Once, when I was in a clinical supervision meeting with a bunch of other mental health professionals with whom I worked, I rolled them in the aisles with a joke I made about a theoretical support group for adults with social skills deficits. The joke wasn't about having a support group, because, there's no joke there. Living as an adult with issues that affect your ability to make or sustain relationships is trying and difficult and there are lots of things for these folks to overcome. In case you don't have a lot of first-hand experience, here's a little, tiny bit of background (so you can understand my joke, yo.)
Children and adults who have difficulty with social skills are often "their own worst enemies," when it comes to the finer points of dealing with others. They are frequently ridgid thinkers, often inflexible and have difficulty changing their minds enough to make (sometimes even basic) compromise possible. So, it can be challenging for them to establish and maintain intimate relationships as they get older. Successful, fully functioning adults often enter therapy for something unrelated, and find themselves diagnosed with these deficts, which then explains lots of things about their pasts.
So, (yep. That was all background for one joke. I'm baaaAAAAaaaaack.) SOOO one of the psychologists said, only half in jest, "You know, we should start a dating service."
And my joke was that I thought we should also get them t-shirts made, emblazoned with the big, bold, logo:
JUST SAY YES.
A while back, Liz from Mom-101, wrote a post about an unironic argument about lollipops. (LONG LIVE THE INTERNET!!) The post itself was fun and funny. But, as is the way of Liz's posts, it also percolated in me and made me think. This time, it was a kind of passing comment she made in the post which, in part, shaped the direction of the conversation in the comments. As I read through the comments, I found a community of parents who said that they often default to "No." I do it, too. And as parents, there are lots of reasons for it. Some nos are necessary, having to do with safety, security or punctuality. If I'm being completely honest, though, a lot of the nos I have for my children could be yeses, if only.
I could get the living room picked up first.
I hadn't just picked up the living room.
They weren't already dressed in regular clothes.
I wasn't in the middle of making breakfast/lunch/dinner.
It wasn't so cold/warm/wet/sunny outside.
I didn't want to look at my twitter feed/facebook/email on my phone.
It wasn't so messy.
It wasn't so early/late.
They could ask without whining.
I would just slow down and let them 'help' me.
These aren't earthshattering news flashes. It's not an alien concept, I know, you can most likely relate. I'm trying not to judge myself harshly. I don't find guilt ("mommy-type" or otherwise) to be very productive. But when I examine the whens and whys of my nos, the common theme generally boils down to one thing:
My own anxiety.
So, it's not a social skill deficit, but my own anxiety that makes me rigid, inflexible and unable to change my mind. Anxiety makes me say no without really considering.
After all, I have a lot to do. All parents do. It doesn't matter if you are a mom or dad, or if you work from home, outside the home, stay at home, whatever. Taking care of other human beings is a lot of work. So, when I'm making breakfast and trying to unload the dishwasher and make my tea (FFS,) and get the snack for my daughter's backpack and get people's clothes on and their teeth brushed, all to the tune of the two kids whining and bickering in the other room, when my son rockets into the kitchen and head-butts me in the hip, while sucking his thumb and holding his wubby, and mumbles, "Hode me, Mommy," it's all I can do not to push him down and step over him to get to the refrigerator. So anxious am I to get us all out the door on time, to hit my caffeine quota, to put just onnnnne more load of laundry in the washer. As it is, I offer a sympathetic, "I can't, right now, baby, I'm _________," as I twist by, sidestepping him, continuing on to the next item on my to-do list.
Think about that for a couple seconds.
When I think about it, what I'm left with is this: I'm so busy and anxious about the job of taking care of them that I'm missing opportunities to actually care for them. To show them love and care and comfort. To stop my spinning and doing and fixing and making and picking up toys and clothes long enough to pick up an actual, real life child who is asking me to. To show them what is really true, they are more important than the laundry, than the dishes in the dishwasher, than even my tea.
These days of chocolate-smeared hands gripping clean pants are fleeting. Of course we all know this to our bones but it's so easily forgotten in the crush of chores to be done. There will come a day, too soon, where there will be no more requests to be held. Laundry, on the other hand? Not so fleeting. This is my kids' childhood. It's happening right this very second. They only get one and it's now and the clock is ticking.
And so, this is what I'm doing.
Every time I want to say no, I'm going to pause, take a deep breath, count to five and then answer. I'm going to try to say more yeses. Sometimes, of course, there will be nos. I'm not talking about letting my kids run naked outside. I'm not swapping out my brain for another brain. But, really. The laundry isn't going anywhere, while the child is slowly receding from my kids, a little bit each day. Soon there will be none left.
(So, I'm also going to, without fail, pick up a child who asks.)
In an instant, this time is going to live only in memories and, well, most of the great memories come from the times we say yes. The times when we're brave enough, flexible enough and compromising enough to say yes. Yes to the mess, yes to the ice cream before dinner, yes to the "help" offered with the baking, yes to the playing in the rain, yes to painting on the driveway and yes to after-lunch autumn leaf collecting.
What I don't want to have to remember is loads of moments like this:
Nimbly sidestepping an affection-seeking boy because I needed to get to the fridge to fill his water bottle.