Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Being A 'No It All'

We'd bought the kids some clothes and Ruby was intent on trying everything on. The word 'No' was forming on my lips and I had to shove hard to get it out of my mouth, even if it didn't leave my mind. True, it would make a mess of the hotel room, taking everything out, paper, pins and all. True, it would demand a lot of attention as she went into the bathroom to change and then come out to model for all of us. True, it would distract us all from more adult catching up. True. True. True. But none of those is a reason to say, 'No'.

The adult/child relationship is power based. Some of that power is reasonable - adults make better and safer decisions (at least in theory). Adults need to ensure that they have a bit of instructional control or everything will be chaos. But, in reality, there is are very few times when the word 'no' is needed. 'Yes, later,' is most often what parents mean by 'no'. However, I've discovered, maybe rediscovered, that sometimes I want to say 'no' because I can. Simply as an exercise of my power and control.


Further, a child that is disobedient to an adult's 'no' is a problem child - not a child dealing with a problem in power.

Double yikes.

I heard a staff say once, about someone with a disability, 'He likes to get into power struggles with staff.' Annoyance greeted my sentiment, then, that there are only power struggles when power has been used. What we mean by 'power struggle' is most often either 'didn't do what I said' or 'didn't heed my opinion'. Sometimes power struggles aren't anything more than a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable person.

Tyrants only respond to power offered in opposition.

Triple yikes.

I found myself constantly swallowing 'nos' ... constantly fighting the urge to have an opinion on something that didn't matter. I kept asking myself, why do I care so much about something that REALLY DOESN'T MATTER. I was exhausted at the end of the day, partly because of the physical activity involved in caring for children and partly because I was constantly wrestling power out of my hands and stifling commands from my mouth.

Quadruple yikes.

I thought back to my time as a front line staff.

I was hired into my first job. They threw me into a power based relationship with people with disabilities without ever ONCE talking to me about power. It was like they injected power directly into my veins, making me the worst kind of addict - craving it's use. And because I was good at it, I got made a behaviour therapist. OH. MY. I wrote compliance programmes which ensured that people did as they were told, and did it quickly.

I got off the addiction to power after a particularly memorable moment: something that lead me to write 'Mourning Has Broken,' a piece that changed my life. I learned things about myself that weren't pretty, but I think were pretty normal. Power is addictive. Power corrupts. Power makes mean. Why would I be exempt from any of these rules.

Why would any parent?

Power ends up making a fussy, old, fat guy in a wheelchair thinking he has a right to say 'no' to an excited child who wants to pull clothes out of a bag and try them on.

There is a greater power. Greater than the one with the desire to control others. It's the one with the desire to control ourselves.

And I did.

At the end of the evening I got hugs from both kids. Ruby thanked us both for our presents and then stopped and said, almost to herself ... 'I had fun.' I thought that fine reward for the war that went on in my head. When she left I surprised Joe by shaking my head back and forth and spewing out the word 'no' over and over again'.


He asked what I was doing, I told him that I'd been stuffing back all the 'nos' that I wanted to say, all the silly meaningless nos, and now I was letting them out.

He laughed and then shook his head saying: nononononononononononono

I guess it's a universal thing between adults and kids.

Between staff and people with disabilities.

Between bosses and employees.

Between the powerful and the powerless.

Power, noticed, is power that can be controlled. Or at least that's my hope.


wendy said...

I love the Nonononononononono...I may take that up myself after a day of reminding myself to make "yes" my default position instead of "no". Think Joe might pop by to join me in a chorus or two? ;)

Brooke, Cessna, Canyon & Rogue said...

such a great post!

I think we often forget to think before we speak. I like that you took the moment to figure out why you were going to say "no". I believe we all need to take those moments because it might help us avoid hurting someone's feelings or causing trouble where it's not needed.

Belinda said...

Such an honest confession and helpful reminder.

Anonymous said...

Wow! After a loooong weekend with my kids I really needed to read this today. Thanks, I do believe this is a universal struggle.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

I feel ambivalent about this post. From what I read Ruby and Sadie are well behaved and well loved children and they can feel and are Safe around you and Joe. It is Great that you always consider how to act and what you do when you are together.

My cousin is only three weeks older than I am and he has a three year old daughter. I am not legally her aunt, but I feel very much like it.

