“Will you please start arguing???”

It’s an odd question to want to ask my 10-year-old, but clearly the best time to change parenting strategies is when you’re more than half way through…

I told Anna I would buy her a new bike yesterday because she’s outgrown the one she has now.  Later in the day I discovered if we put air in the tires of the other bike in our garage, got it serviced and painted, it would be perfect for Anna, and I wouldn’t need to buy a new bike.  It’s a nice bike, and it has gears, which is at the top of her wish list.  So I said what any smart parent would:  this is a perfectly good bike – you don’t need a new bike bla bla bla.

She didn’t want that bike; she wanted a new bike.  When I asked her why, she said, “I want a bike with gears.”  We showed her that the bike had gears.  She said they weren’t the same as the ones her friend has, which are the ones she wants.  We asked her to point out how they’re different and she couldn’t.  Because A) they aren’t different and B) she’s a kid who has exactly four days of experience with one bike.

She politely walked away, parked her bike in the garage, and went to her room.

Normally I would see this behavior as pouting, ignore it, she would get over it, and we would all keep it moving.  But today’s drama seemed different to me.  It was more than a pout.  It was defeat.

I went in her room and asked her why she didn’t want the other bike.  She said, “I don’t know.”  I asked why she wanted the new bike and she said, “I don’t know.”  That confirmed what I thought:  she did her best to articulate her reasons when we were outside and it didn’t get through to me.  That’s a tough place to be.  I’ve been there.  I can’t type 9,000 quotations, so here’s the rest of the conversation:

Me:  Are you upset that you’re not getting a new bike?

Anna:  [shrugs shoulders]

Me:  It seems like you feel sad, like you lost today.  Is that how you feel?

Anna:  I don’t care if I win or lose.

Me:  It seems like you care, or you wouldn’t be in your room feeling sad.

Anna:  [pause]  I never win.

Me:  [wow that is some deep shit]  That’s a hard feeling to have.  If I felt that way, I would want to hide out, too.

Anna:  I don’t care if I win.

Me:  But if you had won, you’d have a new bike right now huh?

Anna:  I guess.

Me:  You know what I realize right now?

Anna:  What?

Me:  I haven’t taught you how to hustle.

Anna:  What do you mean?

Me:  I haven’t taught you how to not take “no” for an answer.  How to argue.  How to win.

Anna:  I don’t want to be that kind of person.

Me:  Would you rather be the person who doesn’t get what they want and ends up sad on her bed?

Anna:  I don’t know.

Me:  I think you do know.  What I think you don’t know is how to overcome a “no” because you get a lot of “yes” in this house, and you’ve never been taught to negotiate.  Let’s change that.  Wanna know what I would say to me if I were in your shoes?

Anna:  [half-hearted] Sure.

Me:  I would say:  you told me you were buying me a new bike today – now you’re not.  You’re not keeping your word.  You’re breaking our family rule.

Anna:  [unmoved]

Me:  Or, I would say: I’ve outgrown my bike and I need a new one.  I want you to keep the other bike for yourself so you can ride with me.  [This is true by the way.]

Anna:  This is stupid.  If I just say what you said then the conversation makes no sense.

Me:  Totally not stupid and here’s why.  It would be unfair for me to expect you to challenge a “no” when you’ve had no practice doing it.  When you were little I threw the ball to you over and over again until you could throw it back to me.  This is the same thing.  Except the ball in this case is a compelling argument that turns a “no” into a “yes.”

Anna:  You’re weird.

Me:  Totally true.  Not what we’re talking about.  A compelling argument has two important components:  it has to be true (always keep your integrity intact), and it has to be persuasive.  That means you’re not trying to get what you want by fighting.  The goal is to get the other person to want to give you what you want.  For instance, I have a compelling argument to not buy you a new bike:  the bike in the garage is a nice bike, and that saves me $300.  But your argument is even more compelling because my honor is at stake.  Saving money isn’t as important to me as keeping my word and upholding our family values.  I want to keep my word, and the way for me to do that is to buy you the new bike.  See what I mean?

Anna:  Sort of.

