The Power of No

Why is it one of the first words children learn, is also one of the hardest for some of us to verbalize as adults? One of the common themes in my counseling sessions has become understanding the coping mechanisms I learned as a child when I struggled to deal with my emotions.

My parents made many good decisions regarding my upbringing, teaching me a healthy skepticism for information and facts, teaching me how to question and challenge and understand the world around me. Yet the strange irony, is that same freedom was not expected, allowed, or ever welcomed when it came to their own authority.

My mother used to say that I could be a perfect angel from six months to a year, and then I would have an emotional explosion, test her, and be a true terror. My memories of these times, when I delve into this half-remembered time of my life, draw forth a vague remembered loneliness, a bottling up of feelings.


I learned early, unhealthily, that my emotions told people things. That my emotions made people have other emotions, and it was my responsibility to control myself so I didn’t put pain on other people. There were times my mother, hurt by childish emotions, told me I must not love her. Told me that I didn’t love her. Instead of learning healthy ways of dealing with my emotions, I instead began to bury them with frustration and resentment. Questions were labelled as ‘talking back’. My mother, still recovering from the manipulative treatment of her own mother, put a lot of words and descriptions and motivations on me that were skewed by her own pain and history.

Which brings me back to the original thought that stirred my initial observation. What can I do better, with the young people appearing in my own life? As friends have children, and I don’t know what the future holds for me in that regard, how can I interact with toddlers just learning “No”? How can I help give the word power, but also teach selectivity? How do I approach this from an understanding of healthy boundaries point of view. How do I change “No” from being a bad word?

I don’t really have any answers, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. I know there are a lot of practical considerations when having children. No one is perfect, and we can only do so much. But I feel like these are things that are probably good for me to reflect on now, before my friends children get to that point.

For the record, my mother and I have worked through many of our difficulties and have a really good relationship now. I think it helps that she recognizes how some of her choices impacted me over the years, and that she is a very curious, thoughtful and scientific minded woman. Thanks to her, I’ve learned how love and genuine apologies can heal many breaches in relationships.


2 thoughts on “The Power of No

  1. linds01

    Unfortunately I do believe that parents are more focused on getting the child to behave, ect( and it is understandable to a point, -they are tired, & they just want the child to cooperate or not embarrass them…lol:)
    But I think what gets missed is the respect of the child’s personhood. It takes patience to talk to a child about “why no?” and what choices there are , that a lot of people/parents don’t have a lot of.
    Nobody does parenthood perfect.
    It’s great that you are able to talk, and reconcile your experience with your mom. It acknowledges and validates your experience. And bam! You know a little bit more about each other as people and the relationship continues.
    I think that is maybe to most “happy ending” we can hope for:).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Truth! I’ve never had kids of my own, but I have two much younger siblings that I certainly didn’t have a lot of patience with sometimes.

      I love what you say about a child’s personhood. I can imagine it must be difficult to see something that is such a big part of you as so much it’s own being.

      I think you’re right about the happy endings, cultivating trust and honesty and freedom to express yourself – I haven’t always had that with my parents, so I feel very, very lucky we have that kind of relationship now. Well, with my mom. Still working on my dad, but we’re making progress bit by bit.

      Part of the reason for me asking these questions, is mainly to ask myself what I could do differently. My parents were thrust into parenthood without really being prepared for it. Considering that, they’ve done alright I think. I may never be a parent. It’s not exactly on the horizon. But I figure, if we can do at least a little better than my parents, and learn from what didn’t quite work with them, we’re going to keep improving from generation to generation. My understanding is that both of my parents had difficult childhoods in their own way, corporal punishment that would be seen as extreme today and emotional abuse in varying degrees. What I went through with them, while still impacting me and sometimes difficult, came from a good place, and they tried hard.

      Anyhow, thanks for commenting, you have some good insight. 🙂


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