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When Saying Yes is the Right Thing to Do

In the single-dad drama "The Boys Are Back," Clive Owen -- who plays a father grappling with the loss of his wife -- approaches most of his parenting decisions by relying on three simple words: Just say yes.

He says yes to whatever his 7-year-old boy wants to eat. He says yes when his son asks if it's okay to cannonball into an overflowing hotel Jacuzzi tub. He even says yes to letting his son ride on the hood of a speeding car.

Uh, yeah, his character is a little extreme. But his behavior raises an interesting question: Are we too quick to say no to our kids out of an overabundance of caution?

Clearly it's not a good idea to let our kids flail in the breeze while hanging onto our windshield wipers for dear life. But sometimes I wonder if we too readily tell our kids to stop doing certain, minor things -- eating a small snack 20 minutes before dinner, or tossing a ball gently inside the house, or juggling all of their just-out-of-the-dryer socks -- just because it's easier for us if they don't.

What do you think? Do you find yourself saying no to your kids out of habit? Do you think both you and your kids might benefit if -- within reason, of course -- you said "yes" or "okay" to them more often?

While you ponder those questions and prepare to add your insightful comments to this post, feel free to check out this video of Mr. Owen himself talking about his own parenting experiences:

-Guest Blogger Jen Chaney

By Jen Chaney |  October 1, 2009; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development , Dads , Discipline
Previous: The Risks of Unpopularity | Next: Was There an 'Opt-Out Revolution' or Not?


Clive Owen - yum.
Jen Chaney - airhead.
Crossover topics between TV, films and parenting - moronic.

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 1, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone would accuse me of being too cautious - least of all my husband.

I was allowed to run around outside with minimal supervision even when we were little so I want that for my children or at least at much as our urban lifestyle will allow.

Snacking before meals is my pet peeve even if it is something healthy. I didn't put in all that effort to make the meal to have the kids tell me they are no longer hungry because they ate something else. It is just plain rude. You wouldn't snack right before a meal that you were having at friends house and then turn down her meal - why the heck would you do it to your wife/mother.

Posted by: Billie_R | October 1, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I would say yes to Clive Owen any day of the week!
Oh wait, was that off topic? sorry....

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 1, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I think too many parents do say yes and this is why you see so many kids running around restaurants, nearly tripping the waitstaff and leaving a mess while the parents smile and say aren't they cute...and why so many adults grow up to be brats because their parents didn't discipline them enough.

Posted by: sunflower571 | October 1, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

I've noticed a slightly different trend. A parent will say yes to anything that's not immoral, illegal, or dangerous, except for one thing which they will make an absolute stand on. They have a Rule at Our House and lightning will strike if an exception is made for any reason. It reminds me of the biblical image of straining out a gnat then swallowing the camel.

Eat three pieces of cake at the birthday party? Sure, but we must leave at exactly 1:30, right in the middle of the party, because Junior's naptime is sacred. Watch four hours of TV every morning? Sure, as long as it's PBS because Janey is not allowed to see a commercial.

Posted by: di89 | October 1, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

di89 - that's such a good observation!

We have friends doing the same thing! their kids make huge messes at restaurants, eat 5 pieces of cake at a party, beg for lollipops constantly... but heaven help them if they climb on a railing!!! Lightning strikes!

message: be an indulgent, selfish pig as long as you don't skin your knee.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | October 1, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse


I have noticed too some parents get really hung up on bedtimes/feeding times with no consideration to how it affects everyone else in a family who might have to change the entire holiday dinner to accomodate yet like you pointed out they let the same kid watch endless TV and ran around. Curious what the rational is for these enforced bedtime/feeding times?

Posted by: sunflower571 | October 1, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse


Now that probably would have been us a year ago at the party.... we would have let them snack but then pulled them out of the party for sleeping purposes. Why? Because a year ago any adjustment to the bedtime routine created a monster in my stepson. He could not adjust to any change in his bedtime routine so it simply wasn't worth it to treat him to a late night out.

That has eased considerably over the last 6 months so now I would say that we would probably stay up late - and potentially still let them snack.

Unless you are in the parent's shoes you have no idea why they are rigid about something. They might have very valid reasons which can't be seen at a surface glance.

Posted by: Billie_R | October 1, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

di89 - that's such a good observation!

We have friends doing the same thing! their kids make huge messes at restaurants, eat 5 pieces of cake at a party, beg for lollipops constantly... but heaven help them if they climb on a railing!!! Lightning strikes!

message: be an indulgent, selfish pig as long as you don't skin your knee.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | October 1, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

LOL! Other hypocrite parents:

Food Police parents - kids have no manners.
God Squad parents - intolerant kids.
Braggart parents - kids play with their privates 24/7.
"I'd never let strangers raise my kids" parents - kids attend school, "leg up" lessons, and lots of other activities.

