Here's what happened when I said 'Yes' to my kids for a day

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

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 sugar-filled 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
instead?” 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 time-consuming 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.


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