She is an only child with a big family of kind of crazy adults around her who do what she wants if she only wriggels one finger. She has everything a child can wish for, she can actually drown in all the toys and attention she gets.

I guess She will never learn to accept no as an answer.

That is not good.

Julia from Germany

Anonymous said...

Oh I definitely remember having these things directed at me. I heard so much from my parents about having a "power struggle." I always wondered, power over what? My decisions? I had that already, at least to some extent, and I wasn't about to yield it. Over them? I didn't care what they did.

Then when I was institutionalized I was "noncompliant." It's not a bad comparison. I was the equivalent of a "problem child"- and some of the staff had their head so far in the sand that they assured me that OF COURSE no one there saw me that way, after I had literally had it said to my face.

Gah. There is a power struggle there but it's not the one people think is going on.

I treat children and think about them mostly the same as I do adults. The not-so-surprising thing is that they usually suddenly are much more self controlled and thoughtful about their actions. They definitely notice and are aware of our expectations- if we've already decided they're a problem child, what motivation do they have not to be? If we don't respect them, why should they respect us?

Andrea S. said...

Dave, I love how you take discussions of the issue of power relationships--something that I agree too many human service workers are never trained to think about--and encourage us to think more broadly about other kinds of power relationships in our own ordinary daily lives ... including the power that adults inherently have over children simply by nature of being adults, and older, and usually stronger (physically), and usually better educated and informed and usually more articulate, etc. Amanda Baggs helped me start thinking about power relations...which is part of what first brought me to your blog a few years ago. And now I look for more of these kinds of linkages whenever I see power being discussed. (Everyone interested in disability rights ought to read Amanda Baggs' blog, even the very old posts, at ballastexistenz.autistcs.org ... it seems to be down right now but I'm hoping it will eventually come back up).

In unrelated news (and I sent you an email about this but wanted to make sure you saw this):

I thought you would like knowing that, in the USA, the American Association of People with Disabilities has launched a new Public Service Announcement being broadcast on various TV channels in the US that tells people that it is unacceptable to use the R-word. It equates the R-word with the N-word and other “-ist” slurs. One of the examples they use of an “unacceptable slur” is the word “fag”. More about it at the AAPD blog at the link below:


Andrea S, said...

Dave, I left a comment but got a message back saying that my comment has been saved and "will be visible after blog owner approval" ... I'm not sure if this is a new routine policy or if my comment simply got caught by your spam filter (I don't know if you have one) because I incorporated a couple of links in it, which does sometimes seem to trigger spam filters. Am alerting you because I'm not sure if you get automated notice of comments needing approval from you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave, I will share this with my team tomorrow. It reminds me of my very wise mother reminding the birth parents of her foster children with disabilities that if it is not harmful to anyone - why not. They want to jump on the trampoline without a jacket..well, they will figure out if they're cold, so why not. They want to dig a garden in an unused corner of the yard, why not? Her philosophy was if it does no harm, maybe it will bring happiness and do some good. Words to live by!

Valorie said...

It took me a while to realize that I said "no" when I really meant "Give me a minute to think". By the time my kids were around 5 or so, I'd pretty much taught them that adults need time to think about whether something is a good idea or if it might be harmful in some way. If they asked for something and came back later for my answer, I was more likely to answer "Yes!" but if they pushed me to decide quickly, I'd be more likely to answer "No!" just because I hadn't had time to think it through.

Now that my kids are so much older (19 and 17 - how time flies!), we've talked about society's definition of politeness says I have to answer something when asked a question and that many people view taking time to think things through as a sign of rudeness. They've learned to think a moment before they say "Yes" to whatever harebrained scheme their friends might concoct to make sure that it really won't result in hurting someone or something.

Over the years, we've developed a great relationship, due largely to my willingness to talk about why I want to say "No" and give them the opportunity to assage my concerns.

It boils down to what you seem to keep saying: respect is the foundation of every good relationship. I might not always get it right and sometimes I say "no" when I shouldn't, but they know I'm willing to talk about it rather than reject it out of hand. For their part, they've learned good persuasive tactics without becoming whiny or pushy.

One thing I notice more and more these days is that with so many people accustomed to instant contact and instant answers, people's willingness to be patient while people think is becoming shorter and shorter. You talked in one of your posts about the 7 (?) second rule when you are getting into an elevator before someone becomes convinced that you are going to make them late. At least with you moving, people can see the work being done and have some sort of "progress meter" to go by. When people are thinking, there isn't any external guide to give people any modicum of patience.

