Ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive

An ex­per­i­men­tal ‘Yes Day’ can help us see how of­ten we say ‘No’ on au­topi­lot, says An­drea Mara

Irish Examiner - - News -

An­drea Mara finds that an ex­per­i­men­tal ‘Yes Day’ can help us see how of­ten we say ‘No’ on au­topi­lot.

Would you con­sider a “Yes Day” — a 24-hour pe­riod dur­ing which you say “yes” to ev­ery­thing your chil­dren want?

It’s some­thing that gained trac­tion re­cently when ac­tress Jennifer Garner shared a Yes Day photo on In­sta­gram af­ter she’d slept in a tent in the gar­den. Ap­par­ently, she and her kids have a Yes Day ev­ery year, stem­ming from a chil­dren’s book called

Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosen­thal and Tom Licht­en­held. The boy in the book can ask for pizza for break­fast, to stay up re­ally late, or to have a food fight, and once a year, the an­swer will al­ways be a re­sound­ing “Yes”.

The pur­pose is to let go a lit­tle says par­ent coach Aoife Lee (paren­sup­port.ie). “As par­ents, many of us say ‘no’ a lot — be­cause we don’t have time, be­cause it’s messy, or be­cause it just doesn’t suit right now. A Yes Day can help us see how of­ten we say ‘no’ on au­topi­lot.” Of course it’s not about let­ting go of the rules com­pletely. “Chil­dren need bound­aries to help them nav­i­gate through child­hood,” says Lee, “But it’s also good for them to hear ‘yes’ for a change, if they’re used to hear­ing ‘no’.” In the­ory, it’s a chance for kids to have some un­fet­tered fun. But how does it work in real life? I de­cided to ven­ture Jennifer Garner-like into the un­known and give it a try.

First of all, there was the telling. That was the best bit — watch­ing my three kids’ faces when I ex­plained that from 6pm Fri­day to 6pm Satur­day, I’d be say­ing yes to ev­ery­thing.

Im­me­di­ately they wanted to know what it meant — could they go to Dis­ney­land? That brought me to the next step — the bound­ary set­ting. Of course in the­ory say­ing yes to ev­ery­thing means just that, but in prac­tice, we can’t go to Dis­ney­land, or in­deed any­where be­yond a five-mile ra­dius of the house since we have to work around the usual week­end ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Could we have choco­late for break­fast?” they asked.

“Yes.” “And choco­late from the vend­ing ma­chine at swim­ming?” This was clearly go­ing in one sug­arfilled di­rec­tion. “Yes.” “Could we ask for a bar?” “Sure,” I sighed, then reg­is­tered their shocked faces.

“Are you se­ri­ous?” they asked, “they’re soooo ex­pen­sive!” It tran­spired they meant the gym­nas­tics bar they’ve been talk­ing about for weeks, which brought us to the next bound­ary — money. We could do lit­tle things like go for lunch or buy treats, I ex­plained, but we can’t spend more than €30 over­all.

And as I lis­tened to them plot­ting their re­quests, there were three things I won­dered — would we en­joy it, would they un­der­stand the not-al­ways-clear bound­aries, and would they gorge them­selves on sweets?

At 6pm on Fri­day, Yes Day kicked off with an im­me­di­ate re­quest from my eight-year-old daugh­ter — could she have a choco­late bis­cuit? She looked sur­prised when I said yes, like she hadn’t quite be­lieved it would hap­pen. My 10-year-old took a bis­cuit too, and they asked if my husband could bring home donuts. As I made the call, I won­dered if they’d spend the en­tire 24 hours eat­ing. My husband won­dered if I’d lost the plot.

The kids then told me they were stay­ing up late to have a mid­night feast, and my five-year-old took it one step fur­ther — he an­nounced he’d be stay­ing up un­til the mid­dle of the night. At nine o’clock, I ten­ta­tively sug­gested he go to bed, wor­ried he’d in­sist on us­ing his Yes Day card to stay up.

“Is it the mid­dle of the night?” he asked.

I crossed my fin­gers be­hind my back and told him it was, and off he went to bed, de­lighted with him­self. Per­haps at times Yes Day is about the per­cep­tion of free­dom.

On Satur­day, af­ter a choco­late break­fast, I re­ally needed to find some­thing not food-re­lated to dis­tract them so I asked them to choose an ac­tiv­ity.

“Bowl­ing!” shrieked all three — this is their stock an­swer when­ever I give them the op­tion to choose, but mostly I say no. A lit­tle bit be­cause it’s ex­pen­sive, and a lot be­cause it’s an in­door ac­tiv­ity in a win­dow­less build­ing and one I don’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy. In other words, per­fect Yes Day fod­der. And it started to sound like it was all go­ing to have a happy end­ing — we’d have a fam­ily out­ing do­ing some­thing the kids wanted to do, and I’d en­joy it more than I ever ex­pected. Ex­cept it wasn’t to be. Bowl­ing was booked out.

“What would you like to do in- stead?” I asked, glanc­ing ner­vously at the ad­join­ing play cen­tre — the one thing I dis­like more than bowl­ing is soft play cen­tres.

“Play cen­tre!” they shouted in uni­son, and off they went. It’s not what I’d have cho­sen, but then, that’s pre­cisely the point of the ex­er­cise.

Their fi­nal re­quest was to bake — and for each of them to make some­thing dif­fer­ent. I tend to say no too of­ten when they ask to bake — be­cause it’s messy and time­con­sum­ing and of­ten stress­ful — so this was a very rea­son­able Yes Day re­quest, and I was happy to agree.

Two hours later as the clock ticked to­wards six, I was a bro­ken woman, star­ing at a sink full of bowls, and gi­ant blob-like cakes cov­ered in ic­ing, sprin­kles and sweets. Was it a har­mo­nious bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? Ab­so­lutely not. Did the kids en­joy it? They loved ev­ery minute.

And was Yes Day a suc­cess? Yes, in that the kids en­joyed it. In truth, I found some parts fun (telling them, watch­ing them hatch plans) and some parts not so much — bak­ing three cakes at once was pos­si­bly the most stress­ful do­mes­tic ex­pe­ri­ence of my life.

But I was sur­prised at how well they un­der­stood the bound­aries, and that they didn’t try to hold me to black and white def­i­ni­tions of what was in and what was out.

They even con­cluded that eat­ing choco­late for 24 hours prob­a­bly wasn’t a good idea. So in the end, it wasn’t as dif­fi­cult as I thought it would be and I loved how much the kids loved it.

And at six o’clock on Satur­day as I cleaned cake bat­ter off the toaster and begged the kids to watch TV, I thought about say­ing one more “Yes” — to a great big glass of wine.

‘They un­der­stood the bound­aries and didn’t try to hold me to black and white def­i­ni­tions of what was in and what was out

Pic­ture: Fer­gal Phillips

An­drea Mara with her three kids Elissa, age 9, Nia, age 7, and Matthew, age 5. Choco­late, bak­ing and play cen­tres fea­tured highly on this fam­ily’s ‘Yes Day’.

Pic­ture: Joel Ryan/PA

Jennifer Garner : Slept in a tent in the gar­den for ‘Yes Day’.

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