Getting the balance right between fun and discipline in family life is never easy.
Many of us end up feeling like the parent who always says No, too busy with work and household chores to play games and fancy dress.
But what if you dedicated a day to saying Yes to everything your children demanded?
That’s the premise of Yes Day. It started as a book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, which Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner — ex-wife of Ben Affleck — tried with her three children, Violet, Seraphina and Samuel.
The family enjoyed it so much it has now become one of their traditions, with Jennifer turning it into a new Netflix film of the same title. The idea is simple: let your children set the rules and make all the decisions for 24 hours.
A recipe for bankruptcy and domestic disaster, surely? Three brave mothers put it to the test…
MAYBE THEY WILL REMEMBER ME AS ‘FUN MUM’, NOT A GRUMP
Three brave mothers have put Yes Days to the test, letting their kids set the rules for 24 hours. Clover Stroud (pictured) is mother to Evangeline, eight, Dash, six, and Lester, four
Clover Stroud is mother to Evangeline, eight, Dash, six, and Lester, four. She says:
You mean we can do absolutely anything we want, Mum? You mean you promise you will say Yes to absolutely everything?’
My daughter Evangeline looks at me with eyes so sparkling, it’s as if I have just told her that Covid has been eradicated, or, at the very least, she has won the lottery. She runs around the kitchen shouting with excitement, her younger brothers copying her. ‘We can do absolutely anything we want and Mum will have to say Yes!’
After months of lockdown and disappointment, in the spirit of Jennifer Garner’s new film, Yes Day, I have decided to reward my children with a day in which I say Yes to all of their demands.
The fact we can’t yet visit the Tower of London or take a trip to Hamleys should make this promise a little easier than it might have been in normal life.
Sweets for breakfast? No problem. Turn their bedrooms into elaborate dens? Of course. Free rein of my make-up bag and do me up as you like? Why not!
Clover’s Yes Day involved her children (pictured) asking for KitKats and Haribos for breakfast, a chaotic baking experience and building a den in their bedroom
Spend the afternoon cooking whatever mad concoctions they can come up with without me trying to organise and control them? Whatever makes you happy, kids! In short, I say Yes to everything and brace myself for the consequences.
We kick off the day at breakfast and the children screech with delight as I pile their plates with KitKats and Haribos. They initially devour the sweets hungrily, until they all develop a raging thirst and start mewing at me for glasses of water.
They are soon bouncing off the walls on a massive sugar rush and, although it’s not yet 9am, I am starting to question my decision to say Yes to their wildest demands.
WHAT THE PARENTING EXPERT SAYS. AND IT’S A YES!
Anita Cleare is a parenting expert and coach, co-founder of the Positive Parenting Project and author of The Work/Parent Switch: How To Parent Smarter Not Harder. She says:
A Yes Day is a bit like a team-building day at work, where you go off on an outward-bound course and solve problems together.
Its purpose is to reduce hierarchy and destabilise the dynamic, so you see people in a slightly different light.
It’s a bonding exercise and when done well — as a very occasional treat, not every day — it can really improve your relationship with your children.
It works best when parents are involved in activities we wouldn’t normally do — like gaming with teens, or doing something messy with little ones — and when we find an unexpected enjoyment in it and really have fun. Our children understand us differently as a result, and vice versa.
In general, it’s good for children to explore the edges of what they’re allowed to do — but the fact is a lot of them are quite likely to want to eat junk food all day or spend 24 hours on screens.
You might want to think about how you apply the principles of Yes Day to make the most of it without completely erasing boundaries. Perhaps by saying it’s a Yes Day for activities but not for food.
Having said that, when you take away the forbidden aspect of sweets for breakfast, you might find children discover for themselves how unsatisfied all that sugar leaves them, which is not a bad lesson.
When children ask whether they can do something, it’s good to stop and think: can I say Yes to this? Is it going to take us as a family to a new and interesting and refreshing place?
This past year we’ve got so used to saying No, it’s what lots of children have come to expect. No, it’ll make too much mess. No, we can’t spare the time. No, I don’t have the energy.
It’s our job to set boundaries and sometimes be unpopular, but it’s good to have a reset of that mentality too.
A Yes Day as a one-off can do that. But my advice is to challenge ourselves every day to say Yes more often.
But a promise is a promise, as they often tell me, so we plough on.
Next up is the den, which sees them stripping sheets from their beds, dragging old sleeping bags from the backs of cupboards and draping picnic blankets across the back of chairs to create a tunnel in their bedroom.
In the process, books are pulled from shelves, the toy box is upended and a lamp is broken.
In normal circumstances I would have been bellowing at them to tidy up — but this time I take a deep breath, try to channel some inner zen and look the other way.
