What I learned about saying yes, from a week of saying no.

What I learned about saying yes, from a week of saying no.

This post originally ran almost exactly three years ago. I’m re-running it today because these words have been on my mind all week: the circumstances are the same as the first time I wrote it. We just got back from vacation, and even though our food sensitivities are no longer acute, they still stink. 

Two months ago, I told you that this summer I was changing my default setting to “yes.” I wanted to give you an update on how it’s been going.

It’s been wonderful.

What I’ve said Yes to this summer

We’ve had so much fun as a family this summer. We’ve spent gobs of hot summer days cooling off at the pool. We’ve stayed up too late so we could all walk the dog after the temperature finally dipped. We’ve hosted a barbecue; we’ve launched our first family fireworks.

And my husband and I have been quicker to say yes, too. We’ve made travel plans we would have passed on some years. We’ve been to weddings and get-togethers; we’ve headed out for dates instead of staying in. We’ve said Yes.

Making it easy to say Yes

You know what else we’ve done? We’ve read and read and read. I’ve ripped through my summer reading list and my kids have listened to Little House and Ramona over and over again. My toddler’s watched Thomas the Tank Engine more days than not. My kids have filled their summer sketchbooks, and I’ve spent countless hours happily plunking away on my laptop.

I’m an introvert; so are two (maybe 3?) of my kids. I’m convinced we’ve all been able to say Yes so much this summer because we’ve built downtime into our days. We’ve created a home environment that allows for resting and refueling, as well as making memories.

My week of saying No

I didn’t realize just how well we’d done with the structure of our days until we went on vacation last week. Suddenly, I found myself saying “no.” All week long. 

My girls have food allergies. At home, this isn’t a big deal. I’ve stocked our pantry with things they can eat; we don’t focus much on what they can’t have. I’ve created an environment that makes it easy to say Yes. But last week meals were challenging, to say the least. We ate out daily, and we shared meals with others who aren’t accustomed to dealing with food allergies. My default setting for mealtimes and snacks quickly turned to “no.” (And if you’ve been around young kids, you know that “mealtime” and “all the time” are synonyms.)

I said lots of No because the foods would make them sick. It was the right call: I knew it and my girls knew it, but it didn’t matter. I hated saying so many Nos.

Getting to Yes

After last week’s vacation, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure our environment–home and away–in ways that allow me to say Yes.

And this summer I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to say Yes. It takes the right environment. And it’s up to me to create it.

How do you create an environment of Yes?

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24 comments

  1. Both of my parents grew up in financially poor families. One of my aunts said to my mom after they were adults, “You know, I can’t remember a single thing we really wanted that we didn’t get.” (Skipped beat.) “Of course, we knew what to want.”

    That has become something of a family proverb. Creating a home atmosphere where everyone knows what to want must be one of the biggest keys to being able to say yes most of the time. Small example, when at the grocery store I don’t think one of my kids ever asked for Koolaid, because somehow they knew “we are not a Koolaid family.” Stuff like that sort of becomes part of the family DNA, so there is no struggle about it. Same with lots of unspoken family practices or “rules” that no one recognizes until a visitor unknowingly “breaks” one — like throwing a used bath towel on the floor in a household that always hangs theirs up to dry.

  2. Oh, how I love this! Yes, yes, yes. As an example, one of the reasons I rarely have cookies in the house. I don’t want to always have to say “no, that’s enough.” Then when we do have them I relish in the ‘yes.’

    I loved this reminder as we fall into a new routine with my husband starting his school semester. I need to think carefully about the home environment!

  3. Jennifer H says:

    I can relate to Lori’s childhood. I never even realized we wer financially strapped.

    In my house, instead of “no’ when asked if my child can have junk food or dessert, I ask what he’s eaten already that day. Since I have trained (brainwashed) him on the food pyramid since he was 2 1/2, he will start listing his day and then realize that maybe he hasn’t eaten enough fruit (or whatever) yet. Most times, he will then ask if he can have an apple (or whatever) first and then whatever treat or snack food he was asking for. It makes it much easier to say “yes”.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I’m saying no, I think, “Why am I saying no to this? Is it really wrong, or does it just bother me, or am I just in a bad mood…?” I think I say “no” to my son a lot more than he needs to hear it! Thanks for this post!

  5. Ana says:

    Anne I love this so much & am going to remember it for when my kids are older. Right now, I’m balancing the yes & no as I’m trying to teach my wild animals how to be human…once they’ve got that down (by 3? 4?) we can relax! But I also like how you are saying yes for yourself, too…that I can do right now!

