My 6-year-old daughter (whom I shall henceforth lovingly refer to as â€œ#1â€) had recently started prefacing her requests with this gut punch of a phrase: â€œI know youâ€™re probably going to say no… â€ Iâ€™m not sure why it took months for me to really hear it, but one day I was standing in the kitchen, denying her request for gum for the 8 millionth time, when it hit me: I say no to my kids a lot.
Now, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anything wrong with â€œno.â€ In fact, I kinda love it. It sets boundaries, it hopefully empowers them to use the word themselves, and it is a one-syllable answer to their most annoying of questions. But it started to feel like my kids viewed me as the ultimate naysayer, the one thing standing in between them and fun.
And also thereâ€™s this: Iâ€™ve been performing long-form improvisation at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre for 15 years. Iâ€™ve been a member of the house teams, the weekend teams, the Touring Company, an the teaching staff at the school. And the first thing we teach every student to say is this: â€œyes, and,â€ which means that you accept whatever your scene partner says as truth (as opposed to negating it) and build on the information they present. Agreement is at the heart of long-form improv. I love the magic and pure fun that grows from two performers saying yes to each other in a scene. Maybe saying yes could have the same effect with my kids.
So I came up with an experiment: one week of saying yes to anything my kids asked for (within reason). Of course, I established some ground rules that only I knew existed â€“ because I live way too close to Disneyland, and there was no way in hell I was driving from Los Angeles to Anaheim in the middle of this summer heat wave, experiment be damned.
– I can say no – if I want – to repeat requests after the third ask. (This is to save me and my wallet from going out to dinner seven nights in a row, and to prevent them from watching TV for eight hours a day.)
– No crazy trips to faraway places. (No Disneyland, Legoland, or road trips to San Francisco, sorry.)
– No purchases over $20, max weekly purchase limit is $50 (otherwise I will be swimming in fidget spinners).
– Nothing that will hurt us or other people (duh).
– I reserve the right to override any questionable requests but will do my best to say yes to everything.
I sent this list off to my editor on the eve of this groundbreaking experiment and attached a photo of my kids watching television on a weeknight. We try to limit our kidsâ€™ TV time to weekends and mostly save iPads for travel. (Do I have a good reason for this parenting philosophy, other than â€œI read that same article you did that says screens are bad, but itâ€™s nice when my kids watch TV because I get a breakâ€? No. No I do not.)
I was off to a great start! I could do this!
Day 1 – Wednesday
I started my Week of Yes raring to go, but quickly realized that my default habit of saying no was deeply ingrained in my brain. It wasnâ€™t just a reflex, it was an addiction. I wanted to â€œnoâ€ everything in sight. I picked up Kid #1 after camp, and she asked to go to the nearby ice cream truck with a friend. I started to â€œnoâ€ this without thinking – I didnâ€™t feel like sitting in direct sunlight as my kid sugared herself into a frenzy. But then I remembered Iâ€™d agreed to say yes for a week and I acquiesced. Off we went to eat one of those giant frozen ice things with gum balls at the bottom of the paper cone.
After, as we drove away to pick up her 4-year-old sister (#2) at her camp, #1 sweetly thanked me for letting her get ice cream. I was both touched by her sentiment, but also slightly horrified with myself: why am I so quick to deny them stuff as small as an ice cream cone? (Are you wondering how I got away with giving one kid ice cream and not the other? #2 got a popsicle at home.)
They must have sensed something was afoot because the second we walked into our house they asked if they could watch television. â€œYes,â€ I said, and off I went to cook dinner uninterrupted as Strawberry Shortcake yammered about a â€œberry big problemâ€ off in the distance, my kids entranced. But I was able to limit them to two episodes, and they turned the TV off without complaint.
Maybe this was going to be easy?
Day 2 – Thursday
In the morning, as we were getting ready to head out the door, # 1 asked to leave our dog a little bowl of water in her crate. I immediately say no, without thinking, because I was going to be gone for only an hour, we have central air, and we were already five minutes behind schedule. (Please note: often something as simple as filling a bowl with water can be a treacherous exercise when youâ€™re a 6-year-old with still-developing fine motor skills.) But then I remembered the rules, and I changed my answer to yes.
Keep in mind that I was saying no to a thoughtful gesture that helped out an animal. This raised important questions for me: Am I possibly a terrible person? Who am I to deny my kids the chance to help an animal?
After school, they requested more ice cream and television. I talked them into Otter Pops (we have a bunch in the freezer) and let them binge out on Paw Patrol. I once again found myself enjoying how nice it is to get stuff done while theyâ€™re in a TV zombie trance on the couch.
Day 3 – Friday
We dropped #1 off at camp, and then #2 and I drove over to drop the dog off at doggy day care before heading to her camp. While there, she asked for a mint from the little candy jar. Again, this is something I always immediately rebuke with a â€œno,â€ because I worry about them choking and try to keep them from getting too sugar-ed (and cavity-ed) up. But this time I let her grab two. On the drive to camp she asked to roll her window down, another thing Iâ€™m quick to neg because itâ€™s 90 degrees here at all hours of the day and warm summer air is the least refreshing thing imaginable. But I relented, let the hot air in, and cranked up her requested Kidz Bop radio station, a sanitized Justin Bieber song serving as the soundtrack for our drive.
