I like things in order. I’m a new woman when my house is clean. I love organizing my girls’ clothing drawers (even though after a few hours their dresser looks like an Old Navy t-shirt table at the end of business day). I prefer everything in its “home” – crayons in the red bucket, markers in the blue. Toothpaste in this little bin, hair supplies in the other. I love a clean, shiny counter top, a basket full of folded laundry, and crisp sheets on the bed. I even like the look of an envelope, sealed and stamped, waiting for the postman.
Silly, I know. I wasn’t always this way. However, since becoming a mother, those little things bring me a sense of satisfaction. I seem to function better when my home (which I subconsciously translate into my life) is not a mess. I feel happier or maybe I just like that these daily housekeeping tasks are within my control because so much of what happens around me, is not.
That said, I pose the question. What mom lives in immaculate order all the time?
Ummmmm…a mom without children living at home?
Children = Mess. It’s unavoidable. By 11:05 AM today all toy bins were emptied, pink toothpaste was hardening on our bathroom sink, twenty pair of underwear were strewn around the house (my twin girls are almost potty-trained) and syrup was mistakenly poured all over the table, chair, and floor.
Choose motherhood and you choose clean-up on Aisle 4, 8, 10 and 15. There is always something to clean up! Potty accidents, diaper doozies, crayon on the walls, mud creased into carpets, and those conglomerate handfuls of rocks wrapped in dry leaves (once carefully stowed in a pocket) now flung onto the dining room table like confetti.
I confess, I resist messes. I’m always trying to curb, curtail, cut-short, or cut out. It’s a self-absorbed effort to simply spare myself some work.
Ironically, that mentality exhausts me. It makes me the kind of Mom I don’t enjoy being – the kind of Mom that says no. A lot.
No, not now. No, that’s not a good idea. No, put that away. No, we aren’t going there today. No, don’t get that out right now. No, I can’t until later. No, you may not eat that before dinner. No! We do not act that way!
Sometimes I say no without even thinking I could say yes. So the past few months, I’ve been trying to change. I’ve been trying to say yes – even though it complicates things slightly. Children + Yes = More Mess.
Not yes to more sugar, more veg-time in front of the tube, or cutting out paper dolls with a butcher knife. I’m talking about saying yes to the innocent desires of our children’s hearts. The visions and hopes of their day – those first fragile moments when their imaginations ignite.
E.E. Cummings wrote, “I imagine that yes is the only living thing.”
I wondered. Would saying yes encourage more creativity, more time for exploration, more soaking up of that raw happiness life has to offer? In the process, would it bring me out of that parent cloud – down to their level, where I could clean off my own messy soul? At their level, joy comes easily, the tiniest things are exhilarating, and everything is too good to miss.
Just say yes, I thought to myself. Find out. Especially when you aren’t sure how to answer. So I did and here’s what happened.
I said yes to painting with watercolors – almost daily for a while.
Even though I knew Sami would inevitably knock her glass of water over. (How she manages to be so consistent, I’m not sure.) Each time they finished their masterpieces we gave their artwork away or hung it up somewhere in our home. Glowing and wistful, a collage of rainbow colors began seeping up our walls. My girls were proud and it only took me thirty seconds to wipe up the spill.
I said yes to more story-time. A book on the couch when I should have been fixing dinner only put me five minutes behind. Why am I always in such a hurry? Once I felt their warm bodies next to mine and watched their tiny fingers pointing to a favorite picture, I realized I needed this more than they did.
I said yes to walks and bike-rides outside. No easy effort with five under five. I had to bundle up the boys, get out the double stroller, bundle up the three girls, put on eight shoes (give or take a few), snap on bike helmets, remember the house key and cell phone (we’ve been locked out a few too many times). Then herd my children around our neighborhood that has no sidewalks. Often, our outing ended up being the favorite part of the day. It was a robin on the grass, electric-orange fish in the neighbor’s pond, the scent of honeysuckle, or bouquets of tiny snow-drops clutched between handlebar and palm.