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  7. Jamie says:

    Having back-up plans has been one of the best things I’ve found to help me say yes.

    Things like keeping a few meals ready to go in the freezer and a box of Kind bars in the cabinet and purposely setting up my wardrobe so that I can easily find and grab clothing for any occasion that I’m comfortable and confident in eliminate my biggest worries about unplanned activities.

    The other thing that really is big for me is reminding myself of all the times I wasn’t able to say yes – my husband deploys often, sometimes for months at a time. There are weeks where I’d gladly say yes to anything just to have time with him. From that perspective, it becomes a lot easier to embrace the unexpected while we can!

  8. I’ve been saying no to so much this past year (requests to lead praise & worship, volunteering for areas of ministry outside of my gifting, and even taking on lead roles in areas that are within my gifting) because the nature of mothering young children makes it so that I never know if I’ll be able to complete my promised task or fulfill my commitment, because I want to channel most of my energy into writing right now, and because I get mean when we are hurried and we hurry when I say yes too much. When I’ve made exceptions and crowded the schedule, I grit my teeth and remind myself of why I am so protective of our time. I love how 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says it, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”

  9. Ginger says:

    Thanks for tweeting out this “from the archives.”

    Last summer, I spent a week at my college roommates house with her two small children while her husband has to be away on a mission trip. She practiced something that I’m trying to remember.

    Whenever asked “Can I pick up a rock?” or “Can I have a cookie?” she would answer “Yes, you can get a rock after church so that you won’t have to carry it around in children’s class with you.” or “Yes, you can have a cookie after you’ve had your dinner so that your appetite isn’t spoiled.”

    I called it her “Yes…when.” method. She wasn’t constantly saying “Don’t pick up that rock” but subtly teaching them why we do things responsibly.

    We can all benefit from this lesson. Yes, I can have dessert, when I’ve filled my body with the fuel it needs primarily. Yes, we can buy a new car, when we’ve saved for it. Yes, I can write that novel, when my children are sleeping through the night.

  10. Ciera says:

    This post (and the comments) are really interesting to read as a young adult who doesn’t have kids yet. “Saying yes” in a family setting is different than for a single adult or couple. But the skill is transferable!

  11. beth says:

    For me, the ability to say yes has been directly proportional to my kids getting older. When they were younger saying yes to staying up past bedtime meant epic meltdowns. Saying yes to napping on teh go meant there would be no nap (mine didn’t nap in strollers or cars) and we would all pay in the afternoon. Saying yes to long car trips meant screaming babies (my oldest screamed his head off any car ride over 15 minutes until he was 2 years old. His record is continuous screaming for 6 hours in the car).
    Yes came with age and my kids being able to handle more without melting down. They are 4 and 6 now and we can say yes to longer trips, skipping naps and pushing bedtime later (occassionally). There are still limits.
    Yes was something we had to grow into. As they continue to get older I assume our yeses will continue to grow as well.

  12. liz n. says:

    I think that, a lot of the time, we automatically answer yes or no simply because we don’t take a minute to think first about whether we can, should, want to, can, or cannot do or have something. That’s a hard habit to break.

  13. Dawn says:

    For me, it worked in reverse – sort of. I spent years saying yes to everyone and everything…outside of our house. Our house was constantly in chaos so I could meet all those commitments for work, volunteering, school, etc. It wasn’t until I spent many months, close to 12, of saying no that I was able to look around and start saying yes again. But now I say yes to my kids, my husband and myself. I say to sleepovers with friends, because I love listening to their late night giggles. I say yes to one more game because bedtime is not as hard and fast during the summer and pretty soon they won’t want to stay up late with mom & dad. I say yes to ice cream for lunch because I have more time to plan lots of healthy meals for the rest of the week.

    It’s been a a very enlightening year and taking the time to breath has given my a whole new perspective. It is building in the downtime that you reference that has given us those moments we would have missed had I kept saying yes.

  14. I love this sort of spin on saying “no” – making it easier for you to say “yes.” I have spent a lot of time lately trying to find ways to set myself up for success (I am in introvert as well). I ended up building a series of guidelines to help me focus on simplifying my life. The results have been pretty awesome. I have simplified things so I have time to set myself up for success and do things that make me happy. http://www.peonyandgrahams.com/2015/08/the-simple-chic-life-principle.html

    Thanks for a great reminder and a great new way to think about turning something negative into something positive!