Me:  I’m going to go take a shower and give you a chance to get your game face on and throw a compelling argument at me.  You need to start practicing turning a “no” into a “yes.”  When you get out of this house there’s a lot of “no” out there.  Let’s make sure you’re ready.

I’d like to tell you she delivered a powerful argument and we ended up at the bike shop, but that’s not what happened.  I went back to her room and she did what she’s been taught to do for ten years.  She asked nicely.  “Mom, may I please have the new bike?”  I reminded her about the compelling arguments.  She shook her head “no”.  It was too foreign to her – she couldn’t fight for it.  Even though she really wanted it.

It broke my heart a little bit.

Since Anna was really little it’s always been clear that I’m in charge.  Recently my mom referred to me as the Queen of the house, Anna quickly corrected her.  “Mom is not the Queen of the house.  She is the KING of the house.  And I am the Queen.”  My mom and I laughed, but she was serious.

I’m proud that Anna respects me – I’ve done a good job of being consistent and strong.  I encourage her to share her thoughts, but at the end of the day, my word is the law.  “No” means “no,” she doesn’t talk back, and she doesn’t argue.  I used to be proud of that, but now I’m not so sure.  I want her to be able to debate an issue, argue her case, and not take “no” for an answer.  I want her to fight for what she wants, what she believes in, for what’s right.

Maybe her teenage years will take care of all that.  Most kids get mouthy and become tiny anarchists who think they know everything – I certainly did.  But what if that doesn’t happen?  What if she continues to be the nice girl who never makes waves or stands up for herself?  Am I teaching her to respect authority at the expense of her own voice?  That would be a real shame considering she lives with one the fiercest negotiators of all time.

I wanted her to win yesterday.  I wanted her to get that new bike.  I wanted her to take off down the street with the wind in her hair, knowing she has the power to change her circumstances whatever they may be.

That didn’t happen yesterday, but it will.

Because I’m not taking “no” for an answer.

Who taught you how to negotiate?  How important is it to respect authority figures?


  1. Caroline Mottinger says:

    Truly this brought tears to my eyes…..I enjoy your sharing very much, Molly!

    • Thanks Caroline! May I ask why this got you teary-eyed? It didn’t seem like that kind of post to me but you’re not the only person who has said that. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! XO

  2. Oh Molly, you’re a hard ass, aren’t you? I love the lesson you’re teaching to Anna, and it will come. I think an important lesson also is one that teaches when to fight for your “yes” as well. Timing is important sometimes. She’s a good kid. She sounds a lot like Ace. You’re doing great with her. Maybe you were just too convincing that ye other bike was a good bike so she decided “fuck it. ” lol.

    • Guilty as charged. But I’m also loving, fun and totally fair, so hopefully it balances out??? You raise a good point: it’s not just about overcoming the “no” – creating the “yes” is equally important. Thanks for that reminder. We’ll tackle that next week haha! And timing is everything. True story. I love your stories about Ace – it gives me some relief to know you see similarities in her and Anna. You and your lady are kick-ass parents : )

  3. Sounds like you have your work cut out for her.
    As a next step, have you thought about defending her position – instead of her asking for something with you giving a yes/no answer, ask her to lay out why she wants something to convince you.

    Good luck!

  4. Molly HAHAHA Molly. Here is the thing. She is a girl, and one day she will be a teenage girl. I will guarantee you the day will come when she gives you a compelling argument. This is not something you will ever need to teach her to do. Teenagers have it built into there DNA that they are smarter than us parents. My advice is to enjoy the years when you can rule with an iron hand and walk all over her. The tables will turn. BTW this was wonderful to read and your daughter seems to be adorable

    • Hahahaha Tom you’re probably right. I guess I worry because when I was her age I could have tried a case in federal court. But to your point, no one every had to teach me how. I overthink everything – sigh. Thanks for chiming in – I’ll do my best to chill the hell out a little : )

      • You are an amazing woman Molly. I think you are awesome and your daughter does too. She is still going to roll her eyes when she gets older and realizes you are less educated about the world than she is. Brett did that to me. YEAH!!! I know! Me Molloy, Tom Nardone. How can anyone be so deluded to think i no less than they do. Oh well god blee them. (i guess)