While making dinner a few weeks ago, I said yes to the girls playing outside on the back patio. Seemed harmless enough. However, it was one of those sunny snow-melt days and water was trickling down the drain pipe in a perfect miniature stream. Somewhere in between bathing a baby in the sink and stirring pasta on the stove, I realized the girls had discovered this water source, stolen cups from the kitchen, and were collecting water to make mud pies. They were completely engrossed and getting dirtier by the minute. My first reaction was to curtail the play. Then I thought, Say yes. Just say yes! You can plop them in the tub when they’re through. Do it. Let them get muddy!
I did it. They came in caked with brown boots, coats, hands, knees, and toes. Their faces were ruddy and bright – their cheeks flush. I looked in their sunlit eyes and smiled back – their lips split wide into fortunate grins. It felt good to say yes.
I said yes to Ali trying on my lipstick, Sami wearing my nice heels, Eliza cutting up stacks of paper with her scissors, stick collections in the living room, blowing bubbles inside, scotch tape creations, picnics on the driveway, making their own PB & J’s, crafting forts out of shipment boxes, glue and paper projects, and storing “Carla the Spider” in a mason jar on the top shelf of our refrigerator so we could bring her out a dinner time and watch her reanimate. (Something my Grandmother did when we were little. I know. Slightly weird – but fascinating.)
Saying yes took letting go of an agenda (usually mine), letting the house suffer entropy for a bit, and de-structuring. It was liberating. My world was happier when I considered the questions of “Can we?” “Will you?” or “May I?” as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience.
“Yes is air” writes Ann Voskamp. “In the rarefied oxygen of that one word, ‘yes!’, the dreams breathe deep and the body exhales joy. I embrace [the] mess and try to be done with the slow suffocation of ‘perhaps’ and ‘we’ll see’ and ‘maybe’ — the biding of time till the visions wither limp — and every day I try to remember that control smothers and fear asphyxiates.”
I don’t want to smother or suffocate. I want to breathe! So it’s been good to say yes. To embrace the mess. To watch my children exhale joy.
Yes. It’s been good for all of us.
QUESTION: How have you found ways to say “yes” to your children?
CHALLENGE: Take 30 minutes this week, go outside, lay down on a blanket with your children and name the clouds.
Visit Amazon to get a peek inside the book! or Visit our Book Page to learn more!
Images provided by the author.
Originally published June 19, 2012.
This is a beautiful essay. I always need to be reminded that the messes are part of learning and growing and making memories. There is so much power in saying “yes” to your children. It is like making a deposit in an account with them and then when you have to tell them “no” and make a withdrawal they are less likely to be upset.
I’ve always thought it best to say yes more than I say no and try to remind my older daughters to do the same. It’s easy to forget, though. This essay was a wonderful reminder. Thank you for posting it!
Oh, I just love this piece. I, too, am prone to the knee-jerk no, and find that I have to really focus on saying yes. And you are so right, it does feel really, really good to let go and say yes.
Submitted on 3-5-2011 at 05:19pm
I think I should read it every day, Cath! In fact, I e-mailed it to myself and ordered a hard copy of the book. =)
Submitted on 3-5-2011 at 03:35pm
Winni – these are excellent. I needed to read those anecdotes today. Thank you!!