  15. Shannon says:

    Any advice appreciated!: I have a toddler (only the one!) and the thing I’m most frustrated with saying no to daily is the television. To the point that I just want to get rid if it (and might) but I want to be able to say yes to family movies (and to thomas the tank engine sometimes, which my little girl adores). Veteran parents, am I being too uptight about television?? 🙂 would saying yes more help? I try to create an environment where it’s one show a day or one movie on weekends, and even this feels like too much sometimes… But having the television is like sitting a big chocolate cake in the living room all day and putting it off limits most of the time! Am I the only one worrying over this? Thanks:) and thanks for the post.

    • Sarah B R says:

      Hope Shannon will be able to read this. My daughter is now 6 and, at home, is allowed to watch cartoons (DVDs or youtube NOT TV) only on Monday mornings for about 2 hours while I do office work. That is the ONLY time. She knows it, looks forward to it and almost never asks for it on any other day. If she asks, I say no but you could say YES you can watch TV at our next scheduled time.
      It helps that my husband and I never watch TV when she’s awake.
      The key is to determine what you are OK with and tell your child the rule and stick by it. For example, “we only watch 1 show every day or we only watch TV when mommy/daddy turns it on. If you ask for it, it’s an automatic NO. If you whine because it’s not TV time right now, then the next allowed session is now taken away.” You do that once or twice and they know you mean business.
      I also require that she runs up and down the hallway when the theme songs of the shows are on so that she gets some energy out. And we usually make sure to go to the park or outside to play right after. This helps with her general behavior after screen time.
      She is only allowed the ipod in the airplane when we travel (NEVER in the car, at the grocery store or at home).
      Truly the key is to be consistent and to do what you say you will EVERY time! (so be careful what you say 🙂
      When we travel I’m much more lenient and we watch almost every day.

  16. Mrs. T says:

    This is a great post and the comments have been so helpful and thought-provoking, too. Our kids are grown but we do have grandchildren, and I love this idea. We have been saying yes to ourselves more this summer, giving ourselves more downtime (which we dearly needed).

    For Shannon, above — we have never had a television in 40 years of marriage. Our kids never missed it. We do have one now but it is only for watching movies. We don’t keep it in the living room, but only bring it out when we want to watch something. Friends of ours used to keep their television in a basement closet and only brought it out on occasion. That storage place ensured they would only bring out the tv if there was something the family truly needed or wanted to watch. Just a few thoughts … hope they help you.

  17. Dana says:

    We grew up with a mom who made definite decisions about most things. This included the fact that there was no soda, no cookies, no candy or ice-cream in our house. We did not have dessert after dinner. We had very strict bedtimes and routines for chores and so on. We knew not to ask for things when we went out shopping with her. If we behaved and did not ask for things she would sometimes surprise us with a treat or a toy. These times were so rare but precious and we still talk about them. Her response to our why’s about all of this was simple:
    ” In our family we do this ( or we don’t do that.” )End of discussion. When we did go on trips or during the summer , she would relax some of the rules and it was so special to get a soda or an ice-cream cone or stay up late. I think the structure and culture of No, delivered very calm and matter-of-factly made it easier for her to decide when to say Yes.
    And as we got older there were more “Yeses” and fewer “Noes”, but by then our habits had been established.
    I

  18. Bethann says:

    Oh yes Anne…agree with your conclusion…it’s totally up to me to create an environment in which I can say Yes! I’ve been saying Yes to many new things lately and it’s so liberating and free!!

  19. Becki says:

    What a thought-provoking post! I just came back from a trip and had a similar experience. I have a food sensitivity to dairy, and I work around it easily at home. I like to cook, and it’s been an interesting challenge to eat well for me and my husband. It’s gotten almost automatic to substitute out the dairy.

    But when I travel, it’s a minefield. It can be hard to tell if there is dairy in that cake or salad, and the safest route is just to avoid it. Partway through the trip I started feeling sorry for myself – poor me! No taste of the cheese bread! Sticking to rice and beans.

    Time for an attitude adjustment. It’s so easy for me to be lulled into being comfortable with my routine at home, but is that what I want from my life? To stay home and be safe and comfortable? Not really! To travel and see new places, I have to get out of my comfort zone. I decided that eating rice and beans all week was a small price to pay for seeing amazing birds in the Pantanal (in Brazil). That realization helped so much.

  20. Ariel says:

    Have you found any way to continue saying yes, or rather to create an environment where you can say yes, when you aren’t at home? Especially with Becki’s point above, it’s great to be able to have a good habit at home, but the real challenge is transferring it out to the “real world.”

    • Anne says:

      We try and set very clear expectations, and talk with our kids in advance (of the trip, of the dinner out, of the get-together) about what is and isn’t okay. It’s not perfect, but it’s a little better than it could be.

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