If you were to search "the art of rejecting," which I have just now done, you will find 34,700,000 results. The only problem? They're mostly about how to deal with "REJECTION," not how to be a better "REJECTOR." This is problematic to me.
It's problematic because, like many other human beings out there, I have struggled my whole life with SAYING NO. I am actually really good at it now but only because I HAVE WORKED and WORKSHOPPED and matured into a scrappy no-shit-taker in my old age. In fact, I'm experiencing a bit of a NOPE-AISSANCE in my ability to reject things/people/ideas I think are full of shit. I am also still recovering from many of the instances I should have said no but said yes. That said, my inability to say NO was, for many years, a struggle for me.
A. I didn't want to hurt any feelings.
B. I didn't want to burn any bridges.
C. I was afraid people would think I was a bitch/too cool for school/the worst
I have seen many people post about the importance of raising "nice" kids... and while I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY in modeling empathy, kindness and preaching GOODNESS above all else, I also believe that children must also be taught that IT'S OKAY NOT TO BE NICE SOMETIMES. And it's our job -- as parents -- to equip our babies with the tools to REJECT.
At the same time that I am working on being a better No-er, I am helping my kids find ways to be better No-ers, too.
Peer pressure is a huge fear of mine -- specifically peer pressure in these modern days of social media.
What happens if someone sends you a naked picture?
What happens if someone TELLS you to send a naked picture?
What happens if all of your friends are sending naked pictures?
What happens if your friend is asked to send a naked picture?
What happens if you overhear a group of people trying to convince a girl to send a picture?
My son recently got his first phone. He's 11, in middle school and wanted to be able to communicate with his friends without using my phone. Over the summer, at the height of the Pokemon Go craze, he came home from camp and asked if he could download Pokemon Go.
I asked him why he wanted to.
"Because all of my friends have it," was his answer.
That opened up a very long, very (in my opinion) much needed dialogue about ALLLLLL OF THE TIMES he's going to THINK he wants to do things because EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING THEM.
We talked about how POWERFUL group think is and how challenging it is to step out of line and think for oneself. Especially when you're a teenager. I told him about the many times I asked for things because I thought I should -- all of the times I did things because everyone else was -- and all the times I went along with things because I didn't know how to say no or worse, I didn't WANT TO SAY NO and risk offending, embarrassing, making someone else feel uncomfortable.
I gave him 24 hours to come up with a better reason to convince me.
I explained to him that I will only consider saying yes to something he wants if it is really something HE WANTS --not something he feels he needs to get because others have or want it.
That said, it's one thing to talk about peer pressure and quite another to actually access the tools needed in order to bow out of a not-okay moment. One must have basic training in order to know how to handle people and situations that NEED TO BE REJECTED.
One must be willing to deal with the ramifications of being called "a bitch" or an "asshole" or a "pussy" or a "loser" or a "fraud."
ED: I was recently at a coffee shop, having a meeting with a colleague, when a man approached us and interrupting our conversation, asked us if he could buy us a piece of coffee cake.
"It's THE BEST coffee cake, " he said. "You two can share."
"I'm okay," I said. She agreed.
We rejected him in the MOST polite way possible and while he was clearly NOT OKAY with the rejection, he walked away.
AND THEN CAME BACK.
"You don't understand," he said. "IT'S REALLY GOOD COFFEE CAKE."
That's when something shifted in me.
"NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. WE DON'T WANT YOUR COFFEE CAKE, DUDE."
"Well, I'm just going to buy it for you anyway. You don't have to eat it..."
"PLEASE LEAVE US ALONE."
It occurred to me later that day that even five years ago, I would have taken the cake. I would have eaten the cake as not to offend or make a scene. I would have said yes to something that made me feel uncomfortable because, well, it's easier that way.
That broke my heart.
I thought back to all the times I had eaten someone's shitty coffee cake to make it EASIER ON THEM and hard on myself. I thought about all of the times I chose to be "nice" instead of real. I thought about all of the times I was unable to reject even when my body was SCREAMING for me to do so.