My daughter has Asperger's and we've talked at great length that because she looks "normal" (whatever that means), people aren't prepared for her to have difficulties. When the person is in a wheelchair, it makes sense when they have the disabled parking pass but when we see someone who appears to be able-bodied, our reaction is so often negative. Just because we don't know what is happening under the skin doesn't mean that nothing is!

Thank you, by the way, for helping me to understand a better way to treat people. I may not always get it right, but I try to learn from my mistakes and make it better next time. Your blog often makes me think about common, everyday things in new lights and that has to be helpful in the long run.

Kasie said...

Where can I read "Mourning has Broken"?

Jannalou said...

I used to do behavioural intervention for autistic children, and after a while I rebelled against the expected reaction to an incorrect response (this was while using the Lovaas-style of ABA), which is an off-handed "no." I eventually came to the conclusion that the word "no" needs to mean something when we use it, and if we're telling small children "no" all the time, with no consequences, for simply not giving the correct card when asked, the word is not going to mean anything to them. So I started saying things like "oops!" and eventually decided that the errorless learning approach (as used by Carbone in what is called Verbal Behaviour Analysis, or VBA) was a much more positive teaching method. And then I learned a bit about play therapy, which is, to my mind, so much more positive and so much easier on everyone, that I don't know why we even go anywhere else.

I was a very good ABA therapist when I started out, by the way. By the time I got out of working in the field, I wasn't very good at it anymore. Too many questions, which are too often considered insubordination by the people who train the therapists to train the children.

Now I provide community access and respite care, privately. I have a much more equitable relationship with the people I work with; the person's guardians will tell me what goals we should be thinking about, and I will keep those in mind throughout our time together so that I can guide the individual through the process of making good choices regarding where we go and what we do.

For example, one woman I work with is trying to lose weight and save money for vacation, so I try to encourage healthy eating when we get a snack at the end of the evening, I encourage her to spend money only on things she truly needs (and to ask her parents if she's not 100% sure she needs it - nicely taking responsibility for overspending off my shoulders), and I amiably agree to go for a walk around the mall, using the pedometer app on my iPod to track how far we actually go during that time (it's good for me, too, after all). I suppose I am "in charge" since I'm the one with the car, but aside from the fact that I am paid for my time, our outings are basically the same as any outing I might have with any one of my friends. There are a few things we can never do, simply because of the nature of her disability (e.g., movies, concerts), but we mostly do normal young adult activities like window shopping, going to the library, and going for coffee. (I ignore the fact that I am in my thirties. If it's true that we're only as old as we feel, I'm going to be 15 for the rest of my life.)

Shan said...

To an extent I do agree with Julia from Germany, but I must point out that there's a huge difference between being a parent and being a fairy godfather (winking at you, Dave!).

The parent has the responsibility of teaching the child how to take 'no', and in fact neglecting that part of your parental duty means doing a child a real disservice.

The fairy godfathers have the joy of being the endlessly patient, endlessly indulgent, loving and doting figures in a child's life. Ruby will remember only happy times with Dave and Joe - the discipline part should be looked after by her parents.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Julia and Shan, I do believe that there is a place for 'no' in our vocabulary. I spend a lot of time teaching people to say 'no' and a lot of time encouraging people to respect the 'no' of others. However, I stand firm that parents, and all with power, need to evaluate situations and to use 'no' only when 'no' is appropriate to the time and the situation. I believe I hear 'no' more than necessary. I believe that most civil liberties have been gained by individuals and groups questioning the 'no' of more powerful others. 'no' to voting. 'no' to seats at the front of the bus. 'no' to marriage. Children need to learn the heed 'no' but they also need to question 'no'. We certainly are, as suggested, 'fairy godfathers' but do not think, for a second, that we do not set limits, estabilish boundaries, say 'no' and endure tantrums. We'd not be responsible child minders if we didn't. I just want the kids to know that we 'no' with reason and necessity. I just want to watch that I don't kneejerk a 'no' just because I can. I still think that all parents need to be cautious about the power they have. Thanks for your comments and making me think more about this.

Anonymous said...

