When was the last time you said the word “no” out loud? Five minutes ago? Yesterday? Last week?
In the past six hours, I used it at least a dozen of times. In an email, replying to an advertiser who wanted me to write a sponsored article on an irrelevant topic for a ridiculous price. Apologetically with Feng, who asked me if I could watch Mark the following morning. Angrily with telemarketers who interrupted dinner prep to offer window replacements services. Stubbornly with my in-laws, who also interrupted dinner prep to impart more parenting wisdom. With Mark, for multiples reasons, most of them involving his safety and my sanity.
For me, that’s not a bad score. I used to say “no” to absolutely everything.
It wasn’t always this way. Until the end of my twenties, I can’t remember saying “no” out loud that often. I didn’t need to or I didn’t have the chance to. The terms of my teenage years’ quest for independence were negotiated and my parents and I rarely had a shouting match. Socially, I wasn’t popular or pretty enough to have to decline unwanted advances or invitations—if someone had asked me out, you can bet I would have said “yes!” and I was very eager to go to parties I wasn’t invited to.
“Yes” was my motto throughout my twenties as well. I often considered that I didn’t know any better than whatever was suggested and I was willing to take chances. So I said “yes” to a job in Hong Kong, I said “yes” to meeting Feng half-way across the world, I said “yes” to Canada, I said “yes” to Feng again when we got married in 2005. The world was full of exciting opportunities and I wanted to grab them all.
As an immigrant in Canada, I was eager to fit in and being agreeable felt like a good trait to have. I was new to the country and to its customs so going with the flow was a basic survival instinct. Besides, Canadians tend to be very amicable. Social and professional interactions were smooth and friendly and saying “no” would have sounded rude. So I said “yes” to job interviewers, “yes” to managers and eventually, I said “yes” to Canada during my citizenship ceremony. Surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid to be known as a pushover. I think at this stage, the overenthusiastic North American “can do” attitude just rubbed onto me. I was this new person, no one I knew was around to judge me. I was free.
But little by little, as I got wiser, the word “no” started to creep into my vocabulary. I learned to stand my ground and to be more assertive. My “yes” were less enthusiastic, less spontaneous too as I learned to weigh up the pros and cons of my decisions. My English was good enough to argue politely yet firmly and I had a good grasp on Canadian culture—I knew what was a good opportunity and I could sense what was a one-sided deal or a wrong piece of advice. I felt old enough to know what worked best for me, wise enough to make good decisions—and of course, agreeing to everything sounded awfully naive at that point.
When Mark was born, I was suddenly vested with new authority. I was responsible for another human being, so I had to speak for both of us when I was pregnant, and then for him. This meant disagreeing with unwanted advice, following my instinct and finding what worked best for us. There is one thing they don’t tell you when you become a parent: everyone has an opinion on parenting. There are hundreds of principles, rules, guidelines, methods, etc.—even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have said “yes” to all of them.
At one point, Mark and I became two separate persons and this little human being found limits he had to test. Someone had to say “no” to an adorable baby (it felt silly) and then to a whiny toddler (it felt good). Somehow, this burden fell on me. Soon, it became clear that “daddy” was the good cop and I was the bad cop. We argued over and over again about education principles but we never fully agreed on the fine print. I’m definitely stricter than Feng.
For the past four years, I used the word “no” a lot. It became a safe word for me, an easy way to deal with life when I just didn’t have room for anything else on my plate. “No” was the magic word that allowed me to stay on safe ground, to keep life under control. I didn’t feel like being adventurous. I didn’t want to take risks, I didn’t need more excitement and I certainly didn’t want to deal with potential troubles. I declined offers, ideas, suggestions. No.
But lately, I started to say “yes” again. Mark is more independent, more confident, more logical too. If he wants something, he usually asks “can I…?” and I’m often happy to say “yes”. Four-year-old kids don’t attract as much attention as babies or toddlers, so I’m less likely to be told how to raise my child. I’m more confident as a parent, as a woman too.
I want to say “yes” again. “Yes” to new opportunities, to new challenges. I’m ready to take chances again.
It would be fun… no?