Submitted on 3-4-2011 at 02:39pm
I found the quote by Marjorie Hinckley! If the online text is accurate…
I thought the surrounding stories/descriptions might be helpful, too:
“For Marjorie, there were certain kinds of things that didn’t merit intervention, anxiety or, worse, punishment; most definitely they weren’t worth creating conflict between parent and child. ‘I learned that I needed to trust my children,’ she said later, ‘so I tried to never say no if I could possibly say yes. When we were raising a family, it was a matter of getting through every day and having a little fun along the way. As I could see that I wasn’t going to be able to make all of my children’s decisions anyway, I tried not to worry about every little thing. I think that came from my parents, because they had absolute confidence in me and my siblings. As hard as it has been at times, Gordon and I tried to have the same confidence in our children.’ 29
One Sunday morning as the family was getting ready for church, Ginny complained to her mother, ‘Do I have to go to church today?’ Without hesitating, Marjorie responded calmly, ‘No, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.’ After a pause, she added, as though it were simply a logical arrangement: ‘But if you’re going to stay home, would you get dinner on for us? It would be wonderful to come home from church and have dinner ready.’ Ginny agreed, and Marjorie left worrying that she should have handled the situation differently. The family returned home to find the meal prepared and Ginny waiting for everyone on the front lawn. ‘Virginia never stayed home again,’ Marjorie said. ‘She found it was better to just go with the family than to stay behind alone. In that situation, it helped to not make a federal case out of the issue.’ 30”
Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley
by Sheri Dew, 173-174; as copied from http://www.cumorah.org/libros/ingles/Go_Forward_with_Faith_The_Biography_of_Gordon_B_Hinckley_-_Sheri_Dew.html
Submitted on 3-3-2011 at 10:55am
Submitted on 3-3-2011 at 10:52am
Thank you! Reminds me of what I believe Marjory Pay Hinckley said about saying yes every time she possibly could. (Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjory Pay Hinckley? biography of Gordon B. Hinckley by Sheri Dew? both?)
Submitted on 10-10-2010 at 08:13pm
One of the tricks I use to say “yes” is to speak honestly and precisely as much as possible. For example, instead of saying, “No, you can’t play outside right now,” I would say, “We have a doctor appt to go to so we can’t play outside right now,” or, if it’s just that I want to get other things done, “I don’t want to play outside right now.” Being specific with my language helps me realize when I’m saying no because I don’t feel like it and when we really “can’t” do something. It helps me check for all the times I really could say yes.
Submitted on 9-16-2010 at 08:01am
This was truly written just for me! And I appreciate it more than you could ever imagine. Thank you. I just linked to it on my organization blog.
Submitted on 6-14-2010 at 11:14pm
Thank you for such a beautiful write up. I loved this, and need to exercise this idea into my life. I’m sure it would make a big difference. I can’t wait to try. Thanks for inspiring!
Submitted on 6-2-2010 at 05:17am
Ha! So weird. I decided to do this EXACT thing a few months ago. The title to this article was even my mantra, so when I saw it I was immediately intrigued, “does someone else out there have to consciously make an effort to do this?” I’ve been thinking that I was a rare mom with the inclination to always say no to avoid a mess. I only recently realized that I also need to apply yes to using supplies that I feel the need to “save.” Save for what? So what if they mix their play dough colors and I don’t have money for more? If I wait until they know how to play with it th “right” way- they’ll be teenagers. Hilareous! Thank you for writing this. I wondered sometimes if having twin girls myself, (and four kids under five in July) justified my being more of a “no” mom than some moms who were focusing attention on less people. But the reality is, more kids equal more work. If I’m willing to have the kids in the first place, I’d better be willing to do the work that comes with EACH one!
Submitted on 5-25-2010 at 03:43pm
Marlene – How incredible that you are a great-grandmother and part of the Power of Moms! Fantastic! YOU should to be writing these articles so we can soak up your wisdom. I’m sure you have oodles of gems to share. Thanks so much for your comment.
Submitted on 5-25-2010 at 02:42pm
As a Grandmother and a Great-Grandmother I feel as though I needed this as much as the young mothers do. I will try to remember to say “Yes” more often also.
Submitted on 5-24-2010 at 10:13pm
Amy – thank you so much for sharing that poem! It’s a perfect complement to the idea of saying YES! You make a great point that messes actually provide teaching opportunities – chances for them to learn how to clean up after themselves! I really appreciate that. And why not “boast”? It’s a privilege isn’t it, to shelter our children? Thank you so much!
