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Dear Exhausted Mom, Here’s Why You Might Say “Yes” When Your Child Begs You to Play

exhausted mom

As a parent, you probably know something about the relentless requests of children. For a host of reasons, often these requests get especially aimed at moms. Get around a group of women, and chances are you’ll find at least one exhausted mom in the group. Parents can become absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions, needs, and requests per day.

And, as exhausted moms, we say “no” a lot.

Mom, will you play with me, PLEEEEEASE?
Sorry, I need to make dinner.

Mom, can you drive me to school?         
Sorry, I’m really busy today.

Mom, can you get me the scissors?
Why can’t you get them? You know where they are.

Mom, can you help me clean my room?
You know that’s your responsibility. I know you can do it.

Mom, can you lay with me in bed until I fall asleep?
Oh, honey, I’d love to but I really need to get the kitchen cleaned.

As an exhausted mom, you probably can’t even count the number of times you implicitly or explicitly say “no,” to your children every day.

It is so easy to default to “no” – especially when you are an exhausted mom.

What saying, “yes” does for a child

In the fall of 2015, I attended a conference for parents of adopted or foster children given by the fine people at Empowered To Connect. I was deeply convicted when I heard this fact: During a baby’s first year of life, they hear “yes” 100,000 times. 

  • “Yes, I will feed you.” 
  • “Yes, I will hold you.” 
  • “Yes, I will change your diaper.” 
  • “Yes, I will care for you.” 

They cry, and a parent or caregiver responds by meeting their need. Yes, yes, yes.

This response by a warm and nurturing adult lets the child know that they are heard, seen, valued, loved. And, most importantly, that they have a voice — that they can affect their own circumstances. This belief that we can succeed or reach goals through our own effort is known in psychology as self-efficacy, and it’s vital for kids’ development.

That conference changed everything for me

I attended the conference because my family was formed through adoption from Ethiopia. My children (now 15 and 16) didn’t have the constant and reassuring, “Yes” from me when they were infants. Even though I academically knew about therapeutic-parenting, reality was much different. I found myself saying “no” a lot more frequently than looking for a “yes.” 

It is so easy to default to a, “no” – especially when you are an exhausted mom.

It was at that conference that I committed to try to look for the “yes” whenever possible,  especially when I knew the “yes” could foster connection. 

Does the request foster connection? Then find the “yes!”

This concept clearly applies to adoptive and foster families but it is easily transferable to all families.

In this rushed and crazy world, it’s easy to automatically say, “no” to kids’ requests. Instead, make an effort to say “yes” more often, and maximize the connection when you do! 

For instance, when my now 15-year-old daughter was much younger, she loved it when I painted her nails. However, I don’t love painting nails – not mine, not hers. When she would ask, I immediately felt my dislike of the task and I would say, “Umm, you know I need to fold this basket of laundry first, and then if we have time I’ll paint your nails” hoping she would forget or move on to other things.

What if, instead, I maximized the potential to connect with her? 

What if I enthusiastically said, “Yes! Let’s paint your nails and then you can sit and keep me company while your nails dry and I fold this basket of laundry.”

She will have felt heard and loved. And we’ll have had a connective moment.

Now, when my kids ask me a question I quickly think, “Will this build our relationship? Will it draw us closer? Will it make my child feel heard and loved?” If it will, then I give a joyful and enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Finding the “yes” in our answer

Mom, will you play with me, PLEEEEEASE?
I’d love to! Let’s put the timer on for __ minutes for play. Then, can you tell me a story while I make dinner?

Mom, can you drive me to school?
Sure! You unload the dishes while I get ready. Then, on the drive to school, tell me about what you are most excited or nervous about. 

Mom, can you get me the scissors?
After handing over the scissors, take a look at the art project and rub your child’s back for a few moments, establishing a warm connection.

Mom, can you help me clean my room?
Yes! Let’s put the timer on for __ minutes, listen to some fun music, and see how much we can get done! 

Mom, can you lay with me in bed until I fall asleep?
I’d love to lay with you in bed. I have ____ minutes until I need to get the kitchen cleaned and get ready for tomorrow. I’ll rub your feet while you start to fall asleep. 

You can see I like timers! Anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes throughout the day of saying, “Yes”, lets children know that they have a voice and their voice matters! 

Want to learn to maximize connection with your child at bedtime in a way that eases their transition to peaceful sleep? Check out our FREE ebook, Transform Bedtime Struggles Into Nighttime Snuggles.

When and how to say, “no”

You’ll notice all the examples have been centered around time and connection. I will look for the, “yes” if it strengthens our relationship. But there are certainly times to say “no” – especially as kids become teenagers. And the way the “no” is said matters.

Mom, can you buy me this new ______?
That’s really interesting! Tell me what you like about it. Let’s add it to your Christmas/Birthday wish list and we can talk about it more later.

Mom, can I go to ____ concert?
I’d love to hear what you like about that music. Let’s listen to a few songs together and we can talk about it. 

Mom, can you pay for my overdue library fines?
Bummer! That’s happened to me before too! You can pay for your book fines with your own money. Or you can help me with some extra chores around the house and I’ll pay. What would you like to do? 

Amy Monroe, from Empowered to Connect, wrote that each “yes” is like a coin in the bank. So when you need to make a “no” withdrawal there is still plenty of trust built up. This makes it easier for kids to hear and accept the inevitable “no.” 

All the connective “yeses” that children hear will act as a buffer around their hearts when the inevitable “no” is necessary. 

But most importantly, your joyful yeses make sure your children know that you love and enjoy them, even though you can’t say yes all the time.

This principle really does mirror how our heavenly Father relates to us. In 2 Corinthians 1:20, the apostle Paul jubilantly proclaimed, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” Yet eleven chapters later, Paul described how he asked God three times for something. God answered “No” but assured Paul that his grace would be all-sufficient; and Paul rejoiced in that answer. Might it have been that his confidence in the many big “Yeses” we receive in Christ, brought contentment when the answer to a specific request was “No?” 

Look for opportunities to connect 

Has your son or daughter been especially difficult lately? Try looking for opportunities to connect and focus on saying “yes” for an entire week to anything that might draw you closer together. Your child might accept a “No” more easily, if you work to say “Yes” more often, and make that “Yes” a time of connection and joy

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Anna Braasch
Anna Braasch
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