Several months ago my oldest daughter and I went shopping for school clothes. Despite our best intentions, it started out as an incredibly frustrating experience for both of us. I, the typical father shocked at the short hemline of the shorts she wanted to purchase and she, the typical pre-teen embarrassed to be shopping at A&F with her old man. We eventually worked through it, but not before several arguments about what was appropriate for a 10 year old. For the most part the afternoon was filled with a lot of anxiety and some tears (from both of us).
Little did I know that through that pain would come growth and understanding. It was a necessary experience for both of us on many levels. We both walked away from it wishing it had gone better. Despite what your 10 year old daughter tells you, she WANTS to have a connection with you more than anything in the world. And when it doesn’t happen despite the best efforts, it crushes her internally. And in her little mind it all starts with
the word “no.”
A quick recap to set the stage. The very first thing she picked out that day was a pair of jean shorts. As
a father my first thought when she held them up was to sue the store and the manufacturer for
promoting the solicitation of a minor. And before I could even think, I heard the words “NO WAY” bellowing from the very depths of my protective soul. It was all downhill from there. “I knew that’s what you would say!” she proclaimed and we ended up in the car with her saying, “just let me shop with mom!” We tried one or two more stores and eventually managed to walk away with a somewhat successful trip. But the overall experience stung. And despite leaving the last store smiling with bags in hand, there was still a lingering sense of “man that was hard” for both of us.
Months later I would see the benefits of the effort we both put in that day.
Earlier this week we ended up at a surf shop in town. I was on a quest for a new pair of Vans and she happened to be with me. We struck out at numerous shops. She then had the idea of going to a store at the mall she knew would have them. “Perhaps you’ll find a pair you like there,” she said. In the back of my mind I kind of knew she liked the idea of perhaps finding shoes for herself as well, but that only made me smile. And so we went. We both tried some shoes on but had no luck finding anything either of us liked. Giving up on the shoes, we prepared to leave when she asked, “Can we go to Belk’s?”
What ensued was an afternoon of shopping I couldn’t have imagined. On this day, she invited me into
her world and I, graciously accepted, making a conscious effort to keep my “No” in check. She found some shorts she liked, which to me still seemed a little more “short” than necessary, but this time I suggested she try them on first. And low and behold they looked “o.k.” Not my favorite, but I tried to look at them a little more objectively this time around. I had discussed the last trip with her mom and the three of us developed a test for determining when shorts were too short. We also determined that some would be o.k. for lounging around but not for school. This worked wonders this time around as we both knew the expectation going in and had a means of knowing where to draw the line that had been previously discussed.
We eventually made several purchases sharing finds with each other and discussing the pluses and minuses of each. We didn’t really spend that much. She’s already aware of budgets and what’s reasonable and found some terrific deals. This again promoted the word “yes” and she knew that. Afterward we stopped for a snack in the food court and then headed back to the car. As we got in I heard her exclaim, “This was AWESOME!”
So what was the difference? That’s a long answer I think. But I think it all changed when the word “No” was put in check. Developing a relationship with your kids doesn’t happen during one experience. It takes time. It takes sitting in the car frustrated with each other once or twice. It takes compromise and listening and trying again. It takes a desire on both your parts to want the relationship. But most of all I think it means looking for opportunities to say “Yes.” We get so used to saying ‘No” as parents that it becomes involuntary. Eventually we find ourselves sticking our heels in the sand out of habit not really taking the time to consider the request or looking for ways to compromise.
Come on, be honest. How many times have you said, “I SAID NO AND I’M THE DAD!” Trust me the walls that puts up are tough to break down. To have your daughter invite you in is a gift. I learned this when she completely shut me out of it that first day. And so when this opportunity presented itself, I did everything I could to let her know it was safe and I was willing to compromise. She in turn did the same and it turned out to be an amazing day for both of us.
As I dropped her off with her mom I asked her if she had had fun. She hugged me and with enthusiasm said, “yes!”