"Give us one nugget of parenting advice before you go," asked one of a half-dozen young leaders meeting with Mark at a local café.
"Okay," he said, "try out this one: never say no."
The room erupted with laughter, as the young dad looking for help reacted, "You are
kidding, right? That's all I ever say-- and my son needs one thousand more noes."
"No, I'm not kidding," Mark quietly responded. The room's mood sobered as each parent leaned forward to listen. "Never say no to all the dreams and creative ideas your children have. Never say no to the realization you can become different than your mom or dad. Especially never say no to your kids' requests to join them, like playing dress up with your little girl or going surfing with your teenager when the weather's cold and windy. If you say no too often, they'll stop asking."
A week later that concerned dad tracked Mark down to say he had taken that advice and his home life had dramatically turned around. "My son is suddenly easy to get along with just because I started saying yes to some things he wanted to do together. I'm not kidding," he said with a big grin. "The change is dramatic." As he walked away, he turned and pointed to Mark, saying, "It's hard, but never say no!"
is a commanding word. It can be a denial, a rejection, an expression of fear, or an unintended statement of worth. But a thousand noes can be dwarfed by the power of one yes. We say yes to the stuff and people we value.
Most of us said "Yes!" when we discovered we were having children. The yes continues every time that baby needs feeding or changing or to be held. But that initial yes can be quickly dampened in a no world with all the challenges of raising small people.
But really, never say no? The title of this book is a hyperbole to startle our souls. We want to change the focus, to look at parenting through a different lens. Instead of targeting behavior, we want to step back and see what matters most: the relationship.
This shifts our perspective from a negative scrutiny of children's conduct to positively enjoying our kids. We believe strengthening an authentic bond between parent and child leads to cooperation in all areas of life. So we aren't endorsing permissiveness or leniency--far from it. We just hope to move beyond reactionary noes to proactive yeses. Behavior often takes care of itself when we focus on having a healthy relationship.
Of course, never say no is a dangerous phrase for the smothering or over-responsible parent. So increasing anyone's nervous control or guilt is not intended. We also don't endorse making a child the bright sun of the family universe, indulging every immature wish. No child can truly know who he or she is by looking within, living solely for self. Our narcissistic culture is shrinking our kids because when everyone is special, no one really is. We all need an outside reference point: to love and be loved.
Our children need to see their meaningful roles in a bigger story that is outside of their small lives. It's the grand scheme of a loving God who says yes to having eternal relationships with us. Each family is a procreator of this incredible purpose. When kids realize they are part of God's enormous caring design, they find their true identities. As they lose themselves in loving God and others, they learn who they really are. This opens up more possibilities than anyone could imagine as they discover the yes of God for their own lives. This is what it means to raise big-picture kids.
Our story begins with how we discovered this paradigm shift from being right to celebrating relationship. It is our journey into learning to say yes to the loving plans of God for our kids and us.
How did we never say no in our family? What could yes look like in raising kids? We approach parenting from three directions:
- It begins with us
- A place to grow
- Launching into life
The starting point is with us, the parents. Then we describe never saying no in our home environment and community. Finally, we discover the giant yes of launching our children into the outer space of adult life.
One pressured dad complained to us that he did not
want to begin a parenting conversation by looking at himself. He wanted easy, practical tricks to calm his wild children, not to confront his own blind spots. It's always more fun to pick out paint colors for a room than check its footings. This book allows readers to jump to any chapter or section, to scratch where they are currently itching. But since foundations support the whole house, we begin with us.
What is our purpose in parenting anyway? This is our initial paradigm shift as we turn from pursuing the very basic goals of a child's safety, success, or happiness to nurturing a big-picture child who loves well.
The shift continues as we honestly look at the noes in our lives, revisiting our families of origin and how we've inherited more than furniture or freckles from our parents and relatives. Having kids gives us
fresh permission to grow up. And as we absorb God's love and delight for us, we are able to authentically translate that love to our children, to enjoy them for who they
The yes becomes more detailed in part 2 as we walk through the structures and rooms of our kids' world. How can we nurture our children's creativity, spirituality, and character through our homes, relationships, and words? One surprising bonus: Kids not only push us toward finally growing up but also pull us back into rediscovering childhood, to view life through their inquisitive eyes. Growing up doesn't have to mean growing old at heart. Children breathe the fresh air of wonder, and we can use this eager curiosity to shape their souls for what happens next.