Submitted on 5-24-2010 at 07:21pm
I appreciate these reminders. I’ve noticed it’s a red flag for me as soon as I start sounding like a “naysayer” I’ve also noticed I care less about the mess if I have a “controlled” space (even if it’s just a little one~like my nightstand by my bed) of my own to retreat to. My mother in law gave me this cute poem (possibly because she notices the signs of constant creativity). I think these times also give opportunity to teach them how to clean up after themselves (even though it often leads to MORE work for mom) and this sometimes turns into fun and games as well!
Some houses try to hide the fact that children shelter there. Ours boasts of it quite openly, the signs are everywhere. For smears are on the windows, little smudges on the door. I should apologize, I guess, for toys strewn on the floor. But I sat down with the children and we laughed and played and read~ so if the kitchen doesn’t shine, their eyes will shine instead. For when at times I’m forced to choose the one job or the other I want a house of order, but first I’ll be a mother!
Submitted on 5-23-2010 at 02:54pm
Felicity. Don’t worry – I said no to straws yesterday. I’m still working on this yes thing too. Thanks for the link to your blog – and that wonderful sign you discovered. I may have to borrow it some time – or at least paste it somewhere I can see it. Love the idea of banging pots and pans when they are frustrated. And putting them in water. And seeing a movie in our pj’s. Good stuff. Thanks for your enlightening comment! I love feeling connected to wonderful moms like you.
Felicity Aston says
Submitted on 5-23-2010 at 02:38am
Catherine I love the way you write and express yourself. I think you sum up so perfectly how so many of us feel and what we want to say. This brought tears to my eyes and I had to ask myself ‘why did I say no to having straws in the milo this morning’?? So thank you for this reminder.
A friend once said to me ‘A home with children is not a picture’ meaning that yes – even when it’s clean one minute it will be unclean the next. When I start to feel frustrated about things I often remind myself of this!!
Here’s a cute little ‘sign’ I found earlier this year that is totally fridge worthy for every mum!! I LOVE IT…..and it’s all about saying yes to our children 🙂
Thanks again for this wonderful essay!!
Submitted on 5-20-2010 at 02:45pm
C. Olsen – your ice cream story is pure delight! You’re a better yes-sayer than me! I love it. We really ought to think about how we can make our children happy – it would make our lives happier too! Thank you so much for sharing!
Mindy – love the sign-on-the-fridge idea. I think I need one too! It seems to be my mantra lately, as I try to let go and let them be.
Alisha – I’m with you. Is the building on fire? Nope? Alright then. Let them have at it. My Mother was wonderful this way. I’m a little more uptight, but learning, and trying. Thanks for helping me feel like I’m not alone out there!
April – I’m so happy to have your blog URL. I’ll be checking in on you often. Thanks for putting the pictures up! Can’t wait to meet you too – soon I hope!
Submitted on 5-20-2010 at 12:58pm
Catherine, I just put your photos in (sorry we were having some technical issues), and I wrote up a little post on my blog about how this essay has impacted my life. Thanks so much! http://powerofafamily.blogspot.com/2010/05/im-saying-yes.html
Submitted on 5-19-2010 at 09:22pm
Saying yes is something that doesn’t come so easily for me, but you’re right–it makes life so much better. Sometimes when my kids are doing something and I think to tell them to stop, I ask myself, “Is this behavior really morally wrong and/or dangerous, or is it just something I prefer they wouldn’t do?” I’ve realized that most of the time it’s the latter, so I try really hard to say yes. This article is a great reminder to keep saying yes!
Mindy Thurston says
Submitted on 5-19-2010 at 10:50am
I just realized how much of a “No” sayer I am…mostly because of the mess saying “Yes” makes! I totally going to try this out…..I might have to put up a sign on my fridge to remind me to “Say YES!” I can only imagine how happy this would make my kids! Beautiful post!!
This is BEAUTIFULLY written. Thank you!