The blankets won’t take long to tidy up, I tell myself, imagining this experience will seal me in their memories, years from now, as a ‘fun mum’, rather than a big grump running around clearing up after them.
By lunchtime they are so sick of sugar they actually ask for cheese sandwiches, which I find a teeny bit gratifying.
But there’s little time to feel smug because moments later they have raided my make-up bag and are covering me in lipstick and mascara.
‘We want you to look like a circus clown,’ Lester tells me seriously, as Dash sprays me with a can of dry shampoo, narrowly missing my eyes, and Evangeline rubs lipstick into my face.
By 3pm I am exhausted, and realise that a large part of the energy of parenting goes into maintaining control and tidying up. Control is the thing I have lost completely.
Finally, they pull me into the kitchen to ‘make cakes’.
From years of hard-won experience, I know that baking with children is never the cute and cosy maternal experience it’s made out to be, but instead involves mess and raised voices, resulting in inedible, flat cakes no fairy would want to claim as their own.
Leaving the kids to their own devices has left the kitchen in complete chaos.
A dozen eggs are quickly smashed around me, flour is scattered like confetti everywhere and so much milk is spilt, I don’t have time to cry over it.
The entire day, in fact, is so crazy that by the end of it all the children are flagging.
‘I’m tired,’ says Lester.
‘I’m hungry for some pasta,’ says Dash, eyeing the slippery mess of eggs and flour all over the kitchen floor.
‘Can’t we just sit on the sofa and watch a film?’ asks Evangeline. ‘Please, Mum, that’s all we really want to do with you.’
I breathe a sigh of relief and throw the mop back in the cupboard.
The cleaning can wait, as this is the best suggestion anyone has had all day.
My Wild And Sleepless Nights by Clover Stroud is out now (£8.99, Black Swan).
EGG MCMUFFINS FROM UBER EATS FOR BREAKFAST
Jackie Clune is mother to Saoirse, 17, and 15-year-old triplets Thady, Frank and Orla. She says:
‘It’s very simple —whatever I normally say No to, I have to say Yes.’ I’ve been trying to explain the concept to my four housebound teenagers but they just can’t seem to grasp it and keep asking for the downright ridiculous or plain silly.
‘Mum, can you sign the house over just to me?’ asks one of the boys. ‘Mum, can we bunk off school?’ ‘Mum, can you give me £1 million?’
Teens are motivated by two things — money and food. With £1 million out of the question, I agree to their demand that for the entire day they can order from Uber Eats.
We are strictly a one-takeaway-a-week family, but today we start with Double Egg McMuffins, hash browns, coffee and pancakes.
I have to get Saoirse to order on the app — I’m ‘such a boomer’, apparently. Twenty minutes later I deliver the steaming, fatty parcels to each bedroom door.
I even let Frank keep his curtains closed all day (every other morning I make him open them: ‘You need vitamin D!’), but today he gets to fester in the dark like a rare species of lockdown bat.
At lunchtime I receive orders for sushi, noodles and gyoza. Whatever happened to beans on toast? I didn’t even know what a ‘gyoza’ dumpling was at their age.
Jackie Clune – mother to Saoirse, 17, and 15-year-old triplets Thady, Frank and Orla all pictured) – was forced to let her children have their computers on overnight during their Yes Day
Still, no washing-up, so I busy myself around the house preparing for the next Yes challenge. My daughters always complain I never want to watch their favourite shows on the family TV, preferring, as I do, ‘depressing medical documentaries or the news’.
If, by some miracle, they catch me in a lighthearted mood (perhaps when I’ve cracked open a new HRT patch) and I do consent to their choice, I spend the whole film on my phone, lifting my head every now and again to ask what’s happening.
They tell me to sit down before putting on cult classic comedy Clueless. They love anything about American high schools featuring worryingly thin girls with glossy hair and an improbable ability with barbed one-liners.
I hate all films in this genre. Puerile, sexist, crass hymns to the WASP American dream. But it’s Yes Day, so we sit down together and they confiscate my phone. I instantly feel panic rising in my throat. I can’t sit here for two hours watching this rubbish!
My brain will rot, I’ll miss important emails and I won’t know what’s happening with the vaccine rollout. But they are merciless and I sit for the whole film.
I would like to report that it was a revelation but, sadly, I was bored rigid and could not wait for the ending, with its obligatory ‘life lesson’ morality.
Milkshakes are deemed necessary afterwards, and within 20 minutes, four vats of artery-busting ice cream and mashed up chocolate arrive via yet another Uber driver. Where do they put it all?! There are more calories in one shake than the entire cast of Clueless would have had in a month.
