"Let's go! Hurry, hurry!" I often find myself saying this to my toddler as we move from place to place. Along with, "Hold my hand, we're in a parking lot ... That's dangerous, please don't touch ... It's not nice to throw your snack in the car … We don't climb up the slide ... Use your words, not your hands ..." and a plethora of other mom-isms that are now part of my regular vocabulary. But recently, I realized that it doesn't have to always be like that ... and that sometimes, it's better to just say "yes."
Some time ago, my husband and I took our then-20-month old to see her first movie. Captivated, she sat through the hour-and-a-half flick without budging. Once the credits rolled, I didn't blame her for wanting to stretch her little legs and run around. The empty theater lobby made for the perfect playground, and she was having a blast.
When my husband began to rally her for lunch after her first lap near the vacant ticket line, I realized we didn't have anywhere to be, and suggested we give her a few more minutes to explore. It did wonders. A switch clicked in my mind that maybe we were onto something.
So at the restaurant, when my daughter mainly wanted to eat her fries -- and even then, mostly using them as a ketchup delivery device -- we didn't force the issue. We let her enjoy, knowing she would probably still get into college one day if she passed up the other nutrient-rich options on her plate that afternoon. It took the stress off us so we could relish in being together as a family, rather than getting caught up in what she "should" be eating.
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After lunch, we walked to our car to get her home for nap time. Even my husband and I were ready for a rest. But our daughter clearly had other ideas in mind. So the three of us strolled hand-in-hand just a bit longer, as our little love skipped with delight in the fresh air, pointed out sights along the way, and ultimately tired herself out.
I decided to call it having a "Yes" day.
We tried this concept again at the children's museum the next week. When our daughter sat on the wooden bus for over 20 minutes, clicking the seat belt, honking the horn, and swishing the wipers back and forth, we embraced it. After all, we were at that place for her. The other areas and exhibits could wait.
We didn't coax her away so we could get a change of scenery for ourselves. Instead, we watched her play. We observed the curiosity in her eyes as she realized the cause and effect of her actions; rolling the window cranks rotated a tarp of various scenes back and forth to mimic her driving by. We were intrigued by her sheer contentment and wonder. We joined in when she tapped the spot next to her and requested, "Mommy, Daddy, sit here."
As parents, we found it refreshing to forgo our initial instincts to map out her visit, ensuring we covered every corner of the place in order to have a "successful" outing. Instead, we traded in our agenda to let our daughter dictate what the definition of a memorable experience meant to her.
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Obviously, children need rules and boundaries. It's how we show love as parents; how we keep our babies secure and, frankly, help them not to become menaces to society. But even as adults, we all know how good it feels to break some of those rules -- or at least loosen the reins.
It's very natural for my husband and me to take control. That's the role we were given as "mom and dad." But it's amazing what happens when we give our kids the opportunity to make choices, use their imagination, and communicate what makes them happy. I'm pretty certain rushing to the grocery store is not on that list.
Such a large part of our days are spent exhausting various intonations for the word "no." ("No don't ... push that, move that, throw that, climb that, eat that, break that, put stickers on the dog, unroll the toilet paper!") They get tired of hearing it as much as we get tired of saying it. Pair that frustration with jam-packed weeks of running off to activities and appointments, and we are all bound to feel a little burnt out.
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I'm not talking about safety. This isn't a plea to uncover the electrical outlets and leave scissors unattended. I'm not even talking about letting our kids color on the walls. I'm talking about five more minutes on the playground. A second cookie when they usually have just one. Another story at bedtime. When you can.
I'm talking about being a little less rushed, having a little less of a schedule, and having a little more fun. So on days when those moments present themselves (spontaneous trip to the zoo, anyone?), or when you don't have to be at a time-sensitive class, birthday party, or family event, when the chores and errands can wait, and you can let your child lead the way: Do it. You'll both be so happy you said "yes."