Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Everyday Grace:
Parents: Just say no?

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Oct. 20, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Nobody ever told me how hard it would be to stand firm and say “no” to my teenagers. I remember hearing “no” from my parents. They never seemed to bat an eyelash when they said, no, you can’t go out of this house wearing that. No, you can’t ride into town in a car full of teenagers. No, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you’re going to. I never saw one ounce of evidence that saying no might have been difficult for them, or that they had second thoughts. Their no was like the Rock of Gibraltar. The waves of centuries could crash upon it without leaving a trace.

Perhaps that is because they allowed no backtalk. They said no, and that ended it.  But in this age of parenting, we don’t smack kids across the face when they argue with us. We allow them to voice their thoughts and feelings in the process of learning to make decisions for themselves. The discussion can go on for hours, days, or months. I try to listen to each new argument presented, if it is sincere and thoughtful. But these youngsters have more stamina than me. It takes all my energy and will power to stand firm and say no.

Even then it doesn’t end. Often the child loses his or her temper and says mean, spiteful and disrespectful things. Somehow, I have to remain calm and not respond in kind. I have to remember that I’m the adult and try to act like it. I must remain consistent, laying down consequences for bad behavior while not engaging in bad behavior myself.

I’ve heard parenting experts say that our kids want limits. They may not act like it, but inside they’re crying out for limits.  They actually want us to say no.  If this is true, my teens have a bright future on stage. I should be clearing a space on the mantle for the Oscar.

What a parent needs at a time like this is reinforcement. So I picked up the phone and spoke to half a dozen other parents. “Have you said ‘no’ lately?” I asked.

Yes, they had. Here’s a sample:

• “I said, no, you’re not going to a concert on a school night.”
• “I said no to an expensive formal dress for homecoming. I wouldn’t pay even half that price.”
• “I said, no, he couldn’t use the car or hang out with his friends. I grounded him because he had outright defied me.”
• “I said, no, he could not play on the computer because he had not finished his homework.”

Just for old times’ sake, I checked in with a mother whose three boys haven’t hit the teen years yet. Yes, she’s overwhelmed with saying no. “I keep telling my one-year-old, no, you can’t stand on the table. No, you can’t play in the toilet. And my six-year-old, no, we can’t buy a second Halloween costume just because you changed your mind.”

Talking to these other parents encouraged me, and helped me remember why it’s important to keep standing firm. We say no first and foremost to keep our offspring safe. We also hope to teach discipline and responsibility. And we say no because roadblocks, setbacks and closed doors bring opportunities for grace, but it takes practice to see it.

We’ve lived long enough to know life will hand out plenty of no on its own. No, we can’t go on vacation this year; we have to replace the roof.  No, we can’t keep you on, the department is cutting back. No, your condition is not responding to treatment.

God is present to us in the no as surely as in the yes, but it takes experience to recognize it. The central paradox of our faith is that from death comes resurrection, but it’s not easy to learn that our pain can be redeemed. It’s not easy to learn that out of “no” can come the most resounding “yes.” Faith requires a lot of practice.

No, I didn’t know how hard it would be, but my kids are depending on me to say no.

© 2005, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at www.marycronkfarrell.com)


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