A Default Setting of YES by Claudia Mills

When my boys were little, I desperately devoured parenting magazines each month. There was one article I've remembered forever. I don't recall the title. I don't recall the author. But I've never forgotten the central point. It said that too many parents, in their interactions with their kids, make their default setting NO. "Can I go outside to play?" "No, not now." "Can we get out the Play-Doh?" "No, not now." Then, if (actually, when) the child screams and begs enough, perhaps hurling himself onto the floor for extra effect, the parent relents: "Oh, well, okay." Of course, all this behavior ends up doing is teaching the child that parental no's are lazy automatic replies ripe for reconsideration. The article suggested that parents lead with "yes" more often, keeping "no" for refusals that will then be non-negotiable.

I thought, and continue to think, this is excellent advice. 

These days my default setting is YES.

After all, 100 percent of my biggest life regrets are not for things I did, but for things I didn't do. I regret not having studied abroad when I was in college. I regret never having uprooted my family for a sabbatical in, say, Budapest, when I was a professor. I regret not spending the money and time to visit a music librarian friend who had a work-exchange for a year in Edinburgh. (Hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here...)

I don't find myself regretting the (many) things I did that turned out badly. Despite hideous outcomes, I'm basically glad I did all of them.

John Lennon shares the story of how he fell in love with Yoko Ono. He saw an art installation of hers in London, where one work required the viewer to climb a ladder to peer, through a spyglass, at a seemingly empty black canvas affixed to the ceiling. But when he looked through the spyglass, he discovered that in little tiny letters, he could read the single word "YES." 

So, I'll close with this quote from Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy in Ulysses: "yes I said yes I will Yes."


  1. Love this, Claudia. There are lots of situations where our automatic response should be yes instead of no. The trick is to know the difference....;-)

  2. And Laurie, knowing the difference is just what I'm worst at !! Ditto for the serenity prayer - how do I know what I need to accept and what I need to change? Sigh...


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