Why do people have such a hard time saying no? Do you?
Have you ever met a person who had difficulty saying no- to friends, to significant others, to bosses? Or worse, have you seen parents who have trouble saying “no” to their kids? If you’re a therapist or otherwise work with families, you may suspect that parents who fail to say “no” represent a disproportionate percentage of those in family counseling. Saying “no” is vital to raising well-adjusted kids, but for some parents, it seems impossible.
Parents acquiesce to their kids. It appears as if the parents feel “forced” to comply with demanding kids. But then won’t those kids grow up to become demanding adults? And how will parents change the rules when those kids are adults? Will parents be held hostage to demands with no end? Will parents resort to cutting off communication entirely because they were unable to say, “No!”?
How can someone believe that their child, or even adult child, “makes” them do something, like give money they don’t really want to give, because the child would have thrown a tantrum if they had said no?
The parents who struggle to say no to their kids have kids who struggle later on. Jack comes to mind. He is a graduate of a prestigious design program, but he doesn’t have a job. It’s been over a year since graduation, and he is dragging his feet about finding a professional job. He works in a restaurant, the same job he had during school, but he cannot afford his apartment without his parents help. So month after month, they send him money. And month after month, they threaten to cut off the funds. They tell him he needs to update his resume and send it out so he can find himself a proper job. Jack is a kind-hearted young man; he probably feels guilty for requiring assistance. But finding a job is overwhelming and keeping to the status quo with his parents is easy.
Jack’s parents say, “Well, what choice do we have? He doesn’t have a job!” They feel trapped, unable to change things.
Maybe people like Jack’s parents equate saying no with blurting out every frustration or resentment they have ever had against their loved one. Maybe they haven’t learned to say, “I love you too much to agree to something that could mess up our relationship, or your future.”
As parents, I think we should all rehearse that line. “I love you too much to agree to something that could mess up our relationship.” Or “I love you too much to be a crutch and allow you to avoid facing your problems.” Or “I love you too much to interfere with normal life lessons.” Or “I love you too much to pretend this is okay.”
Because in the end, we do love them too much to be part of their problems, right? And isn’t loving them, and demonstrating it through action, our job description as a mom or dad?