Why I’m Thrilled My Kids Answer Back


There is a small part of me – okay, maybe a large part – that would love to live in a harmonious household, where children do as I ask with a massive smile on their face and a skip in their step. They appreciate that we’re all part of one happy family that needs to work together, and that they need to make sacrifices for the good of the family unit – and that everything I do as a parent is because I love them and want them to be happy.

But I live in reality. And in my reality, there are three kids with fresh mouths who tell me when they don’t like something. Who say “no” when they object. Who tell me why they think I’m wrong.

And I have to admit this thrills me more than it frustrates me. Sure, there is a part of me that stings when my kids are defiant. I want respect. I want control. And I want them to think I’m wise and awesome.

But something more important than my ego and the peace of my household is at stake here.

When I was a kid, I was taught to respect my elders; to do as I was told and to do it without question. That was just the way of things. My mother was brought up in a world where children were seen and not heard, so the relative freedom I had was probably a great leap forward for them

But what that approach failed to teach me was how to set my own personal boundaries. And so I grew up doing pretty much what everyone around me told me to do. I had boyfriends that bullied me. I had bosses who took advantage of me. I had friends who always got their own way.

And then, when I got sick of being treated badly, I would just end it. The romance, the job, the friendship – all over. Because I didn’t know how to have a difficult conversation where I assert myself and explain what I need and why.

It took me many more years than I’d like to admit before I became able to stand up for myself in all of my relationships. And that’s an experience I’d like to spare my children.

Psychologist Kelly M Flanagan wrote in the Huffington Post, “When we can’t say ‘No’ we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die.

“We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts.”

Of course, teaching our children to share their views respectfully is important, to ensure they don’t overpower others. But I’m glad my kids won’t face the same challenges as me when they’re trying to figure out their place in the world.

And being practised at standing up for themselves and saying “no” is a useful skill as they enter their teen years, when the pressure to say “yes” to everything is enormous. Having the strength of character to be who you are is something we should celebrate, encourage and harness to ensure our kids become emotionally healthy adults.



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