Friday, October 11, 2013
If you've ever read a word I've written, you probably have figured out that I have a firm belief in the benefits of helping our kids make their own decisions in life. That concept is easy to say, easy to write, and easy to talk about – but it is far more difficult to actually live. We want to be sure that we're doing all we can to make our kids safe, productive, thoughtful, and loving people, so we try every trick in the book to ensure that they grow up just the right way. Of course, if we're paying attention we soon realize that there is little we can do to control how kids turn out, and that they can and should develop their own sense of how best to thrive in the world. We help, and facilitate, and hope, and model, but control is pretty illusory, I think.
Because that's what I believe, I figured out pretty early on that I would much rather find a way to say "yes" as much as possible, rather than say "no" as an automatic default response. Why? Because I hoped that my kids would see the world for all its wonder and possibility, and then find their places in the world in accordance with how their passions fit in with that world view. In short, I wanted them to see a world of open roads instead of clearly marked, standard streets with plenty of dead-ends. The more you say no, the more they hear it, and the more they expect it. The boy who cried wolf becomes the parent who cried no. If no is your default, even when you muster a yes, kids can assume that it's conditional or hedged in some way.
Early this year, my son Kade informed me that he was going to use his allowance to buy dress clothes. I could have told him that was a waste of money, or questioned his motives, or simply indicated no in any one of a number of other ways. Instead, I said "awesome, what are you going to buy?" And he bought a few jackets, a bunch of ties, a couple of fedoras, and a brilliant green bow tie/vest combo. And he looked exactly the way he wanted to look, for his own reasons – and therefore looked confident and amazing.
A few months after that, he began spending most every waking hour working on card cuts, flourishes, and tricks. I easily could have looked at that time as wasted, and said no. Instead, I looked at it as time spent in the pursuit of something he loved doing, which should nearly always result in an enthusiastic yes.
He then began showing me every single move, every trick, every card-related thought, usually several times a day. I could have easily said no, not now, I've already seen that, I don't want to, or some other way to indicate the fact that what he was doing wasn't important to me. But it was important to me because it was important to him, and so I said yes.
He brought cards with him everywhere. I could have said no to that, I suppose, but if I had it would have been a simple reflex, because no answer other than yes makes sense in that case. So, I said yes.
He stopped strangers at parks, restaurants, store lines, and a ton of other places and offered to do tricks for them. We did choose to say no to parts of this at certain times, out of respect for people who were working or simply chose not to participate. But far more often, we said yes and allowed things to unfold in whatever way they might.
And then, earlier this week, we went to see Penn and Teller in Las Vegas. Kade dressed in a suit and bow tie, and brought his cards with him. Penn came out to the audience, took one look at Kade, and invited him onstage to help with a trick. When the show was over, Kade waited patiently for Penn and teller to become available for an autograph, and then performed one of his awesome card tricks for each of them. It was an amazing night for all of us, but especially for Kade – he got to go on stage with and perform for two of his heroes.You can check out one of the videos here.
When he bought his suit and his first deck of cards, he had no idea that he would be able to perform for Penn and Teller – that never even entered his mind either as a possibility or a goal. But because of yes, he was ready when the opportunity presented itself. It would be easy to say that all of the times we said yes led directly to him performing tricks for Penn and Teller, and that we therefore did a good job. I am proud that we said yes, for sure – but not because yes led to Penn and Teller. Yes builds confidence to experiment and explore the world. Use it for that, not because you think it will have a good outcome. Peaceful, connected parenting works best when we throw out "outcomes based parenting", and focus instead on the benefits of letting go and fostering exploration, regardless of whether it leads to something that we would value – because it always leads to something that the child values, in one way or another.