That afternoon I let both of them pound more mints from the doggy day care bowl. On the drive home we passed the soft-serve truck that regularly parks in our neighborhood. Iâ€™ll give you one hint as to what we did after dinner.
Hereâ€™s the punchline to this entire week of my kidsâ€™ delightful ice cream binging: I was in the middle of a Whole30 program – which is one of those poor decisions we make as adults – where I voluntarily chose not to consume sugar, gluten, legumes, dairy, or booze for a month. So that night I had to watch my daughters pound two melting cones of soft serve without even taking a lick.
Day 4 – Saturday
Itâ€™s mid-week, and weâ€™ve settled into a cycle of television and ice cream. This is, apparently, all my kids want in life, and Iâ€™m shocked at how often Iâ€™ve said no to it before.
That morning we dropped by a friendâ€™s yard sale. They begged to buy some of the used toys, and I said yes because I had to, even though they are spoiled and have too many toys already. I now live with a stuffed Kooky Cookie Shopkins pillow and a caterpillar doll that lights up and plays music and is definitely intended for babies. I do not have a baby.
I was also menstruating this week, and like a cliched commercial for Motrin, I was grumpy, bloated, and miserable. They asked to go to the nearby park and ride the merry-go-round and childrenâ€™s train, and since I couldnâ€™t say no, I did the next best thing and handed them off to my husband while I passed out on the couch.
Before bedtime, #2 asked to go to the beach. Soâ€¦
Day 5 – Sunday
We went to the beach!
Now, itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m opposed to beach trips â€“ we live in L.A. and really should try to go more often than we do (which Iâ€™m embarrassed to admit is like twice a year). But this is the kind of request I like to push off a bit, so that we have time to prepare snacks, beach supplies, reschedule our Sunday-morning activities (gymnastics class), and do a little research to find a beach that will have ample parking in the middle of summer. But all my anal retentive desires for planning and control were tossed out the window and off we went.
It turned out to be a stress-free day, and we had fun searching for sea glass and racing with the waves. I said yes to sand-castle-building and thus walked back and forth between the ocean and our sand castle empire to fill our bucket with water approximately 800 times.
We all slept well that night.
Day 6 – Monday
In the morning, after taking #1 to her camp, #2 asked if we could go to a restaurant for dinner. I agreed, and she then asked for me to play with her a bit. We were already late for her camp, and I had a bunch of work due, but there was no â€œnoâ€ allowed. So we sat on the floor and played with her figurines for 10 minutes. We had a blast, and a dark, gnawing voice in my head wondered how many opportunities like this Iâ€™ve passed up because I was in some sort of rush.
When I picked up #1 that afternoon, she asked for ice cream (yes, again), and so we agreed on ice cream at the restaurant with dinner. She slurped down a giant milkshake as she ate, while #2 devoured a sundae after her meal of mac n cheese. They were polite and easy throughout dinner. I wondered to myself: Maybe saying yes to these tiny requests is making them more pleasant to be around?
In the car ride home #2 asked if we could watch TV, and when I said yes, she thanked me for letting them watch so much TV this week. They were on to me!
Day 7 – Tuesday
After picking them up from their respective camps, it became clear both my kids were living their grumpiest lives. And they were not alone – I was tired, easily frustrated, and snapping way more than I normally do. They asked to watch TV (duh). After seven days Iâ€™d become a pro at saying yes, so obviously I give them the go-ahead. But then they bickered the entire ride home, their screams reaching a fever pitch as we walked into the house. I fired up my mom executive privilege and took back their TV rights. My concern for the experiment was that letting them watch so much television would turn them into little A-holes, and this was the first moment that I worried that I might have been right.
And just like that, the experiment was over. When they asked to watch TV on what was technically Day 8, I said yes, but only allowed one episode. I worried that it would confuse them if I quickly resorted back to my no-ish ways. But also thereâ€™s this: I really like being able to cook dinner and clean up and do a little work while they are blissfully silent. Turns out, Iâ€™ve gotten used to life with more yeses in it, too.
In the days since my experiment ended, Iâ€™ve noticed myself saying yes to so many more things. The TV is back on lockdown for the most part, though Iâ€™ve found myself letting them watch it occasionally after school because – letâ€™s be real – I like having the occasional quiet moment to myself. (Does this count as â€œself-care”?) And as for popsicles, gum, and rolled-down windows in the hot summer heat? Sure, why not. Iâ€™ve realized that these things are way less of a big deal than I thought. At no time during my week of yes did my kids ask to do anything extravagant or absurd. It turns out, their wants are not that extreme – they just want to chew whatever gum I have stashed in the cup holder of the car and listen to Kidz Bop instead of NPR. And beyond TV and fun sugary things, their asks revealed a desire to help, play, be seen, be independent, and responsible. Saying yes allowed them to grow into themselves, helped me to lighten up and relax as a parent, and also offered up new opportunities for us to connect, play, and bond. Sure itâ€™s our job as parents to set boundaries, say no and be the â€œbad guy.â€ But saying yes to my kids, and experiencing their exuberance that came along with it, felt really damn good. So pass the popsicles and crank up the Paw Patrol – Iâ€™m saying yes to saying yes. (Just donâ€™t ask me to drive to Disneyland.)