The Power of NO

The Power of NO

There are so many memes and inspirational quotes on social media telling you to say yes to new things and new opportunities. These completely fit in with how I have lived most of my life. I’ve said yes to jobs I’m woefully underqualified for. When one interviewer asked me why I thought I should get the job as I didn’t have any experience I confidently replied, “It can’t be that hard, you can learn most things in three days.” I was offered the job, said yes and then said yes to every promotion and embraced the inevitable anxiety dreams as part of life. I said yes to a modelling job in Venice with a man called Tommy Dollar (and had to escape with the help of my mum’s credit card) I said yes to unsuitable boyfriends, I say yes to every social engagement, even if I don’t feel like going out because of my intense fear of missing out or FOMO if you’re under whatever age passes for young. Yes is the word that leads to new things, adventures and stories to tell.

I said yes to seeing the marvellously funny Sarah Millican on tour and she has a small part about feeling comfortable with saying ‘No’ and not feeling guilty about it. After the show she was giving away little badges with the word ‘No’ written on and I took one, pinned it to my coat and thought no more about it.

Other people noticed it, mostly children and the ladies at the supermarket checkout, they would ask me, “What are you saying no to?” “I got it from Sarah Millican, ask her, she’s brilliant, but quite dirty, I like her.” I would mumble in reply. I noticed that people with clipboards were less likely to approach me and far fewer people asked me for directions.

I started to think about the word ‘no’ and when I used it most and realised that it was pretty much only to my children. I hardly ever say it to a grown up, if I don’t want something to happen I will fudge around the subject, make an excuse, negotiate. The only people who get a distinct ‘no’ sometimes shouted, sometimes accompanied by a menacing look, are those little people I love most.

I tell them no when they are about to do something dangerous; when they want to got to bed later; when they are about to behave badly in a restaurant; when they want to give up a hobby because its got a bit difficult; when they ask for anything in a shop that we didn’t plan to buy. I realised how strict I was when I had been working long hours and hadn’t spent much time with them, they asked for some tat that was tantalisingly cluttering up the supermarket checkout and out of guilt I said yes. They were utterly speechless and so well behaved for the rest of the day they obviously thought I was ill.

Is this good for them? I’m I going to give them a negativity complex? Are they going to grow up thinking they must obey orders? I sometimes explain the reasons for my command but most of the time I would expect them to work it out by themselves. I dug out some of the childcare books I still had to see if I’d done it all wrong.

Many books recommend giving a child choice when they become toddlers, “You can wear the red top or the stripy top” to make the child feel like they have some control. Myself and most of my NCT group started motherhood following this advice. It worked with my son but had been completely unnecessary as he couldn’t care less what he wore and would just shrug. Then my daughter came along:

“You can wear the red top or the stripy top.”

“I want sparkly dress”

“But we’re going to the park. You’ll have more fun if you’re in leggings and a top.”

“Sparkly dress.” Sits down and folds arms.

“It’s cold outside you need to wrap up.”

Red face shouting, “Sparkly dress!”

“Grandma bought you that for special occasions, it was very expensive so you wouldn’t want to rip it when you’re playing. You can have the red top or the stripy one, the choice is yours.”

Massive melt down, brother going up the wall because he needs to run, wrestle small girl into appropriate clothes, late for the park, crashes into lunch time, throws nap out, two grumpy toddlers and me totally on edge.

So I started a different approach.

“Here are your clothes put them on, we’re going to the park.”

“I want sparkly dress.”

“No, you’re wearing these.”

Cry, whinge, realise mum’s not giving in and you have no choice, get dressed, go to the park and have lots of fun. Soon the crying and whinging part stopped. It wasn’t that I had won, we as a family had won, we could leave the house without a great big negotiation.

I recently had the privilege of working with six and seven year old children and got to watch their playtimes and relationships grow. Some children are genuinely surprised when they have to join in and do something they don’t like, usually in PE or singing. They usually have a choice and have never had to do something they do not want to do without a bribe.

The steepest learning curve is the playground. I’ve seen children apoplectic because another child doesn’t want to play ‘their game’. For some children it can be quite a shock to meet people who do not love you and will not meet your needs but would like to be your friend.

Parents who have been giving a choice rather than saying ‘no’ may find they’re still going through the terrible twos at four. It’s not too late to give this clear, simple instruction it just might take longer to sink in. (Quick note: This won’t necessarily work for children with additional needs, you’ll need a whole different set of strategies)

Anyway, after analysing my use of the word ‘no’ I have decided just to keep it for my children. There is literally no social occasion I won’t enjoy once I’m there and I weirdly miss being approached by strangers. So, I have removed my badge and I’m more than happy to direct you to the nearest betting shop.


7 Blogs I’ve Half Written

7 Blogs I’ve Half Written

I’ve written posts but not finished them because of all the excuses you can imagine and some you can’t (I started an autism friendly acting club is a pretty good excuse, drinking red wine and browsing Rightmove and Pinterest – bog standard). As a result I have a massive backlog of things I’ve started to write about, here they are:

How much I love my dressing gown and why (plus famous dressing gown wearers)

Why the terrible twos can continue for years. Its down to two pieces of bad advice given by most modern parenting books.

