The Importance of “No”

In the years in which we brought up our children, my wife and I had an agreement not to say “no” to our children, when a “yes” was possible.

In simple terms, we wanted to do what we could to support their needs without unnecessarily frustrating them.

I have been conscious of my poor response to having the word “no” applied to my needs and hopes and dreams and my inability to cope with it in my life.

It is a hard word to take, and it has in the past caused me great consternation and anguish when I have interpreted and internalized the rejection of my hopes for my adult children’s futures being rejected by them.

For a few years, I reacted badly to their life choices and this lead to a situation worse than the hearing of “no” – it lead to avoidance and separation, and what seemed to be irreparable damage, to my relationship with my adult children.

I have been focused in my development in recent years, in noticing the times when I have allowed “no” to be said to me.

I have noticed that it still has the potential for conflict and unhappiness.

I am making strenuous efforts to avoid the discomfort of the past, and learning to respect that “no” is not a judgement on me as a father – rather, it is an expression of their  independent thinking and an intelligence, which I can take credit for having fostered in their lives.

I have been guided to understand that if I want to hear a “yes” to my requests, I need to be able to create a space in which “no” can flourish without bitterness and resentment which I know ultimately leads to separation and pain.

A few years ago, much to my disappointment, my teenage daughter stopped attending Mass. The pain this caused to me was searing even though the pervading culture of her choice, in her world, makes this normal and acceptable.

Even the Catholic Church seems to accept that teenagers, lapse and express confidence that many will return with their children at some future point, but I could not.

Last week as I walked into church, I felt a nudge in my back and turned to see my daughter following me in.

It was a one-off visit, but in accepting the “no” I can see that I have created the space that she needs for “yes”and that, for me, is a sign that in my effort to be present,  I am creating the opportunities for my hopes to be fulfilled.

My next blog will be: Anguish

William Defoe



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