      • Hahaha – oh I’m sure. Mainly because I’m the queen (not the king) of the eye roll. Sometimes they’re so far back in my head I can see my ass. Good times are ahead : )

    • I agree with IamTomNardone here. This is not something you will have to teach her. Wait and see what happens when she is older, like twelve (and enjoy being King while you can. It-will-not-last!) Plus, if you have to coax her into it and tell her what to say, then its NOT HER VOICE. — Plus, I gotta say, what you were teaching her was simply lame manipulation, (“You didn’t keep your word”?) It wasn’t her standing up for what she believed in or wanted. And lame manipulation will never trump the reasoning which makes your point, that the facsimile of the actual bike that she wants is already in your garage. (Just sayin’)

  5. To be fair, I bet the parents Anna would be arguing with aren’t high at near the frequency of the parents you were arguing with. Anna’s parents have degrees and jobs where they’re angling for promotions and fighting off assholes who want their jobs. They’re sharp.
    It’s completely rational for Anna to look at this situation and conclude that emotional manipulation is the way to go. And let’s face, it by the time you got in the shower you were convinced you were on your way to the bike shop, and Anna hadn’t done anything more than shrug her shoulders, hang her head, and go to her room. That Anna failed to make the minimal argument that would have sealed he deal was a miscalculation of a 10 yr old. She’ll learn.

    AND…emotional manipulation is long game. It’s not over. Isn’t it possible Anna’s version of this blog post makes it over to Dad’s house this week and she come’s home with a $500 bike instead of the crappy $300 bike you were going to buy?

    I’m so glad I have boys.

    • Hahaha – her dad is easier on her than I am, but I doubt he’ll be purchasing any $500 bike. He’s wise with his money. And let me be clear that I’m not trying to teach her to be an emotional manipulator, but I do want her to learn how to hustle…while being fair and maintaining her integrity. It’s a tough balance. Damn, parenting is hard. Yes, you’re lucky you have boys.

      • I’m sure your not teaching her to be emotionally manipulative. But she’s approaching her teenage years and possibly coming by it naturally. I was just having fun responding to your post.

        Serious suggestion; As Don pointed out above, you gave her a perfectly good reason why she didn’t need a bike. It was reasonable for her to accept that<

      • Truth. Thanks for that tidbit : )

      • (Damn it I wasn’t ready to send that reply yet.) Perhaps in the future you should offer inadequate justification for denying her desired outcome and see if she can argue the flaws in your argument as reason for her getting her way.

      • This is a genius plan. Except I don’t think I could argue for something I didn’t really believe – even as a lesson for her. I’m too earnest for my own good. Arrrrg.

  6. In my house I think it has to do with personality more than any teaching I have done. I have three kids. My oldest can talk me into anything and has always been able to do that. He is charming and smart and is a savvy negotiator. My middle child loses the fight before it’s even started — he asks questions like “I know you’re going to say no, but…” He is also very smart and can be charming, but hardly ever puts out the effort. But when he is with his friends, he is the leader and they all do what he says. My third child is very headstrong and knows how to use her cuteness to get what she wants. She’s only five, so we’ll see about that one. (I’m scared, lol.) So they’ve all been raised the same, but they are all SO DIFFERENT.

    • This gives me much solace. Seems like the fact is some kids aren’t hustlers and some are, regardless of nature and nurture. I’m a hustler in my DNA and my personality. Her dad isn’t a hustler in any way. Thusly, when she grows up and finds her way, she’ll probably be the perfect balanace : ) Thanks for sharing this important insight – I really appreciate it!

  7. I don’t think your daughter is alone. A lot of the kids I encounter in school don’t know how to do this.

    • Interesting. Would you say kids today in general hustle less or more than we did when we were kids?

      • I have theories. I think the education system has gone bonkers and all this emphasis on tests and tests and more tests doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for critical thinking and kids figuring things out on their own.

      • Uggg. Stop telling the truth so close to my face. This means parents have an even tougher job. I’m so glad I only have one child. Two or more would send me straight to an institution…

  8. Wow!! I have never thought of it like that. I think my daughter would have argued but my son would be practical. But I never really thought about it the way you describe. It is very eye opening to me.

