Becoming a parent is, in no doubt, the most emotionally draining experience possible. I'm pretty certain in my first twenty four hours as a mum I went from ecstatic joy to pure terror and back again more times than I can count. I adored her from the word go but could I do this? Could I be a parent? Could I raise her correctly? Well, I know now that I was not alone in feeling like that, in fact every new parent feels the same. Parenthood is a rollercoaster and no one knows what they are doing. I decided somewhere on my parental journey to stop being so hard on myself and instead focus on a few key boundaries. I could fail in all other tasks so long as I could teach my daughter a few simple life skills which would not only help her to be a better person, but also protect her.
Number one on my list was 'No Means No'. It was something I remember by mother saying, 'please can I go to that party?' 'I said no, and no means no.' While, of course, I have found myself in similar situations, saying similarly annoying things, this is not the context in which I intended to use this rule. It is initially to be used as a way to teach boundaries. I am not sure if being a mother of girls makes me more paranoid but I am always aware of the risks of sexual abuse. I know full well I cannot be there to protect them always, but if they are aware that no means no then they are aware of someone breaking their boundaries. We teach our girls that their bodies are their own, if they don't want someone to touch them, say no, if this person does not listen, raise the alarm. Likewise it teaches them to respect others too.
A few weeks ago something happened. We took my daughter to a sports class she attends every week. She loves the class, but every now and then she is faced with a situation which takes her out of her comfort zone. One of these situations occurred on this particular day. She was being taught by a different teacher than usual, who was pushing them harder to achieve results. My daughter became uncomfortable and she spoke up about it. 'I don't feel ready to do that.' Quite simply she felt out of her depth.
At the time I was not aware of the circumstances that followed immediately after. The toddler had me distracted. I saw my husband enter the hall, though that is not unusual, but I saw him leave furiously.
'I will tell you when we are home.'
I wished he hadn't. I wish he had told me straight away, although I may have regretted what I would have said. The teacher in question had called my husband in. My daughter was picked on for having said 'no'. We were told to 'watch for this sort of behaviour at home' and then it was made very obvious that the others in the group could do it so why couldn't she. My daughter stood there, fully aware of what was going on, as her teacher singled her out for saying 'no'.
The teacher got what she wanted. My humiliated daughter stood up and completed the routine she had been scared of. Yes, of course she could do it, but she was uncomfortable, and she had said so. I have never been more proud of her for speaking up for herself, and I have told her as much. As for 'watching for this behaviour at home' I shall watch for it, and I shall applaud it. Since this episode I have almost picked up the phone to this teacher several times. I have also sat down to write an email. My daughter has asked me not to, she has admitted she needed pushing and is pleased that now she can do it. Now I am uncomfortable.
Being taught a new skill will often take us out of our comfort zone, I myself need a gentle push from time to time, but I feel there are ways to go about it and I definitely do not think the correct ways were used here. I have watched her regular teacher praise her and allow her to find her feet in her own time. I worry now that she has seen a benefit in not listening to her own instinct and I am scared that being ridiculed for saying no will stay with her, and in the future she may be easily persuaded by peer pressure, or a voice of authority.
As my children grow I see my own concerns as a parent change. We think those baby years are so scary, a tiny person to take care of, but as they get older the situations become more complex. Am I right in instilling the no means no rule? We tell her to listen to her teachers, and we tell her to listen to her instincts when it comes to her body. This was a conflict of both, and while I am happy she can finally do a move that was hindering her progress, it upsets me that it had to be done at a cost of uncomfortably stepping outside of her boundaries. I will respect my daughter's wishes of not taking this further with the teacher in question (because she has said no and it is to be acknowledged). Secretly however, I hope the instructor gets wind of this blog, or at least other instructors do, so they may be heightened to the pressures of boundaries. Maybe in future you don't ridicule a person for simply saying they are uncomfortable. If in future someone is forcing my child into something more sinister, I hope she will still have the confidence to stand her ground when saying 'no'.