Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saying no

“He who loves his son disciplines him diligently” -Prov. 13:24

Sometimes “no” is a good answer. As parents, we are called to provide for our kids but not to indulge them. “Yes” is a always a fun answer and our kids appreciate it (sort of), but learning to wait or go without helps produce patience for bigger things later in life.

It was Fall of my 7th grade year and I had just spent a week of the summer on a boy’s canoe trip on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. The trip stretched me and challenged me like never before. I fell in love with adventure and canoeing and dreamed of living in the wilderness one day.

So, as Christmas approached and it was “list” time, I kept thinking of canoes. And I had a plan. My birthday is Dec. 20th, so I would pull the ‘ole “combine my birthday gift with my Christmas gift” strategy to get something really big. Hopefully, I’d get the gift for my birthday, but then get something else pretty good for Christmas too.

So I not so subtlety let my wish be known that I wanted a canoe. My dad responded with a “well Joey, that sounds nice” answer. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was optimistic. All the attributes of the youngest spoiled child came out that December and I waited anxiously for my canoe. But I kept quiet about it all. A boy learns early that the “Christmas present strategy” requires keeping quiet with subtle hints and magazine pages left open for parents to see. It had worked for earlier Christmas’s and I’d seen my 3 brothers use it to perfection.

My birthday came and went with no canoe. But I didn't worry. I figured they were probably saving the big gift for Christmas day. Christmas morning came, I hurried into the living room, but no canoe. Perhaps it was in the garage? Maybe it hadn't arrived yet? Everyone came in the living room and the gift opening came and went. I’m sure I got some awesome gifts (I always did), but the canoe never appeared and I never asked.

To this day, I’ve never brought up the canoe story, but the lesson was learned that Christmas. Etched in my heart was the message “you won't always get what you want.” A big part of a secure and healthy self-esteem carries this attribute and some of the most secure people I know have lived lives going “without.”

As parents, we need to be careful we teach our kids that their lives will go on and their worth is solid with or without. I wish I had a transcript of the secret conversation between my mom and dad about that canoe. I know they had the money to buy it, but my dad grew up on a cotton farm in west Georgia. He grew up with a large family that went “without.” I can hear him suggesting to my mom, “let’s pass on the canoe this time,” inside knowing that little Joey was pretty spoiled. Truth is, I needed the “no.” (Besides, what was a 7th grade kid going to do with a canoe in Fort Worth Texas?)

Bless your kids today by not “blessing” them. We think giving them things provides the blessing. But loving our kids blesses them and the irony is that saying “no” unconsciously reminds them that we’re involved in their lives.

Sure, give gifts to your child and have fun, but realize that what you’re training now influences their lives later. Life will be pretty tough on your teen later.

They’ll learn that they’re okay whether they have a canoe or not.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

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