“Why can’t I?” my son wants to know, eyes narrowing at my initial denial of his request.
Accurately or not, I consider his response to be more of a challenge than a truly curious desire to understand my thinking on the issue. The question then is how to counter in what feels like a game of relational chess.
I held firmly in my naive early parenting years that I would always explain—in a loving and age-appropriate way—the reasoning behind my decisions to my children. Then the toddler “why” phase hit. Trying to explain natural phenomenon (Mom, why do farts stink?) is one thing; feeling the need to justify executive decisions to someone of the dissenting opinion who still sits in a booster seat is entirely different.
The majority of the time, both my children respect boundaries that have been set. They know without even asking that they are not going to get [fill-in-the-blank-desired-object] when we go to the store unless they bring their own money and that screen time on weekdays is highly unlikely.
When it comes to the more nuanced issues that come with age, however, they are willing to go to bat for privileges they believe should be granted. “Everyone else gets to,” “I’m not a baby,” “Don’t you trust me?”…the litany of counterpoints are long and varied.
I work hard not to be the “because I said so” mom but oh how seductive these four words can be. On days when my capacity for diplomacy is diminished, I sometimes defer with a vague “we’ll see…,” buying myself a little time to come up with a reasoned response.
As my children get older, this strategy is less and less effective. They actually remember to follow-up, and my capacity is rarely replenished given the litany of other requests that are made over the course of a day.
I believe all kids should have the opportunity to advocate for what they want. “Give me one good reason why” is a common refrain in our house. There is something empowering about being able to effect change through a thoughtful rebuttal.
My kids know that every ask needs to be supported by logical whys and wherefores before it will be granted. The back and forth enables my kids to hone their negotiation skills while also helping them to be more aware of and able to express their needs. But sometimes the issue at hand is not up for debate.
“Because I said so” is not my predominant parenting response but I find it to be sufficient in situations where time and circumstance necessitate. As their parent, I have been tasked with the responsibility of making well-informed decisions for my children whose neural pathways in brain regions responsible for critical thinking and impulse control are slow to develop. In some situations—no answer, no matter how logical, will suffice. At those times, the debate needs to be closed with the tap of my parental gavel.
There is nothing that will persuade me to allow my children to sleep over at a friend’s house whose parents I don’t know. Likewise, there is nothing my child can say that will convince me to allow him or her to continue to play sports with a “C” on a report card or to possess a smartphone with internet connectivity before they fully understand firewalls and data usage limits. Though we should try to elucidate the “why,” there are times when the judge, not the jury, gets to decide.
My kids are in a unique position where their will is subject to my authority.
In no other relationship is their control so severely limited. In my eyes, it is vitally important for them to learn, in the safety of this alliance, to advocate for themselves while recognizing that they will not always get their way. I also want them to learn that while there is power in defending their position, they do not have to justify their beliefs and actions at every juncture to every person they meet.
Sometimes “yes” is sufficiently yes and “no” is sufficiently no.
I hope that I’m teaching my daughter to know that she shouldn’t have to explain why she doesn’t want to be touched in a certain way. I hope I’m teaching my son to know that he doesn’t have to explain why he doesn’t want another drink when everyone else is having one. I hope that both of my children can articulate their thoughts and feelings clearly; such self-expression is a strength.
But while I am able to use my judgment to shape theirs, keeping them out of harm's way in developmentally appropriate ways—with or without explanation—I will.
Because I said so. ?