    • Parenting is so weird – I swear. It feels like I’m rolling along and getting most of it right and then one day I’ll have an experience like this one and be like oh my holy shit I’m blowing it. Maybe because we’re all still growing up? I thought I knew everything when I was 20, then I thought the same thing when I was 30, and now I realize I knew dick all when I was 20 AND 30. I’m sure I’ll think the same thing every decade for the rest of my life. Therefore, this basically means I will die thinking I’m a genius when I’m actually a complete dumbass, but I just won’t know it. Awesome. Thanks for chiming in!!

  9. Twindaddy says:

    I was born argumentative. When the twins were 10, they were like Anna, too. Now that they’re 14, EVERYTHING is an argument. Be careful what you wish for, lol.

    Anyhow, I understand what you’re saying, and I have no doubt that you’ll do well by her.

    • Hahaha – I’m sure I will live to regret this initiative, AND this post. But your comment gives me a lot of hope – thanks! I’d much rather see a kid who argues rather than wilts in the face of a challenge. Your boys are on the path to success – excellent job by you! Glitterbomb!!!!

      • Twindaddy says:

        Ha, they got it naturally. Both their mother and I are stubborn. Though I have had (and will have more) conversations with them about standing up for their wants and needs and not letting people use guilt or emotional blackmail to make them do things they don’t want to do.

      • Word. There’s such a fine line between being willing to compromise where necessary, and holding firm when it’s critical. You rock!

  10. monabliss says:

    Wow…yeah. I grew up in a house where there was a pretty good balance between “no” and “yes” AND most importantly we knew that we could lobby for what we wanted WITHIN REASON. That was a very important detail. We were not allowed to talk back when the law had been laid down. But my Dad was a big fan of the Socratic Method and dinner conversation consisted of lots of questions that we needed to answer with the best logic we could come up with. This covered topics ranging from “what happened to the dinosaurs” to “I need to take a day off from school to relax and read my new book”. The result of this training from a very early age, I must warn you, meant that in the Fourth grade I successfully convinced the Principal of my school to take me and friends to my house to swim in the middle of a very hot school day. My Mom was there when we showed up and she was, needless to say, FURIOUS which just cracked up the Principal (who was a good personal friend of my parents) (which I expect is the real reason why he did it…to see how Mom would react)! That of course was a silly example but the end result in truth was that by high school I successfully negotiated a different, much more advanced, reading list to use for my AP English class because I had read most of what was on the existing list and wanted to read other books, I successfully negotiated for a sports car from my parents (by first asking for a motorcycle and then in the process of giving that up in the face of their flat refusal wherein I accused them of sexism due to having given my brother a motorcycle when he was 16) when I was 16 (it was used and an MG which was cute but I pushed it more than I drove it), I negotiated for no curfew by my Jr. year in high school by having not missed even ONE curfew my first two years in high school (I don’t advise falling for this one and I think it only worked because I was the second child and the first one was being pretty exhausting at that point in life), etc. I agree with you Molly, it IS something you can learn and teach. It isn’t only about not taking “no” for an answer it’s about thinking about the issue, thinking about what is going on in the discussion and whether or not it’s reasonable and worthwhile to push. Sometimes it’s not, but sometimes it is and knowing the difference between those two moments is vital. It’s good to question situations and it’s always good to apply your brain to the problem to see if you can find a better solution. Sometimes that solution might simply be to your advantage but sometimes that skill might end up being to many peoples advantage. We need more strong women in the world who are good thinkers and negotiators.

    • Oh girl. You’re my hero. That pool story is amazing! Actually they all are. Your parents are my heroes also for teaching you and your brother this super important skill : ) I agree that critical thinking really is the most important part of teaching this process. Thanks for pointing that out – I’m going to make that the focus and trust that the rest will fall into place. I also agree that knowing how to choose your battles and which swords are worth falling on are equally important distinctions to make. Your stories are awesome. Please write about them more! Thanks for chiming in here – very helpful additions to this discussion : )

  11. My two were very polite and very obedient as little ones. And then the teenage years. 🙂
    Fasten your seatbelt, Molly.