I can't change the past. I cannot take back all the times I got into cars I shouldn't have. Wandered off with strangers when I didn't want to. Ate the cake when I didn't want to eat the cake. But I can do everything in my power to empower my children to be OKAY, or at the very least MORE OKAY THAN I WAS, at saying No.
A. It's okay to hurt someone's feelings if it means standing up for others and yourself.
B. Sometimes bridges must be burned in order to forge new paths.
C. You will never be liked by everyone. Someone will always think you're the worst.
And so. Here is how I'm attempting to raise artists of rejection:
1. There is no one way to do something, AKA "If you don't like this, propose something else."
If I make dinner and someone doesn't like what we're having, they have the option of making their own dinner. Last night one of my kids refused to eat her fish tacos, so she made herself avocado toast for dinner. (If you're not happy with a situation, be proactive in changing it.)
I also believe in flexibility of rules. That while there are some rules ONE MUST OBEY --stopping at a red light, for example, protects EVERYONE -- there are others that can and should be challenged if/when a child/adult feels hurt/betrayed/lesser-than because of them. Dress codes are a great example of that. EATING ALL THE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE is another one. (Growing up, there were MANY households I had dinner at where I was told that "eating everything on your plate" was a sign of respect. Now I realize how messed up that is -- GUILTING a child for not EATING her food because "its rude" sends the message to the child that his/her REFUSAL to do something is prohibited. That he/she will be punished if they do not go against their gut and say YES.)
That's how women end up eating strange men's coffee cake when they're in the middle of a business meeting.
And if we expect our children to go IGNORE THEIR GUT in order to appease, surely we can't act surprised when they do the same with others. Surely we can't act surprised when they treat others with similar dismissal.
2. Within reason, confrontations are not mine to have
I don't get involved unless I am called into a classroom by a teacher to get involved. If my kid is having an issue with another kid at school, I leave it up to them to deal with it. Homework overwhelming? Write a letter to your teacher telling them why. You have a problem with something at school? Run for student council.
(ED: If something REALLY problematic is going on -- a child is being severely bullied, for example, I do think parents should get involved. But for the most part, I think it's important to let our kids fight their own battles and be their own advocates. I think in many cases parents go to teachers before they even give their kid the chance to deal with an issue themselves.)
If my kids rely on me to make decisions and confrontations for them, I believe I am doing them a great disservice. Teach a child to fish style.
3. Embrace vulnerability and the parts of ourselves that make it SO HARD to say NO.
People who struggle to say no are typically people who don't want to HURT OTHER PEOPLE. That is a sign of a very empathetic, very kind, very generous human. That is a beautiful thing to nurture, to praise, to identify in loving and supportive way. It is also something that one must teach her children to protect -- and in order to do that, kids must be reminded that it is also important to be EMPATHETIC, KIND, AND GENEROUS TO THEMSELVES.
For example, I have one child that would give the shirt off her back to someone if they asked her. So when I see her LITERALLY giving her sisters her last fish stick or the bigger piece of cake, or HER BRAND NEW COLORING BOOK, I always applaud her kindness but also make sure she knows that she is JUST as wonderful and amazing and generous if she keeps things to herself.
"You have to be generous and loving to yourself, too. You deserve to have a brand new coloring book, too! More than anyone, really!"
Raising our children to be better at saying YES to themselves is a great way to explain to a child (and an adult) why it is so crucial to build strong NO muscles -- and that starts by insisting that children learn to confront their own conflicts.
"How do you say YES to YOU in this situation," is a great question to ask a child who is struggling socially. "How do you be the best friend to YOU? Does that mean saying something to someone that might hurt their feelings? Does that mean saying something to a teacher that might get someone into trouble?"
Sometimes the answers will be YES. And in those times, children need to know that TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES -- that SAYING NO TO THE MAN WITH THE COFFEE CAKE -- is not only OKAY, it is a GENEROUS act. Having your own back is a GENEROUS act. It's also one of the most PERTINENT life skills to learn. Or so I'm just now learning -- building my NO muscles WITH my children as we work to build theirs, too.