Even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as strict parents should stop and think about just how often our kids hear us say the word “No.” As in, “No, stop that.” “No, you can’t go out tonight.” “No, get off of there.” “No, we have to go home.” “No, I’m not buying you that.” “No, that’s not how you do that.”
It’s not that we’re demanding, it’s just that we care. And they do a lot of things wrong (and want to do a lot of wrong things) so we have to say “No.” A lot. This might keep them safe, but the downside is that from the perspective of a 2 year old or a 20 year old, means that basically all they hear their dad say is no. No, no, no, no. And then we wonder why they don’t like spending time with us, or why they don’t listen. Would you want to hang out with all that negativity? Would you listen to someone who seemed so controlling? Might you actually relish doing the opposite of what they wanted when you did have a choice?
Harry Truman, father of a daughter, Margaret, had a clever quip about this. “I have found the best way to give advice to your children,” he said, “is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” His point is that nobody likes to be told what to do, and so if you really want your kids to listen to you, you have to figure out a way to talk to them so it doesn’t seem like that’s what you’re doing. Your job isn’t to make them do all the things you want to do, it’s to help them do the things they want to do (safely and within reason of course).
It’s their life, after all. And if you want to be in it, make sure you’re not constantly saying no. That you aren’t constantly stopping them from trying things or learning on their own. Learn how to say yes. Learn how to advise them on what they are going to do anyway—so that if you can’t stop it, you can at least prepare them. Be someone who helps, not the kind of dad that only gets in the way.