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 1, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

"Curious what the rational is for these enforced bedtime/feeding times?"

I'm one of those parents (more for sleeping than mealtime). Trust me, you do not want my kids around if they are overtired. I am doing you a favor. Causes the occasional battles with my ILs, but I no longer care. If they want to schedule a get-together in the middle of my 16-month olds' naptime, that's fine, just don't expect us to come. If I drag them along and they spend the entire time screaming and crying because they need to be asleep, who does that benefit? My SIL does stuff like this (drags her overtired toddler to family functions) and I really wish she would stop. Not fair to the kid, and not fair to those of us who don't want to spend the afternoon listening to her wail.

Posted by: floof | October 1, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower, my restaurant experiences are just the opposite as yours. Of the estimated 1000 times I've eaten out, never, not once has a child ever ruined my meal. OK, several times I've heard an infant cry for 10 minutes or so which was disturbing, but a disciplinable child, (2 or more years old to put an age on it), has never been so poorly behaved as to want me to walk out in the middle of my dinner.

Adults, on the other hand, whether it be a loud, bickering couple, a foul mouthed party, or a bunch of drunken business people at the booth next to me has ruin dinner for me and my family several dozen times.

Perhaps it's my perspective though. When a child comes up to our table to say hello and holds up 3 fingers and says, "It's my birthday, I'm free today", yes, I think it's cute. Real cute! I'm glad there are parents out there that think it's OK for there child to be both seen *AND* heard. Otherwise, I would miss out on a lot of those little things in life that warms one's heart and make it more the better.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 1, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

"Curious what the rational is for these enforced bedtime/feeding times?"

On this one I'll bite. Before I had my son, I was so breezy about this one with my friends in imagining our future social plans... "oh we'll just bring him along; it won't hurt him to stay up late every now and then!"

Then I learned this is what happens with kids at certain ages, particularly between 1 and about 3.5:

- they don't often sleep well at other people's parties

- they stay up late that night - sometimes far behind the hour at which they arrive home. Or they fall asleep in the car but wake up during 'transfer' thinking that it is time to play

- the next day they either sleep in and pooch their nap, or they get up at the regular time or even earlier, and end up in this weird child way too tired to nap at naptime and then fall asleep at like 4 in the afternoon, or they fall asleep at 11 am and at 4. Or some other hellish combination

All that day they are the screaming children at the grocery store everyone loves to hate

- bedtime that night, due to nap frivolity, is really really bad because now they are super duper overtired, or else have had a nap too late so they aren't tired at bedtime.

- with luck the next day starts to get back to a schedule.

Two dinners a week can equal 6 days of screwed up sleep & behaviour.

That is why we started leaving at 6:45. Now that my son's 4, it's not so bad.

For the rest... well yes, some parents go to extremes. I think you'll find most parents are just picking their battles though. Some people hate whining; other people find it doesn't really bother them. Some people are neat nicks; other people aren't. Each family will have different things they want to put their effort into.

Guess what? Adults do this too: Some adults eat junk food and then go the gym!!! Some adults won't drink caffeine but will drink wine. It's just that we extend them the courtesy of allowing that not every adult wants or needs the same things in life. This is true for families as well.

Posted by: Shandra1 | October 1, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I don't care what strangers do, but if you're on a playdate with my kid or a guest in my house, I know you well enough to have a pretty good idea whether it's a serious concern or just See How Principled a Parent I Am. If our kids have been in a playgroup together since infancy, I would know by now if your four year old is going to turn into Mr. Hyde from the miniscule amount of sugar in one unauthorized Teddy Graham or from staying up an extra five minutes.

Posted by: di89 | October 1, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse


Well, I must say when I was a waitress throughout high school and college a few years ago I saw A LOT of bad kids. I have seen kids throw food around while parents smile and seem to encourage them. I have seen kids standing on their chairs and bothering people at other tables. A kid walking around might be cute when you are eating your meal but not when you are carrying heavy trays and have a lot of impatient people waiting for you to walk around the kid without hurting them to deliver their food, take their orders etc. Another annoying thing adults making their kids who can barely speak order their own meal which can take forever. Yes, some kids can order and that is fine but making the waitress stand there and wait while your kid figures it out (those were the worst parents-the ones who didn't coach the kid prior and at least know what the kid wanted and made you stand there while they decided. I understand the parents wanted their kids to learn how to order but I also think parents need to have some awareness of everyone else around them and know if their kid was ready to do so.

