Hearing no.

How do you react when your child ( adolescent ) says NO! My daughter doesn't do this very often, but once in a while she surprised me . What a unschooling's mom does in this situation?

One of the greatest things about unschooling is that in many ways it's about empowering our kids to say no – to know their own needs and boundaries and communicate them rather than putting them on hold until they're grown. So hurray! You have a teen who can say no! Well done mama!

Probably doesn't always feel like a big success, though, right?

I find it helps me to dig down into the reasons why I don't want my kids to tell me no... and a lot of those reasons are really about my own childhood. Most of us grew up in families where adults got to say no to kids, but not the other way around, so it feels “unnatural” to flip that on it's head. And in many ways it is unnatural – unschooling isn't necessarily a “back to nature” philosophy, it's one that's all about living in the modern world. And in the modern world, people's boundaries matter a lot. Consent matters a lot. Kids learn that by having their boundaries and consent respected. In a very real way, they learn that by “getting” to say no. But when we didn't grow up with that kind of respect, it can feel like we've “missed our turn”.

Another reason I find I'm uncomfortable hearing “no” is that I think rather highly of myself and I want my kids to have the benefit of my knowledge and experience. Being people, they don't necessarily want that, they want their own experience, their own process. They want to discover, not to have “wisdom” handed down to them from on high (or in my case, several inches shorter than my 14yo). Being faced with all that darned independence and determination hurts my feelings sometimes. Some of my ego, as a mom, is tied up in wanting my kids to listen and learn from me.

And then there are the times when my kids say “no” and I realize that I wasn't really asking. I have some kind of expectation, and rather than communicating that directly and honestly, I “ask” in that way that means “I have the power here, and I'm being nice by pretending to give you a choice.” That's probably the most humiliating reason, to me, because I don't like to think of myself as that kind of person. I want to believe I'm a nice guy, not someone who makes sneaky, manipulative power plays. And naturally when I don't live up to my own good image, I want to snap and snarl and not take no for an answer.

It helps me to acknowledge all those feelings so I can get over them. I want to get over them. I want to be proud of their independence and determination and stand beside them as a friend, not a manager. And part of that involves learning to respect their boundaries with grace and dignity.

If your kid is saying no to you, respect her boundaries. Think about what you're really asking and why. Maybe there's something you need to talk about. Maybe there's something you need to hear from her. That's hard. No-one really likes to be told no. But being able to say it is one of the most powerful gifts we can give our children. Darnit.

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