A Yes Parent picks her battles, so everyone wins
This article was revised on 18/8/2021
by Maria Karachaliou, Founder of Momizen and mom of 3
The inspiration for this story is the movie Yes Day, that I stumbled upon on Netflix kids. My 3 kids and I took the bait and pressed play. To be honest what struck me about the film was the title. When my kids were toddlers I remember being a yes mom every single day. Warning to the reader: If the following story was part of a movie it would Do not try this at home all over it. Each family works differently and what works for mine might not work in yours.
There are 3 questions that I consider each time I say ‘Yes’ to my kids:
- Do I have time to commit to this ‘yes’ moment?
- Am I prepared for the worst-case scenario?
- Can I give up some control?
While my children were toddlers the no’s were seldom but consistent. I avoided to decline requests that I would eventually give-in to, because I could not afford to lose my credibility to toddlers. I picked my battles and gave an affirmative eye signal to almost everything that was not life-threatening.
With 3 children under 3 years old I simply did not have time to keep my eyes on all three all the time. Nevertheless, I wanted my kids to have fun while building self-confidence, and I still do. So, I decided to invest time in developing their personal risk assessment skills as early as possible, hopefully it would also pay off in the future when I’m not around.
Within controlled environments I offered my children a perceived sense of freedom to experiment with their boundaries. They roamed freely inside and outside of the house and I took the opportunity to point out what burns, cuts, stings and hurts when they showed interest. If they wanted to try for themselves I would let them. At this age nothing beats the traditional trial and error.
Concerning all life threatening ideas, I would explain exactly that, that the next step would mean immediate death, the end, and however that would manifest for a 3-year-old. During the summers I let them stand by the sea shore while I observed how far they were willing to go alone before I held their hand, then we would walk as deep as they liked together. When around swimming pools they were told about basic ground rules such as no pushing, no running, no throwing towels in the water (apparently this is so much fun). I was always less than arms-length ready to pull them out if they fell in. They eventually learned to be semi-reliable around swimming pools and quickly learned to swim.
When visiting a new place with kids I go by the moto hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Preparation is key. And I don’t mean just having the right clothes, diapers, tissues or snacks. I mean, knowing where is the closest bathroom, how far the nearest medical center is, and always having an exit strategy in case of emergency. While I appear tranquil and calm on the outside, I am always building nightmare scenarios in my head of potential accidents each time I say YES to my kids, its my job to be prepared.
As a family we sail, and for the sake of our family's harmony our kids had to grow comfortable on a boat. All kids are naturally inclined towards the sea and water. It is the origin of life after all.
Sometimes though children may become fearful of the sea and the deep for many reasons. The deep can be mysterious and scary for everyone after all. How we respond to nature as adults reflects on our kids, and if adults are exhibit their fear, then the kids that identify with them will become anxious also. It is a fact that on the mountains and at sea anything can go wrong, potential dangers are infinite and out our control, so to be scared at sea when kids are around is absolutely reasonable.
In our case we were careful in the first introduction to the water, and prepared the sail boat accordingly by placing a safety net around the railings. While they were babies in life vests, they crawled and climb around when we were moored. Later when they became toddlers, we timed our sailing trips around good weather and short distances. We never took our kids out with wind above 20 knots and always with clear skies. We made it intentional to sail for no more than 2-3 hours at a time, and always promised great surprise when we arrived, like ice-cream or a sandy beach.
When our kids could be independent around the boat we set just 2 ground rules. Rule no. 1 is In high winds kids stay in the cockpit, and rule no. 2 In high winds they must wear life-vest all the time. Once they agreed, the boat became their playground. The ropes, shafts, steps were all climbing equipment for them to explore. They test their own boundaries grow cautious of falling over without us instilling that fear. Anything can still go south when at sea and I remain vigilant and alert when on the water with kids. But I try not to let that fear or anxiety ruin the connection with nature and the beauty of the sea. I have contingency plans at every step, as the mind never really rests.
Along with preparation, it helps to offer time for observing your kids as they assess a risky situation on their own. If given the opportunity, explain the consequences, so they can experiment again. But there is something else. What I found pivotal in allowing my kids to assess risk on their own was to relinquish my desire to control every moment. It is certainly not easy to hide your fear of how many things can go wrong, but I tried to give kids the benefit of the doubt in controlled environments ...and when I knew exactly where the medical center was. I was lucky to have time to be at arms distance from my kids throughout their development with laser focus, yet I never encouraged anyone else to be as nonchalant as I may have appeared, when I wasn’t there. These are tasks that parents cannot outsource with certainty.
As my kids shift from one age-group to the next it is becoming more difficult to say YES as much as I used to because the requests that come in have high stakes. The risks now are often 100% outside my control because I am no longer at arm’s length from them, nor can calculate the time to the nearest medical center, as they walk home from school, go to a friend’s house or travel with a team, for example.
It’s a new reality, and I hope the initial investment pays off…
How do you feel about the level control you have in your children’s lives?
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Signing up your kids for extracurriculars is an investment.
It does not mean more free time for you.
by Maria Karachaliou, Founder of Momizen and mom of 3
I am a mom of three small kids and love to have fun with them. I also believe that connecting kids with creative and educational activities and sports, as early as possible in their formative years, helps them to discover what stimulates them, to learn to set goals, and eventually build confidence to be open to new experiences in the future. As a parent what matters to me is that they can make educated choices about themselves and what makes them happy, in the future, with and without me.
While I too need time for self-development as an individual, a parent, a wife, a friend, a business owner, and a member of my community, the last 7 years (since I gave birth for the first time) I have been hardwired to help my kids learn to navigate in a fast paced world a few years down the road with confidence and purpose.For this I believe they need to be exposed to the world outside our immediate environment, through traveling, new experiences and meeting people from different backgrounds. On a daily basis, there are things that I can support them with but my husband and I can only fill the cup of experiences that their young minds can enjoy only so much. This is why we happily stand back when they need to be guided by an expert and prompt them in the right direction when they need us.
As soon as my children turned 4, 5 and 6 years old...