Next up, my boys, avid gamers, challenge me to stop nagging them about their screen addiction and learn how to play online. I veto any violent or misogynistic games, so they pick what looks like an inoffensive raft-building game called, well, Raft.
It involves navigating a small boat while trying to harpoon passing flotsam in order to build a bigger and better raft than your rivals (in this case, a trio of charming boys online who try to help me learn the rules).
Sadly, hand-eye coordination has never been my strength — I can’t even thread a needle, let alone lasso a floating oil drum. The graphics are so realistic I feel instantly seasick, and within five minutes I’ve been eaten by a large shark. They didn’t warn me about the sharks.
Dinner is Indian takeaway, which I allow them to eat whenever and wherever they want. Chaos. Rice all over the floor. Sauce all over the dog. Tin-foil trays left crusty and rancid all over the house.
The final Yes of the day is allowing the kids to keep their computers on overnight. I fall asleep to the sounds of them happily clicking away on their keyboards, no doubt telling their friends how sick they feel. And how rubbish I am at Raft.
STRANGERS LOOK ON IN DISGUST AS MY BOY GRABS SWEETS
Rachel Rounds is mother to eight-year-old Tanoa. She says:
As I open my bleary, bloodshot eyes at 5.45am, I realise it’s my son Tanoa who has woken me up by shouting: ‘Mummy, can I play Roblox on your phone?’
For him, it is like Christmas Day, as he is rarely allowed to play on my phone and certainly not at this time in the morning. He has tried it before but been told, in no uncertain terms, to go back to sleep. But this morning, I have no choice, as today is Yes Day, which is his idea of heaven and my idea of hell.
If I think this is the worst it can get, I am sadly mistaken. Breakfast consists of Frazzles crisps, three Drumstick lollies and a glass of Cola.
I can just about cope with this — one day without Marmite on toast won’t hurt him. But then he asks: ‘Mummy, as you have to say Yes to everything, may I swear?’
Meanwhile, Rachel Rounds’ son Tanoa (both pictured) ‘pushed the boundaries’ and asked to be allowed to swear for the day, much to Rachel’s disapproval
He is never allowed to swear, although he knows exactly what a swear word is, largely because despite trying very hard not to, I swear frequently and loudly. And he’s the one who tells me off for it.
Through gritted teeth I say Yes, and then, like the naughty schoolboy he is, he shouts ‘s**t’ very loudly and repeats it again. And again. And again, falling into fits of laughter. He is loving every second of this — but I am horrified and want to cry. I feel powerless and angry.
Is this what it’s like for trendy ‘woke’ parents who believe it’s OK to say Yes to their ‘precious moppets’ all the time?
Tanoa knows the meaning of the word No and hears it all the time. It’s called discipline and, although I am softer than his alpha-male, Fijian father, he is not allowed to get away with bad behaviour or pushing boundaries.
But, goodness, he has pushed those boundaries today. At the supermarket, it gets worse. Much to the disgust of another mother standing with her two children next to us in the sweets aisle, Tanoa picks up ten packets. I feel my cheeks redden with shame as this stranger looks at me in disgust.
Ecstatic and unable to believe his luck, Tanoa smiles with glee at the two children staring with open-mouthed envy. I push him away to the vegetable aisle in the forlorn hope that this will make the appalled family think I am not such a terrible mother.
Things get worse at the till when the shop assistant loudly counts out the sweets before I hurriedly pack them into a bag. I lie to her that it’s his birthday and the sweets are for party bags.
Back at home, Tanoa proceeds to stuff as many sweets as possible into his mouth, clearly thinking I am going to change my mind and demand them back, which I am sorely tempted to do.
His next request to play with his Lego in the living room may sound perfectly reasonable, but I suffer from ‘tidiness OCD’ and cannot bear mess of any kind. My house is pristine: every surface is polished, there are no crumbs anywhere and Tanoa usually plays with toys in his bedroom.
He brings down two huge boxes of jumbled Lego and pours them out on to the coffee table and across the floor, along with a Playmobil castle and the sweet tin, overflowing with an assortment of additive-filled jellybeans and fizzy Cola bottles.
I am itching to tidy it away and can’t bear to look. He is sitting in the middle of the floor, bricks everywhere and a pink marshmallow sticking out of his mouth.
‘Oh, by the way, Mummy, as I am busy building a Transformers defender base, can you do my homework for me?’ This is the final straw, I can’t possibly do his homework: it’s unethical, immoral, spoilt behaviour.
‘No, I cannot, will not and should not,’ I shout at him. And with that, I slam shut the living room door and rush to the kitchen, which I decide needs urgent cleaning. As do his teeth.