Y’know how women have a reputation for not saying what they mean- saying yes when they mean no, and no when they mean yes? This has been a source of conflict in countless marriages since the first one in Eden. Husband asks wife if she’s OK with him goes out with his buddies on Saturday; she says yes — while hinting that she’s annoyed and/or inwardly seething because his doing so disrupts all her hopes and wishes for the weekend. Etc.
I have other communication problems and sins, but generally speaking, this problem isn’t a biggie for me. I’m pretty good at being honest about my needs and at speaking up about my feelings. That’s why it’s been so strange for me to observe this tendency in an unlikely place: my 2-year old daughter. When she disobeys or is defiant, it comes out in the most passive-aggressive way. It started shortly after she turned 2… she’d say the right words in a given situation, like “Thank you Mommy,” but she’d yell them rudely at me. Letter of the law, yes, but spirit of the law – no way. Each time I’d work with her, outlasting her, to repeat the phrases till the tone and words matched. But I began to see the same type of thing cropping up everywhere. Her way of demonstrating to me that she would not accept my authority was by manipulating the situation. She’d comply outwardly, but not fully – and certainly not at heart level.
The stubbornness comes out in other, similar ways. In general she doesn’t like doing what she knows I’d like her to do, like going potty (even if we both know she has to go) or eating food (even if she likes it). She usually isn’t outright defiant, just sneaky – pretending she doesn’t have to go potty or doesn’t want a snack when in reality, she simply wants to be in control of her own destiny. As a mother who’s used to the more blatant and outright defiance of a boy, it’s taken some getting used to. My friend who mothers three girls and one boy has been a great resource for me in thinking through some of the more relationally savvy ways that girls’ disobedience often emerges, in comparison to same-age boys.
Lately my daughter’s thing is to tell me she doesn’t want something – milk at breakfast, for example, after I’ve poured a cup for her and her brother. Two minutes later, after she’s pushed it away, she says she wants it. It’s not that she’s changed her mind; it’s that it’s a game to her. She’s just as apt to say no, she doesn’t want something offered (or to do something, like go outside) – and then two minutes later say she does want it. Not only does it drive me crazy, it’s just not acceptable. She’s flouting my authority, and she’s using double messages – being untruthful. Her heart and her words aren’t lining up; she’s trying to manipulate me.
In the Sermon on the Moun, Jesus told his followers to “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Basically he was telling them to speak honestly – say what they meant, and mean what they said. Be a trustworthy speaker – so that people who hear your words can believe them and trust you. But my daughter, my sweet 2-year old, breaks this commandment daily. She often says a ‘yes’ that really means ‘no’ and a ‘no’ that really means ‘yes.’ With her words, she plays games and is dishonest. Or consider Paul’s admonition: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor;” she’s not doing that right now either.
It would be easy to think that my daughter’s issue is a passing phase that she might outgrow – her customized, probably harmless, version of asserting independence as a 2-year old. I’ve leaned this way at times. Because her conceptual skills aren’t as well developed as if she were a 3- or 4-year-old, I’ve found it difficult to appropriately correct her since no outright defiance is present. And also, when such occurences happen in isolation – well it is understandable for a person to change her mind…
We’re taking a harder line now though, because the issue’s ongoing and we don’t want the habit of sneaky or untruthful speaking to take root… and because she needs to know that accepting our authority is mandatory, whether her effort to flout it is outright or sneaky. Disobedience is disobedience, however it’s packaged. So now she gets one shot. If she says no milk the first time, she gets no milk for that meal – whatever she may say 30 seconds or five minutes later. “Your ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ means ‘no,'” I tell her. “You can’t change your mind right after.” Hopefully by the time she’s a wife, she’ll have learned the lesson well and be past the dishonest double-speak that we women can be guilty of… She’ll be able to tell her husband that no, she prefer for him to stay home with the family on Saturday afternoon, if that’s how she really feels!