Why Must I Be the One to Say No

Why Must I Be the One to Say No By Jill Curtis

To be a single parent is often like being on a swing - up high at times and flying, but then the fall when things are not so good!

For many, parenting on one's own can bring advantages, but time and again I have heard the dismay behind the question, 'Why must I be the one always to say no?' When a couple are bringing up a child, it is not always necessary for one parent to be the 'good cop' and the other the 'bad cop' but when discipline has to be handed out it does help by demonstrating that there is strong back up, and it is not just 'you' against the 'kids'.

Although the words 'I'll tell your father' are probably not heard in many homes today, when you are feeling low or tired it can be a comforting thought that reinforcements are on the way at the end of the day. Someone to come in and say 'Your mother is right, and you are grounded, and turn off the T.V. NOW'.

I have spoken to hundreds of single parents over the years, and although I heard of the many pleasures experienced I also heard of the stress. First, when I was a family social worker and then when researching for my first book 'Where's Daddy?', I heard many stories - told in a weary voice! - about the uphill task of being the one to do the 'bringing up' of baby.

Very young mothers, especially, spoke of the shock when their cuddly new born baby began to have ideas of its own.

Ellie: "He was a good baby. Then one night I fed Jake, changed him and tried to make him sleep, but he wouldn't go. He just screamed. I realized then that he wasn't a doll. I was frantic, and that was the first time I wished I had someone else there to share it all with." Perhaps being by yourself with a crying baby, or a sick child, in the small hours is the hardest of all situations to cope with alone.

But Jenny spoke for the older mothers when she told me that she finds it hardest when her children ask her for something she knows she will have to say 'no' about, and she can't buy time by saying 'I'll talk it over with your dad'. 'That way"' she said, 'a joint consideration and decision sounds firmer, rather than me saying one more time "no, we can't afford it, or you can't stay out that late."'

A couple who have divorced or broken up can have the question of discipline as an extra pressure. A day-to-day parent cannot afford to be as lax with discipline as the visiting parent. A familiar scenario is that of a single parent struggling on a tight budget and the parent with occasional access spending lavishly on the children. This is especially hard if there have been earlier 'no's' to requests from the children for meals out or other treats, but who return come home from access with videos or tales of a 'fantastic day out'.

Even grandparents can come in for some stick, justifiably at times. A sole parent who has the responsibility of setting bedtimes, table manners and other rules, can have this blown away by a careless: "Oh, let them, just this once". Kids are cute, and catch on to the situation quickly and are not averse to playing off one adult against the other. But at the end of the day it is mom who goes home and has to set up the rules again. More 'No's'? Probably, but although it may take sometime, in their heart of hearts your children will know that saying 'no' didn't come out of spite, but out of a concern for their safety, well-being and protection. But until that day comes it is the weight you carry each time you hear yourself say' no', even though the 'Pleeeese mom' or the 'Everybody else is going' makes it hard to stick to the decision. If you are a single parent you are judge and jury, and the children will just have to accept that. Don't give yourself a hard time about it on top of everything else!


Jill Curtis, author of Where's Daddy?, and Making & Breaking Families, both the highly praised books for divorced parents.
Jill is a senior psychotherapist working in the UK. Visit her website www.Family 2000.org.uk or email her at J_Curtis2@compuserve.com

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