My sister moving abroad has made me realise why I couldn’t live anywhere outside the UK. In true Buzzfeed style, its not for the reason you think…

The people who give special interventions to children who are struggling at school, protect children from violent classmates, deescalate children who are prone to violence, give hugs when needed, are always there if your child is worried or has lost their plimsoles/tooth and still find time to put up a display and do some photo copying are paid minimum wage! Any  teaching assistant would also know that the previous sentence is too long, not using an exclamation mark correctly and needs an expanded noun phrase. Discuss.

When your partner’s work kit does not ‘spark joy’. Or, the woes of being an aspiring minimalist and when it’s not OK to throw away someone’s stuff.

I’ve read all the ‘Habits of Successful People’ posts and have been making my bed every morning for a week. When will I become successful?

Well, there we are. I’m actually quite satisfied I’ve got all of these out of my system with this list but if you’re curious about any of them do let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Alternatively, if you want to take an idea and write it yourself I’m fine with that too X

The Stairway to Happiness

The Stairway to Happiness

I’m trying to be happy with what I’ve got.

Since we moved out of our flat in London six years ago to the utopian experiment of Letchworth Garden City I have wanted to extend this house.

I have note pads full of little hand drawn plans and ideas which all culminated into a fabulous design from local architects Pentangle Design. Then the long process of planning was finally granted shortly after I began my DIY and décor blog Whack It With a Hammer.

Then we got the builders quotes…

As we looked at them our hearts sank, they were all about the same amount and all too much. Then we looked closer and realised that these quotes were minus VAT, a kitchen, bathroom and flooring.

Everyone in this town seems to have had or be having an extension and they all give the same warning – “It’ll cost more than the original quote.”

“Why can’t we just be happy with what we’ve got?” sighed my husband.

Yes why? We both grew up with siblings in houses of a similar size, no ensuite, no playroom and didn’t feel we missed out on anything so why can’t we happily live here? Does the kitchen diner have to be the ‘heart of the home’ as trotted out by every wannabe interior designer or is it really about the people in it?

The friends I have told about this conversation have had many different reactions ranging from; head to one side, “Being happy, bless him. He’s so sweet.” to, conspiratorial whisper, “We can’t afford ours either! I mean is it worth the debt? I’d rather buy a sports car!”

I resolved that rather than listening to the suburban housewife in my head nagging about what we haven’t got I would embrace the inner hippie that still sings in my heart and think about what we have got – a lovely family, enough food, good friends and a pretty house.

I would practise mindfulness.

After the school drop off I sat, eyes closed and tried to concentrate on my breathing but I knew it was nearly time for Homes Under the Hammer and that made me feel agitated (if I’m going to sit on the sofa doing nothing I may as well watch TV right?).

My phone buzzed, PPI. I scrolled through my Facebook feed and my eyes jumped across memes of wellbeing about ‘today being a gift’ so you should ‘do something amazing’ and how ‘strong people are sad too’ or was it ‘sad people are strong too’ I forget. I should be mountain climbing and eating quinoa while being knocked down and getting up showing my scars as a badge of honour. The thing is, I have to go and buy potatoes and toilet roll.

I wander into town and browse in the amazing David’s Bookshop because its a nice place and I can. I feel calm around books. Look at me browsing in a book shop on a sunny day, I might go and buy bread from the bakery and pretend I’m French. Then my eyes are drawn to the adult colouring books. This makes me inexplicably angry. I try to work out why. I think its because someone has thought of a way of taking something most of us enjoyed doing as a kid and sold it back to us for £6.99 with added bullshit. The happiness industry appears to be catching up with the sliming industry.

I go home, agh this house gets on my nerves. The walls are grubby (that one will be knocked through when we extend) the furniture doesn’t fit (we’ll custom make it when we extend) the floors are scratched (no point doing them until the builders have finished)

I need to do something. Out comes my hand sander and walnut floor varnish and I start work at the top of the stairs. As I listened to the radio and varnished the floor one board at a time first to one side then the other I started to calm down. As I saw the orange scratched surface transform into a deep dark brown I felt a sense of achievement, happiness. On the third coat I imagine Mr Miagi from Karate Kid is training me for a life changing fight. This is my mindfulness, this is my adult colouring, wax on wax off. I can make this house work for us without getting in debt for the next twenty years. There’s a lot to do and it might not make the pages of Ideal Home but I’ve worked on a makeover show so I know how these things are faked for the cameras. I can try and fall in love with this house again.

So, the moral of this story is, if you really want to find inner peace and feel a sense of self worth you can’t buy it so don’t fall for the soft manipulation of the happiness industry you should just come on over and help paint my house.

(Well it was worth a try, I wonder if I can get David Wolfe to make it into a meme).