Perhaps the most challenging yes is the final phase, when we release our older children to leave our carefully built home. Learning to say yes earlier can smooth this transition and create the most fulfilling season of all as we watch the metamorphosis of child to adult.
This stage may also find parents pushing the brake pedal through the floor as they ride helplessly in the backseat. We will talk about how to say yes to an adolescent's dreams, to cheer from the sidelines, and especially how to continue a close adult-to-adult relationship for the rest of our lives. Above all, we want to be remembered as never saying no.
Saying yes is not our original idea. We stole it from God's playbook, in which He always finds ways to be with us. Jesus described a parent's worst nightmare about a young man who ran away from home and wasted his kind father's attention, time, and money. Still, the waiting father never said no to this lost child, and when his broken son finally dragged himself home, the dad screamed, "Yes!" and sprinted to embrace him--then he threw a party! We can adopt this story as our template for parenting.
Why did we write our story after thirty-seven years? This book is our attempt to answer the question we are most often asked: "How did you raise your kids?" It's actually a book we wish someone had written for us as insecure parents. We never saw ourselves as parenting authorities; we just knew we'd been given two phenomenal kids to be raised. It was more about not messing up God's ingenious creations.
We longed to shadow experienced moms and dads around their homes, to participate in a family reality show. This was in fact what Jan attempted to do after learning she was expecting our first son. She brashly invited herself to her boss's home to observe his wife with their newborn--and take notes. "Why am I ashamed to admit that I've never fed, bathed, burped, diapered, or even held a baby ever in my whole life?" Jan said. No one is born with this experience. She needed a demonstration. The boss's wife, Betsy, graciously granted Jan's request and calmly handed over her two-month-old daughter, like one would pass a bag of groceries.
Predictably, in less than five minutes, the infant thrust her bottle out of her unhappy mouth and replaced her vigorous sucking with unearthly screams. Jan felt this little one was speaking for both of them.
Jan was filled with global doubts: Am I not good with children? Did I completely fail my crazy experiment? More importantly, will I succeed as a parent?
Most of all, she realized she just needed more practice.
This book is an invitation to practice on our family: to enter our home, join our noisy mealtimes, walk down the hall, and listen to bedtime stories. Looking over our shoulders, you might be spared some of our mistakes or be encouraged to move in some new direction. Yes, we practiced on our own children and certainly discovered that practice does not make perfect parents or kids. But this is our imperfect story of how we raised two beloved sons.
Imagine waking up to discover a satellite has made a soft landing in your backyard. What is it exactly? How does it work? Where did it originate? What information does it hold? You begin to reverse engineer the strange arrival, taking it apart, piece by piece. You are looking for clues as a self-made engineer, to learn the intricacies of satellites. It's yours. It's in your backyard!
Reflecting on our adult sons, now married with kids of their own, and how they handle their public life with character, we feel like something wonderful landed in our lives. How did this happen? What shaped these men? This book is our attempt to reverse engineer the childhoods of Jon and Tim.
We use the term engineering
loosely. This is not a blueprint for parenting; these are rough sketches of what we thought, did, and learned along the way. Nor is it an owner's manual with a promise of warranty if your model fails to operate properly.
As we reflect on our family odyssey, we find God's undeserved fingerprints everywhere. We do not claim to be model humans or parents, and we never placed that burden on our children, even now as adults. We fully admit that 100 percent of the outcome is simply grace. But with that said, we hope parents can be encouraged from our story, told through memories both playful and sobering, with hopeful lessons attached.
Raising children is the most humbling and exhilarating privilege on earth. Here's to saying yes!
It Begins With Me
Granola is a staple in our house. We eat it for breakfast by itself or in pancakes, and by handfuls throughout the day. Jan makes it fresh every week and keeps it in a large jar by our fridge. On top of this container is a round gray stone with one word, hand painted, surrounded by flowers in green, blue, red, and white. That word is "Grace."
We don't remember how this little rock came to live at our house, but for years it has rested atop the granola jar. It's a reminder, a little obstacle, before we can reach into the delicious oats and nuts to eat the day's sustenance: Everything is grace. Be thankful. Give grace away.
