I don’t remember where we were headed or why we were on the highway. I only remember waking up in the backseat of the car to overhear my dad sharing his philosophy of parenting with a lady in the passenger seat. She was visiting from Samoa and was interested in learning about the ways of our culture.
He told her that when he was growing up the answer to all his requests was “no.” And when he questioned that answer “because I said so” was added. That didn’t give a kid much to go on and he often wandered off scratching his head not really understanding the “why” behind the “no.”
Dad always wished for better and he promised himself that he would do better. When he became a parent, the answer would always be “yes” unless there was a good a reason why not. Once he had four daughters of his own, he was able to challenge his plan.
In thinking back, I imagine there were many times we tested his commitment to the say “yes” method of parenting.
I remember an instance when my eldest sister was bold enough to ask Dad if she could go camping with her boyfriend. She was likely about 17 years old at the time. I guess Dad couldn’t think of a good reason why not so he said, “Sure you can go camping but you’ll have to take Kathi with you.” Although I was excited by the thought of a camping trip with the older gang, that wasn’t going to fly with my sister, much less with the boyfriend. The camping trip was off. Dad got the results he wanted using the slightly modified “yes with conditions” method of parenting.
Faithful to his plans, whenever Dad had to say “no” he had to be ready with a valid reason that his children could understand. I noticed there was seldom an argument when a good reason was presented. Once in a while we tried the, “but all the kids are doing it” rebuttal. It never worked. What parent falls for that one? Mine sure didn’t.
Dad never played the heavy “I am the boss of you” role. He did not set out to make my life miserable by saying “no.” His “no” followed by a valid reason showed how much he loved me. I learned that he was thinking of my best interests as well as the interests of others. He was behaving like a responsible parent. The best part was that he was setting an example for me to learn that I could guide my own actions by using my head.
I was 14 years old when I was taking all of this in. It wasn’t until my early 30’s that my children starting asking. I couldn’t wait to say “yes” or “no and here’s why.”
When it was my turn, I quickly saw the challenges of never using the phrase “because I said so.” I couldn’t be lazy and always had to be thinking about the best interest of the kids. But it was worth it as I began to recognize that “yes unless there is a good reason why not” would lead my kids to their own ability to think.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was getting my first lesson in parenting that day in the car. I don’t know if Dad knew I was awake or whether he knew I cared about what he’d just said but I never forgot his words.
Dad’s method was not common in our culture and it was unique to our household. He was a thinker. He wanted his kids to have a better life than his. He modified his lessons until they made enough sense to pass on.
One generation at a time we learn. Thanks Dad.
Note – My dad, Iver B. Ostrom, passed away on June 12, 2011. I still miss him everyday.