I’m the same way but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be clean! My goal is to say yes and also clean up afterwards too. It just makes me feel better! My one and only kid is still young, but I’ve noticed he helps me take out the toys, but he also helps me put them back. There was this neat article a friend shared about one toy at a time, and I think I can say YES to that! I will continue to say, as long as it’s one thing at a time and as long as the kids help mommy when it comes to clean up time. Thanks for the inspiration! I also like that I can say yes yes yes during the day, but before sleepy time, it’s clean clean clean. HEHE.
Inspires me to change my way of looking at things that the kids want to do, and stop being such a grouch about the fun, the mud, the creations! Thanks for writing this….
I LOVE this post!! It really hit home and I am trying to say yes more too! The smiles and new artwork is so worth it, even though there are lots of piles of rocks wrapped in leaves! I thought my child was the only one that did that, haha 🙂
It sure sounds lovey and picturesque, but sustainable? No. I say yes to a lot of messes and activities but if I let things go completely then I lose my sanity and that’s no good either. Plus, I see a lot of mess as unsafe. There is nothing wrong with rules that help to keep order. Like, not letting them get out another toy until the previous one is put away? They can still have fun but with responsibility.
I can’t count how many times I’ve said yes on the condition that they would help clean up and then they whine and cry when it comes time to actually do the work after the fun.
I realize I’m the only person (it seems) that doesn’t LOVE this article. I do see the good in it and the point the author is making. I just felt to add my 2 cents.
I agree that there’s a time and season for saying yes. I can’t do it all the time because I usually do end up doing the bulk of the clean-up. My take-away is just to say “yes” more when my natural inclination is to say “no.” I say “no” far too much and for arbitrary reasons. Saying “yes” to things every now and again fosters good will with my kids.
Catherine Arveseth says
Eliza and Misty, I just have to chime in for the sake of our readers and respond. Of course, I am not advocating complete entropy in a home. Obviously, we cannot say yes all the time to every thing. You are right Eliza, that would not be sustainable. Or wise.
I definitely espouse a house of order where children know how to put things away (everything has a home) and that part of play is cleaning-up. But Misty caught the gist of the article. Often, at least in my experience, I’m inclined to say no, without even thinking I could say yes. It’s easier to say no.
I wrote this article in 2010 soon after my second set of twins were born. Talk about feeling out of control. Saying yes to one more mess sometimes was more than I could handle with five small children four and under. But I realized my children needed me to say yes more often for the sake of their own progression. How will our children develop a sense of independence and satisfaction in doing something by themselves if we never give them the opportunity? I am all about offering them as much independence as they can responsibly handle. Even if it means a little more mess for me.
Then, of course, part of the responsibility is teaching them how to clean up after themselves. If I ask and they don’t respond, I get down on their level, look them in the eyes and gently explain what needs to be done. Then I take their little hand in mine and together, we complete the task.
I hope this clarifies the tenor of the article and what I was encouraging. Since 2010 I’ve said yes to more things than I thought I could and it’s been wonderful, even liberating for me as a mother. My older girls are able to help around the house and entertain themselves in ways I wouldn’t have considered possible. It’s been good on all fronts. But of course, every mother is different. Every child is different. And with some reflection and listening within, I believe every mom can figure out the right balance of yes and no for her family.
Thank you for your comments. It’s always good to put in your “two cents.” 😉 Blessings to you in your mothering.
I read this yesterday and then decided to give it a try. I said yes to my daughter making herself a butter and jam sandwich. She was so proud and she had even put everything away when she was done. She told me that she used two knives too (so as not to get butter in the jam jar).
Then I decided to say yes to her doing watercolors for some thank you cards. She did it all by herself with me in the other room. She cleaned up her mess too and was so much more pleasant than usual, because I’m usually saying no.
Thanks for this reminder that my kid is capable and that when I say yes, she gets the opportunity to do something she wants and she learns how to be responsible.