Grace is at the center of our family, just as granola is an essential part of our diet. Yes, of course, grace is remembering to give thanks before a meal, a surf session, or safe arrival home. But grace is also the free hug from your child when you've been less than pleasant. It's laughing when the third glass of orange juice tips over at breakfast. Grace is not stating the obvious when your spouse's adamant insistence on where he or she left the receipt is proved wrong. It's walking slower to the tempo of small feet and legs, taking time to see the wonder from young eyes. Grace is listening with interest to the same story from your elders because they enjoy reliving that moment, not because you are entertained.
Our attraction to grace comes from another familiar story. We believe the story of Jesus, that God became one of us and met us in our own neighborhoods. He spoke our language and ate our food. He validated His love by demonstrating astonishing, supernatural grace: healing eyes, broken bodies, and souls. To remove all distance between us, He paid with His life for all the wrongs we've done. None of this came with an invoice. He gave because of grace.
This is the best place we know to look for that unconditional love we crave so desperately. We want this grace to flavor our lives. Hopefully, it changes how we respond to the big and little people around us. In order to scoop up the savory nourishment of living together as a family, we must hold on to grace.
It is all about grace.
Hey, Can That Kid Swim?
The Goal of Parenting
That Labor Day in Lake Arrowhead was picture-perfect, high above the smoggy oven of the Los Angeles basin. We wanted to capture on film our growing family of four. I found an ideal location on a secluded cove, fringed by mature pines with a generous beach. Twenty-two-month-old Jon bounced happily in his inflated yellow boat on the shore, while three-week-old Tim was waking up on a blanket stretched over pristine sand. The dry breeze was alive with the noise of summer's end, ski boats and blue jays competing for volume.
Like paparazzi, we fired our Instamatic camera as Tim wriggled on his back. First, a head-to-toe shot with his twig-like arms reaching for the sky, then a close-up of his tiny, perfect hand clasping my little finger. With all eyes on Tim, we wrongly assumed Jon was safe.
"Hey, can that kid swim?" a woman screamed from across the cove. I quickly glanced at the vacant beach where Jon had been only minutes ago. Then in panic, I looked out to see his empty yellow boat floating upside down twenty-five feet offshore. Jon was underwater. Apparently a boat wake had silently swept his little inflatable into the water and flipped him over.
Heart pounding, I exploded into the water. Jon was floating vertically with his head about eight inches below the surface. Somehow he was instinctively holding his breath, his blue eyes wide open, looking up in patient trust. I snatched him out of the water, soaking wet with the smell of the lake, and held him tight.
Surprisingly, there were no tears. No gasping for air. Not even a whimper of anxiety. Jon loved the water and was having fun, unaware of the danger that had just passed. Not wanting to stir up fear, I kept my voice light and playful, hiding the inner trembling. But Jon's words pierced my calm facade: "I couldn't find you."
I felt relieved yet sickened. What was I thinking? How could Jan and I have taken our eyes off a toddler for that long? Did we even know what we were doing as parents?
We were approaching parenthood as casually as that photo shoot, expecting a tranquil world where we could control every circumstance. We could shelter our children in a protected cove, cushioned in an inflatable and nested on a soft blanket. But we couldn't predict the unexpected boat wake that almost capsized our world.
That night we gratefully tucked a drowsy Jon-Jon into bed and settled baby Timmy in his bassinet. But, sleepless, I lay limp in silence, staring at the ceiling, watching the shadows of windblown pines dance across our walls. My mind kept visualizing the empty beach, the floating inner tube, and Jon's trusting eyes. Echoing in my memory was the woman's startling, gracious cry that saved Jon's life. What could two inexperienced parents learn from this merciful intervention, this life lesson we hoped never to repeat?
I wish I could say that by night's end we both had visions of the perfect parent and a scroll dropped from heaven revealing ten steps for a model family. No more blind mistakes. But we did have a mini-epiphany, the first of many awakenings.
Jan and I realized we had been gifted with two sons; now we were re-gifted to love them a little longer. Jon and Tim were here by design, saved for a bigger picture beyond cute photographs on a beach.
We realized almost tangibly that God's hand was on both their lives, so we felt an urgency to find His fingerprints. It was as if God stepped into our cabin, embraced our two children, and reminded us that He had great plans for them. This was not parenting megalomania, but a truth for every child that had become clearer to us. Children are priceless. There must be an equally invaluable purpose for each life.
We began asking ourselves, what is the point of parenting?
To continue reading, "Never Say No: Raising Big Picture Kids" is available at your favorite bookstore and digital retailers now.
© 2015 Mark and Jan Foreman. "Never Say No" is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.