I believe in the power of no – the no’s that were spoken in my life and those that should have been spoken, but were not.
My mother tells a story of a time when, as a child, I made a request and as mothers often do, she told me no. As she tells it, my response to her was – hands on hips, foot tapping, eyes rolling – “well I am just going to stand here and bug you until you let me”. And do you know what she did? She let me. And my father let me. And so it went until there were few solid boundaries in my life to keep me in… or to keep others out. Their inability to resist indulging my whims and desires was a response to the abuse of the power of no by their own parents. So, I was not taught that I could say when someone tried to touch me. I was not taught that I could say no to those who wanted to distract me in school. I did not believe that those who said no to me had the power to influence my actions.
As I got older, the unspoken no’s in my life created uncertainty and confusion. While my peers were dealing with the ebbing and flowing tide of adolescence, the waves of my life seemed like consecutive tsunami’s crashing down on me. I struggled to breathe – to find a voice. To find the power to say no.
In the midst of the worst of it all, I found myself a teen mother of one with another on the way. My inability, till that point, to say no kept me in an abusive relationship with their father that nearly cost me and my unborn daughter our lives. I had never worried over the black eyes and busted lips that I sustained. But, when their father showed that he was capable of snatching his daughter’s life before it had even been born into this world, I find the voice to say NO with power. Not on my behalf, but hers.
During the frequent moments of reflection after that day, I began to see what power no – spoken or unspoken – would have in the lives of my children. I found within me, a lifetime of power pent up like flood waters behind a dam – the no’s began rolling off my tongue.
I have worked hard to educate my children about the power of no. I have taught them to respect when I say no – and know that I say it out of love. I have taught them to use no to keep themselves safe – to say it with conviction. I have taught them to understand and respect the no’s of others. I have taught them that the no’s of doubt spoken to them by others should motivate them to learn, to grow, to strive to become the best that they can be.
Setting boundaries around my life and time is much easier these days. After more than 16 years of practice (and two more kids to practice on) I have become a near expert on the use of no. I use it to instruct, set limits, motivate or eliminate. I hear and respect when others say no. On occasion, I have used a no when a yes would do – just for practice. There is still work to be done, however. As my husband would gladly point out, I have yet to master the cute handbag no, the new pair of shoes no, or the ever elusive latest tech gadget no. What can I say, no ones perfect.
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