Posted by: sunflower571 | October 1, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

di89 - I think that principle has some validitiy in that it enforces your values strongly.

I have a son who is a stellar student, heaven only knows where that came from. I say "yes" to all kinds of things as long as the schoolwork is done.

If his schoolwork slips I stop saying "yes."

It's pretty clear in his brain what his priorities are supposed to be.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 1, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, sunflower, I agree with you that throwing food is completely unacceptable, though I've never been hit with a flying chicken finger, yet I can't say the same about a cup of beer at a hockey game.

As for kids standing on chairs bothering people, on 2 different occasions, I did end up with somebody's child in my lap that had climbed over the booth. Once again, though I know the parents were seriously embarrased, I thought it was kinda cute. I think some of us parents are sort of happy to see other kids misbehave in a non-destructive way, as it gives some satisfaction that we are doing a better job than they are.

I'm with you on the kid taking forever to order, as I've been a paperboy knocking on doors, collecting money for my services, and having to spend 15 minutes waiting out in the cold for some old bat to give their mutt a doggy an obedience course for barking at the paperboy.

But still, I'm sure you've spent just as much time for adults waiting for them to order for themselves as they try to discuss every item on the menu in order to make a decision...

I think we can do a whole blog just on restaurant manners alone.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 1, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

we sure could!

although for us it just comes down to patience and consideration.

i also think it's pretty of cute when your toddler is flirting with us over the banquette. but i also realize that before i had kids i sure as heck didn't and that understanding stops me from EVER presuming that other people think my kids are cute. the ones who want to interact with my kid on the metro/plane/restaurant are pretty obvious about it.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | October 1, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Redbird, you just planted a tune cootie in my head:

You don't tug on Superman's cape,
You Don't spit into the wind.
You don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger...

And you don't say "No" to the teenager that brings home strait A's!

(Nor the laundry or dish fairy while we're at it)

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 1, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

One word of caution: I was a super straight A kid and I was allowed to do basically whatever I wanted to do as long as those grades were consistent. That was a mistake on my parent's part - I put my health - mental and physical in great danger many times because no one was paying any attention to what I was doing and I should have died many time over. That lack of attention and direction continued to have negative effects into my early adulthood and have really only recently dissipated (probably because I am too busy to get into trouble).

As for my kid, I echo what everyone else has said about strict sleeping schedules for little guys. Messing with that once can screw up a whole week of sleeping and that's no fun for anyone.

For everything else we try to say yes more than no, but stress consideration for others - so no running about/throwing food/yelling in restaurants and annoying or endangering waitstaff, we clean up after him at home and out, please take crying babies to the lobby of whatever establishment you are in, etc. But he is not expected to behave like an adult (because he's a little kid), so if he doesn't want to eat at a friend's house, we apologize to the friend and let it go and if he's fidgeting, we take him outside and let him run around.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 1, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Most of the things I say no to are safety or health related. So we do keep pretty consistent bedtimes, and there are a few things I won't give my kids to eat, but generally, I like to say yes a whole lot more than no. So if the kids want to go to the park or the pool on a nice day, I am much more likely to say yes than no. If they want pizza on a Friday, I'm all for it. If they want to climb into bed with me and watch a kids movie on a cold evening, I'm all for it also.

I don't say no a lot, but I also participate in the things my kids do, or supervise the activities, so I know what they are doing.

As for being annoyed at other parents' styles, why bother? I have my hands full managing my own children. The last thing I want to to have to manage other people's lives as well. So if a parent leaves early from a party because her child needs a nap, I give them the goody bag, thank them for coming, and wave goodbye. Not a biggie to me.

Posted by: emily8 | October 1, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Exactly, it's usually a depends-on-the-kid thing.

In our family, both boys can handle interruptions to sleep pretty well, and when they were infants/toddlers they'd pretty much fall asleep wherever we were when they got tired, and getting carried from the car to the bed wasn't enough to wake them up.

Younger son is still a completely awful grouch-monster if he's hungry, so we try not to mess with meal-times too much. If a meal is going to be late, he'll get a snack - but we try to keep it small, just enough to take the edge off.

Posted by: SueMc | October 1, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I would have rather poked a sharp stick in my eye than take my son out to eat in the evening when he was a toddler, he was rotten. I don't think kids acting up in restaurants is cute, running, jumping on benches in booths, screaming, crying - take them out of there! That is what we ended up doing, pulling our son out or leaving all together. Chatty toddlers are a different story, they are cute.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 1, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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