Just Say Yes: Lessons From My Grandmother



My grandmother passed away just before Thanksgiving last year, and you’ll learn about her later in this post. But this post isn’t just about her. It’s about a two-word mantra, bestowed upon me by my grandmother, that literally changed how I parent–“Say yes.”

I guess it would be accurate to say my family is like fudge; mostly sweet, but with a few nuts. (In the spirit of that statement, I would absolutely be a misshapen almond, or perhaps an overly chewy walnut with a hint of bitterness. My grandmother, however; would absolutely be the sweet and delicious part of the fudge. She’d be the part that holds everything together and offers the perfect amount of comfort.)

“Say yes.” How can two words be life-changing? Get comfy. I’ll tell you.

My grandmother was born in 1927. She grew up in a time when society was very different. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, she worked in a high school and often remarked that students had too much expected of them. In her mind, being “politically correct” and keeping ahead of modern-day academic and athletic pressures overwhelmed kids sometimes.

Airial's gram

If you took her to lunch, she’d undoubtedly compliment you on your sweater, order fish, and unlike this photo, have her hair tied back. Here she’s holding her first-born; it’s my second favorite photo of her. She’d enclose a a crisp $10 bill in all of my birthday cards.

It happened like this: I was feeling very overwhelmed. My third daughter was about six-months-old, and the everyday Olympics of parenting was sucking my soul. I wanted to do everything right, but sometimes felt like a failure. Looking back, I now know lots of moms (and dads) who feel like this.

“Don’t touch. Get Down. Sit down. Stay here. Don’t run! No yelling!”…the list was endless.

I thought I’d spend the first year trying to teach my children to speak and be independent, and now I was suddenly asking them to sit and be quiet. Polite. Safe. Basically, to not appear as though they were raised by wolves! Was that so much to ask?

Grandma raised six kids. Five boys and a girl. She worked two jobs and cooked meals from scratch. Yeah, I considered her an expert.

“How did you ever do this?”

“It’s what we did in those days,”she replied.

“How did you raise six kids without losing your mind?”

Grandma hesitated, then simply said…”Say yes.” Say yes.

In a world full of limits and expectations, she gave her children (and grandchildren) the freedom to be children.

They made mistakes and learned from them. They fell, dusted themselves off, and kept going. She encouraged them to run and yell, to climb and touch. She said “yes.”

Sure, there were rules. Plenty of them. She watched us like a hawk from afar. We crashed our bikes if we went too fast, got an occasional wood sliver, bug bite, grass stain, or skinned knee. We learned what happened if you mixed baking soda and vinegar, how to cook without recipes, and how to identify blueberries along the water’s edge. She gave us confidence and independence, all by saying “yes.”

When my children ask to try something new, experiment, make a muddy mess, or pound relentlessly on a tiny drum set, I tell them “yes.” We can clean up afterward, I have earplugs (they’re even pink), and I have plenty of calamine lotion. And baking soda, vinegar, and Band-Aids, too.

You’ll say “no” plenty of times.  Why not say “yes” whenever you can?