Yes When You Can, No When You Must

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I know those of you in some online groups with me have seen me quote this before as we discuss parenting issues. This is one of my favorite quotes, and one I must chant to myself over and over. I have been planning on posting about it for well over a year…

The problem? I cannot for the life of me find the reference to this quote. I am 90% positive I heard it quoted by one of the leaders of the LDS church, but I have scanned my manuals and done Internet searches and have come up with nothing. So please forgive me for not knowing…but maybe someone out there knows? Remember when I couldn’t remember that story about the starfish and thought it was clams? Maybe someone can help me out here.

Even if I can’t give credit to the originator of this quote (I want to say it was Gordon B. Hinckley), it is still a great quote.

My husband and I often find ourselves saying no just because. Just because it is inconvenient. Just because we don’t feel like dealing with it. Just because it doesn’t seem like the socially correct thing to be doing. Just because…whatever. We tell each other this quote often to remind each other that we need to say yes more.

I think this is a common tendency for parents. I remember my mom doing it often. It gets easy to say no and forget the why behind what you are doing.

Last week, we celebrated my birthday with my family. While there, I was struck with three different examples that reminded me that I was getting a little to serious and a little too “no” happy. The first was in the decorating of the cake. Now, I let the kids help decorate cakes sometimes–you know, the parts they can’t possibly ruin. I also let them frost cupcakes. But I have never let them frost THE cake. My mom handed Brayden and Kaitlyn each a knife and let them go at it. As they spread frosting, they pulled the top of the cake up as you might imagine. I know had I been in charge, I would have stopped them at that moment and done the rest myself. My mom let them continue on for as long as they wanted. Then she smoothed it all out after they were done and you never would have known two little ones had a hand in it. And guess what? The cake tasted just the same as it would have if it was perfect. Lesson number one.

Lesson number two came when the candles were all lit. We were waiting for a couple of grandpas to come back in so we could sing. We waited for several minutes and those candles were getting small. Suddenly, Brayden walked up and blew the candles out. My husband and I both immediately said, “Brayden!” and my husband asked him what he was doing. Brayden felt bad and started to cry. We told him it was okay. The next day, my husband and I discussed the situation and both agreed we had reacted poorly. Yes, on a level I see why I didn’t think what he did was okay. If we had been at another child’s birthday party instead of mine, the child would have been sad to have had his candles blown out for him. But the good news is candles are re-lightable. No biggie. We can talk to him later about appropriate candle behavior. And maybe he was blowing them out because they were almost gone?

Lesson three was the one that tipped me off the most on me not saying yes when I can. Brayden was the first to get a piece of cake, and apparently he wanted one from the very middle of the cake. So my mom cut a random square in the middle of the cake and gave it to him. If it had been me, I would have told him he could either have one from the side or wait until I got to the middle. But after a moment of thinking about it, I thought, who cares? What does it matter? Unconventional? Yes, at least in my linear mind :). But did it bother anyone? Not at all.

There will be many times your child will ask to do strange and random things. Say yes when you can and no when you must. Don’t say no when yes will do. Saying yes isn’t always convenient, but when I am striving to really follow this counsel, I find that my kids are much more accepting of no when it comes.

Now, I am not suggesting you let the child run the house. I don’t find that my children ask for outrageous things, and they definitely ask for things I must say no to (like when Kaitlyn wants as cookie for breakfast). And sometimes they ask for things I am okay with but now isn’t the time. I tell them yes, but it will happen later.

This idea of saying yes when you can and no when you must brings to the forefront the importance of having goals and understanding why vs. how. Understand what you are trying to accomplish with your child. How will the request impact your goals?

Also, you can tell your child you need to think about it for a minute. Say, “Let me think about that” and analyze the situation. Think…do I need to say no? Or can I say yes? It is okay to say no when you need to, but equally okay to say yes when you can.

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Jessica
    September 28, 2010 / 4:51 PM

    Amen, Amen, and Amen!It seems The Lord is trying to teach you and I a similar lesson at the same time. ;)Avery is becoming VERY independent and wanting to do things herself. Her favorite sentence right now is "Let me do it myself!" From getting in and out of the car, to screwing the lid on the orange juice, feeding the dog, letting the dog outside to potty (for which she must ask permission), and on to helping me with laundry.I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Who would have imagined?! I really have to take a time-out, re-evaluate the situation, and let my daughter help. Things may not get done as fast, or as neatly, as they would have it I had done them, but…what does that matter?! I have to remind myself that it means the world to Avery to be able to help Mommy (and Daddy), it also teaches her how to take care of things, and be responsible.I really have to watch myself here, because I can really get my panties in a bunch…LOL!

  2. Jessica
    September 28, 2010 / 4:53 PM

    Oh, as for the phrase, it seems familiar to me as well. Actually, more the "lesson" of the phrase than the actual verbatim phrase. My initial thought was one of the -wise books.

  3. A Little R&R
    September 28, 2010 / 5:18 PM

    Excellent article. I shared this on Facebook.

  4. Heather and TJ Bruce
    September 28, 2010 / 5:25 PM

    You always seem to post tid bits of advice right when I need them. I am totally a perfectionist and want to do everything myself so that it is done right and my way. Having an almost one year old around changes that and its ok if its not all perfect or the way I'd do it. You make me realize to step back and enjoy the moments of parenting all while letting me know I am not alone in the way I feel sometimes. Thank you!

  5. Mollie Energy
    September 28, 2010 / 5:49 PM

    I agree with everyone – thanks for this post! Everyone, even kids, should get their little quirks accomodated from time to time!

  6. tracylynne
    September 28, 2010 / 6:36 PM

    Love this post, I have been struggling with my 15 month old who seems to get into everything and I have been saying "no" alot. It really bothers me, I hate for him to get hurt-but then I want him to learn at the same time…

  7. Caroline
    September 28, 2010 / 7:01 PM

    Thanks for posting this! It helps to be reminded to keep things in perspective!

  8. Alex
    September 28, 2010 / 8:01 PM

    i hope i can remember this by the time my little guy is a pretoddler/toddler! he is almost 4 months old, but i have already thought about this concept a lot as i watch others parent. thanks for the reminder. i also remember hearing it in conference, but there were so many great talks last time about parenting that i have no idea who said this.

  9. grace
    September 29, 2010 / 2:03 AM

    to be honest, i would have done exactly the same thing as Val. i feel that grandparents are there to 'spoil' the kids and let them have a little fun but not the parents.i do live by this motto coz i feel that it's good to say 'yes' when i can. i would cut the center of the cake for my kid unless it's her birthday and it's a treat 🙂 lol….

  10. Redheads
    October 1, 2010 / 1:26 AM

    I struggle with being a bit too permissive, so this post actually helped me to cut myself some slack and to stop feeling guilty about letting my child do somethings that aren't exactly "neat" and "orderly". For instance, playing in the mud puddles after it hasn't rained in MONTHS! What is the big deal anyway? Let the kids be kids. Obviously, I say No to many things, but I also feel and notice that I allow my DD to do things that many moms are saying "no" to. So, then I start feeling guilty. Anyway, it is all about balance I suppose!

  11. heidi
    October 1, 2010 / 5:04 AM

    I LOVE THIS!! Thank you!

  12. Plowmanators
    October 14, 2010 / 8:07 PM

    You are welcome everyone!And thanks for the comments. I have enjoyed reading them.

  13. Plowmanators
    October 14, 2010 / 8:09 PM

    Don't feel guilty Amy! I think that is a great gift to be able to do that.

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