"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 10, 2012
The Power of No
by Melissa Howell

I have a two-year-old.

And subsequently, you are probably about to experience a bout of sentimental yearnings, or dole out your condolences. I’ll accept both, depending on the minute.

As he is my baby in the truest sense of the word, I have found myself creating a common situation for the rest of the family to deal with, and it goes something like this: “Why is Mason screaming? Quick, whatever he wants, just somebody give it to him and make him stop!”

I have been responsible for helping to create a monster, and its name is, “I don’t like to be told no, and so I’ve learned that if I scream I’ll get what I want.”

And then I realized that if I don’t want to be on a superhighway to creating a spoiled brat, I had to exit off and head in a different direction.

This requires a deep breath, a firm commitment, and the ability to endure extended periods of screaming, otherwise known as the infamous temper tantrum. Tantrums are a way for young children to express their feelings, often when they don’t have adequate ability to express them verbally. Or, sometimes the words just don’t do the feelings justice. I can relate. Isn’t it tempting — just every great now and then — to throw a good kicking and screaming fit?

Some children resort to them more often than others. This two-year-old of mine has been a bona fide connoisseur of temper tantrums, a master in the art of the high-pitched scream, the throwing himself on the floor, the arched back-de-resistance, the whole works.

I saw no way around the situation, so I arrived at the conclusion that the only way to reach a suitable outcome was to go through the problem. And that was to use the word “no” a lot more, and stand strong in its meaning and my resolve.

At first, this had the results you might expect. But then, something happened. Something like, understanding — and acceptance.

For example: Mason loves gum. I love when he asks for a piece, simply because he changes the “g” in gum to a “b,” and so how can I not smile when he asks for “piece bum” or “piece bubbo bum.”

But now, when I answer “no,” he levels his gaze at me and calmly repeats the word “no,” as if he is fully digesting the meaning of this term, and then resumes his activity. I would call this a measurable outcome.

Do you find it difficult to say “no” to your children? We love them. We want the best for them. Their happiness and well-being is our grand destination. But contrary to what we might think, a journey free of bumps isn’t the greatest way to go.

The power of “no” is too often vastly undervalued. Have you ever been around a child or adult who is rarely told “no?” Not pretty, is it?

When I was about 11 or 12, the thing I wanted most for Christmas one year was a Guess® sweatshirt. If you have any fashion recollections from the 1980s, they likely involve Guess® clothing. In reality, there really was nothing special about the sweatshirt I wanted: pink or blue, maybe white, with the telltale inverted triangle that contained the word Guess, with the question mark just below. I wanted it badly. Simply because it was Guess®.

When Christmas arrived, I went through my presents one by one, until one did indeed hold something that resembled a sweatshirt. In my delirious excitement, I pulled out the soon-to-be beloved item. It was one of the colors I wanted. It had an inverted triangle, cut out of an old sweatshirt and taped to the other sweatshirt. It had the word Guess® and the question mark, written with a black Sharpie marker.

Through this interesting and memorable gift, my mother had found a way to tell me no, albeit in a uniquely creative way. No to buying something simply because of the one word on it, no to spending money that had to stretch for our family of seven and could only go so far, no to selling out to a brand.

Although a sense of humor runs rampant through my family, I know my parents watched with baited breath for my reaction to the gag gift. And you know what I did? I laughed. Of course there was a moment of disappointment. But in my fragile ‘tween world, I somehow found a piece of understanding in that disappointment. And I have since thought of that lesson in the word “no.” (But you can probably understand my joy when I received an Esprit shirt for a subsequent Christmas, for which I had hoped and prayed and lobbied with gusto.)

As a mom, I want to be able to say “yes” to my children. But I believe that a healthy dose of the small and simple word “no” also can lead to great and wonderful things, like keeping them grounded, teaching them work to for things, and being grateful for what they do have.

And, our ultimate parent, even our Heavenly Father, tells us “no” sometimes. Have you received a “yes” answer to every prayer you have offered, every request of your heart? I’m venturing a guess that the answer is “no,” that He who has created all things and knows all things has answered “no” from time to time. Because, He knows what is best for us and that there are times we need to increase our faith, go down a different path, work a bit harder, or simply wait a little longer. And these are the things that refine us.

Whether my children are two and asking for “bum,” or whether they are 22 or beyond and asking for certain things, I hope that their dreams come true and they will have lives filled with happiness. But I sincerely hope they will continue to receive a healthy sprinkling of “no” throughout their lives, to help them fully appreciate the importance and beauty of the “yes” moments.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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