Our almost 3-year-old is enjoying staring back at us and firmly saying, “No!” or “No I won’t,” when we tell her to do things like brush her teeth or pick up something she threw across the room. I’m always a little shocked when the words come out of her mouth and she looks at me defiantly, and I always wonder how I’m going to handle it. On the one hand, my own upbringing dictates that I should yell at her, “Don’t you talk back to me, young lady!” and on the other, I have no desire to teach her what I learned, to always outrightly respect adults and never challenge them. I think I was in my last year of high school before I realized adults can sometimes (**er, often**) be wrong.
As I reflected on my own inability to challenge authority, I suddenly realized it was my father who beat it out of us, for lack of a better expression. My brother and I were not allowed to refuse anything. Even today this causes more trouble than we could imagine. My brother, 4 years my senior, is so bad at saying no that he just avoids phone calls from people he doesn’t want to help. I’m so terrible at it that I stayed married to an idiot for far too many years. I can utter the words, “No,” and I have said them to my own father (scares me to think about even now), but usually I follow through by doing the thing I initially refused. Not very effective use of boundaries.
So as I am still learning, at age 37, to say no to colleagues who ask me to do projects that don’t interest me, I do not know at what point I need to tell my own daughter, “No.” Somehow I need to find a balance that I’ve never really seen displayed.