asks for a “yes.” I need to look for the opportunities, especially since it seems like she’s learned some lessons.


    1. Tom, I can relate. It can be a lot harder and scarier to say an enthusiastic yes to teenager, but with 2 teens now, I’ve been making a concerted effort to find those opportunities. I’m also learning not to follow my inclination to say NO right away, before hearing my daughters out. Aaaah… all these decisions we have to make!

  6. Vicki Kilbury says:

    I am a grandmother trying to follow my son and daughter-in-laws”s parenting ideas with my grandson. They read your articles and book.
    Any tips for grandparents?

  7. I find I struggle with this as a camp instructor sometimes, because at the same time I’m saying, “Yes, you can skip rocks on the river” I’m running scenarios in my head for everything that can go wrong, any additional boundaries I need to give (“Stand at the edge of the water so no one runs out in front of you” “Make sure your sneakers stay out of the water since we have a long hike ahead”) and thinking about what the future consequences of my decision will be (“My child says they were concussed by a rock that YOU said kids could throw!”)

    1. What about giving yourself the grace of that time to make an assured choice? So they ask and you say, “Hmmm, interesting idea! I’m going to think for a moment.” Then you decide to go balls to the wall or say “Sorry, but no, not this time.”

  8. As always so inspiring! This made me realize how often I say „all right“ with a sigh, whoch naturally makes the child feel like they are asking too much. So just after I finished reading my daughter wanted some milk. And I smiled and said „yes, of course!“ and she smiled back, and we felt connected over something so simple and mundane as a glass of milk! Thank you again!

  9. This made me realize how often I say „all right“ with a sigh, whoch naturally makes the child feel like they are asking too much. So just after I finished reading my daughter wanted some milk. And I smiled and said „yes, of course!“ and she smiled back, and we felt connected over something so simple and mundane as a glass of milk! Thank you again!

  10. I was a “we’ll see” dad for sure. If it was a big request from my daughters I would often add “you know I love saying yes so hang with me.”
    Also , I never wanted to retract a yes . Since conditions for a yes changed quickly I wanted my yes to be a solid affirmation to their requests.

    A benefit to employing “will see” is the lesson of deferred gratification when it becomes a “yes”.

    My adult daughters in their early 30s tease me to this day

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