Okay I'm the same anonymous that mentioned being told that I was having a power struggle with my parents and being institutionalized.

Anyway I want to agree with Dave Hingsburger again, but I want to go beyond that. I don't think there is this dichotomy between "saying no too much" and "saying no too little." I think that's a false paradigm that is being set up because of how language works (it's the same word). People think of this as "good writing," but it's not, it's just confusing and misleading. The other reason people are doing this is because of people's biases in relationship to where they're standing in regards to power relations. Setting up a dichotomy where one isn't needed in this case makes it easy to justify older people and dismiss children.

As someone who is not a parent and was a minor not so long ago, I don't buy into those biases at all, espicially because I never started using "well I'm an ADULT now" to try to justify myself. Being an adult makes getting some things I need easier than they used to be but I don't deserve them any more now than I did before, nothing magically changed when I turned 18. (it didn't change more recently now that I can get beer and hardcore pornography, either)

This is hard because sometimes saying "I'm an adult now!" to my parents would have gotten them to listen to me a little more, but I was never willing to throw other people overboard to justify myself. So I never made that thought shift where I was like "Okay I'm not like children anymore" or where "childish" became an insult. Likewise at 9 years of age I didn't like the thing many people were doing, "I'm not a little kid, I'm a big kid." My thought process was- okay, I'm 9 years old. I could live 10 times as long as I've lived, obviously that's not going to seem like much to most people. So if they think I'm a "little kid," that's fine, that doesn't imply anything bad about me. And when I see teenagers or whatever trying to prove how mature they are I want to shake them and explain all this to them.

So anyway, I do agree that there is this thing where someone is never told they can do anything wrong and it progresses them to thinking they're entitled to everything and it's okay for them to murder people. But that is such a huge extreme and when we're talking about what tends to happen to children, that's not what we should be talking about. We don't need to automatically trot that out to be "balanced" because it's not a balanced thing. Children are usually devauled. If we start talking about ways children are devalued or oppressed, we should try to "balance" that by saying "Well some of them are really uppity after all!" That is just so totally not what this post is about. Just like people shouldn't be saying, "Okay but parenting is hard!" So what, you think being a child is easy? Can things be about children and their perspectives for once?

And I don't just want other people to understand this, I want people to use language language in a way that doesn't marginalize people and justify those who have power over them. Because that's really, really important and I don't want Dave Hingsburger or Julia from Germany or whatever to buy into that kind of language for even a second.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I tried very hard to get the message you wanted to tell with your post.

Maybe I was very lucky, because I was a child with a severe disability with parents very hard working for my inclusion.

My parents, my doctors and everyone around always negotiated until I could participate in daily life with all my limitations. I even got a drivers license after my doctor did write a nice letter for the gouverment where they decide if you are able to drive or not.

Till today I am able to drive a car, if I want to or feel it necessary to do. But I too know, when I am not healthy enough to drive or to tired. I have to go to routine doctors appointments to see if I am still fit enough to drive.

I was given the chance to learn, but I know my limitations. There are times when I have to tell myself "No", "not today", "today you are not healthy enough". And I appreciate the opportunity given to my by being able to choose.

Maybe that is what you missed?

Maybe I didnt quite get what you wanted to say?

I try to understand it, and work it into my behaviour. But regarding certain children in certain circumstances "No" is something they have to learn. Not because they are the ones in the lower power postion, but because life is about negotiating and empathy and not hurting others or being hurt.

I hope I could understand a little about what you wanted to say.

I hope you will not always feel in the lower power position.

I am sorry if I disturbed or hurt you.

Julia from Germany

Sarah said...

This is a great blog. My daughter writes one you might enjoy. disabledmom.com Parenting from a wheelchair...Thanks

Pat C. said...

Hi Dave. I googled you this morning, in order to find a 'clean' copy of Mourning Has Broken. I have a copyofacopyofacopy from July 1996, which is actually in pretty good condition, considering.

I remember the auto-no days of early parenthood. I finally got to the point of apologizing and saying more clearly what I meant.

Nowadays, in my classes, I teach about the power relationship of our work and how we are taught to abuse it. Staff have to make a decision to step back from it, sometimes against fairly powerful opposition from their employers.

I am now putting together a training of trainers for human rights staff and want to give them a copy so we can really read it and think about how to indoctrinate their staff to look at the work a different way. As always, thank you.