I have been at my parents’ home for a few weeks now for the kids’ school vacation. And in these two weeks, the most I have struggled with is something seemingly simple – getting my mother to take “No” as a final answer to something. There is nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, that I can say “No” to, where it is accepted as an answer and left at that. It could be about not taking the girls to a crowded wedding place, or not wanting to get a facial done, or not wanting to visit a relative I’m not close to, or something as simple as not wanting to eat a snack. Every single time, I end up saying “No” at least 7 times, in varying tones of exasperation after my initial attempts at polite refusal don’t work. I then have to finish off with an elaborate explanation of how my “No” wouldn’t change just because the same question is asked in different ways, multiple times, each attempt loaded with more reasons for changing my mind. This got me thinking of how this is a pattern, not just with my mother, but with most people I have met in my life. From mild insistence to strong persuasion, people do everything to disregard a simple “No.”

“No” is a complete sentence – this is a line that we have all heard a million times by now. While this sentence is used mostly in the context of consent, this should ideally be the standard rule that covers every aspect of one’s life, starting from childhood. However, we are exposed to a kind of conditioning where our “No” is mostly translated to “Try again,” “Try more vehemently,” “Push a little and he/she will agree” and different versions of these. Because of this, we keep doubting ourselves, thinking whether we should have said “No” in the first place, and are made to feel guilty about our “No,” especially when our boundaries are pushed in the name of love, affection and “our best interests at heart.” And many a time, it really is a sincere expression of love, no doubt. However, that still doesn’t make it right.

If at 38, I have to go all out, guns blazing sometimes, to finally have my “No” taken seriously, I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for the little ones. Sure, there are times when their “No” can hurt them or result in inappropriate or wrong behaviour. There are times when you have to explain why a “No” is not okay. But if their “No” is never taken seriously, how on earth are our children supposed to understand that they have every right to say “No” to something or someone?

The most common form of disregarding “No” is forcing kids to stuff themselves when they genuinely say that they don’t need any more food and that their tummy is full – even when there are no consistent eating or health issues. Close behind or sometimes even more common, is forcing kids to have a close relationship with someone, even to the point of forcing them to sit on someone’s lap, allow themselves to be picked up, kiss or hug someone. I could think of so many more instances, but I think the point is made.

What people fail to understand or conveniently ignore is that when you push someone to do something they don’t want to, by giving no value to the “No” that they say, you are openly telling them that their opinion, their feelings, their decisions, their needs, and their boundaries do not matter. It is this lack of respect for “No,” a blatant disregard for one’s boundaries from one’s childhood, that brings us to a point where even in something extremely important like a sexual relationship, a “No” is not considered a final answer. Instead, people surf the degrees of that “No” – was that an emphatic “No” or a more feeble, half-hearted “No?” Because when something goes wrong, we can always resort to victim-shaming and say, “He/she didn’t say ‘No’ strongly enough.”

So, even if you have heard it a million times, I’m going to say it once more. You had better listen up.


Also published on Medium.