  12. Both brilliant and beautiful. Such good mom-negotiating, too. Really. You rock. And I’m going to hold this close to my heart while my kids are all mouthy punks today. Maybe mouthiness is not all bad.
    (And so you know. I was the consummate good girl through and through, Miss Responsible, let’s not make waves. I couldn’t haggle over anything to save my life. And although I did once have a boss say, “You know what your problem is? You want everyone to like you,” I was able to reply, “Yes, well, you know what your problem is? You don’t care enough whether it is possible for any of us to like you.”) (It did take a few days to make that reply and I actually wrote it in a letter, but nonetheless…) 🙂

  13. Your daughter is not dumb – so she will use these savings you have been making with the bike against you the next time she wants something not cheap. “But I let you give me a used bike then, I think I deserve [insert expensive treat] …”
    And yes, some children will not discuss easily, some will passionately. I predict you will not only experience her discussing with you, you will get some really unfair debates, too. All parents of teenagers get those. You know, all that “you never …”, “you always …”, “you are so embarrassing!” “you ruin my life”- and most important that “I hate you!” stuff.
    Besides, I think Speaker 7 has a point: American schools do not encourage critical thinking, talking back is not only discouraged, it is punished, severely.

    • I’m sure you’re right and I look forward to it. Mostly. Except for the I hate you part. I hope that doesn’t happen…Ugggg.

      • Depends on her temper … If she ever says so, be calm – she doesn’t mean it … she just wants to hurt as she feels hurt. If she does not say that be wary, very wary … Still waters run deep.

      • Hmmmm. I’d like to go to parent school please.

      • You have been to parent’s school – when you were a kid and had parents yourself … When you saw your friends’ and classmates’ parents … When you saw other people handling your kids.

        Each of those parents has shown you a lot about parenting – sometimes the good, sometimes the bad stuff. Rest assured – ALL of them have had some bad stuff. And the last thing you need is advice from me – I have been a kid once, but never a parent.

  14. You’re doing the right thing. I wish I had had you for my mom. I was never encouraged to stand up for myself and it’s been a problem my whole life. I appease instead of push back because we were taught to not make waves or rock the boat. It colors my decisions to this very day. Good on you.

    Listening to authoritarian figures was never important to me until I had children. Now I think it’s very, very, VERY important.

    • Hey thanks for this comment Mark. Parenting is so weird and hard. We always hope we’re doing the right thing, but we’re learning as we go, too, so…oy vey. Are you actively practicing standing your ground on things now that you’re an adult? It’s tough to change patterns. I was a don’t rock the boat kid, too, until I hit puberty. Then I was a fantastic pain in the ass and have been ever since haha.

      • I’m going to tell you the truth, because that’s what we do here in blogland, right? We tell the truth to complete strangers. We bury it in long comment threads. I still have a tendency to back down instead of stand and fight. There are heel marks all up and down my back. I have a whole bunch of things in my life I never wanted because I didn’t muster the fortitude to say ‘no.’ I’m trying to protect my daughters from the same fate.

      • Wow. Kudos for dropping that bomb in the comment thread. I can relate to that in some ways myself. It’s never too late to board the “no” train though, right? Life is fucking weird. Thanks for breaking that down. [thinking] Blogging is one of the coolest sports in the history of ever. And you’re one of the coolest guys.

  15. This is more proof, albeit touching, that woman really doesn’t make any sense. Unfortunately for the wise little Anna, her logic will also be distorted by oestrogen in her later years, so you have nothing to worry about.

    I love how you want her to be strong and independent, but from what I can gather, she has a great role model for that specific ability. She WILL get to a point where “no” is not an option.

  16. Molly, you are gold. I wish my parents took the time to teach me how to hustle… I was taught to be a polite girl who takes ‘no’ for an answer, and if I didn’t, labelled ‘rude’ or ‘rebellious’. In the real world, I realised the only way to survive is to stand up for yourself, and sometimes I still have problems with this. I think it’s wonderful that you are teaching your daughter an invaluable skill. Lady, you are King indeed.

    • Hey thanks Nadia! And thanks for sharing your experience as a girl and how it affected you. That helps a lot – I keep my fingers crossed all that time hoping I’m on the right track with my girl. Being strong doesn’t make you rude or rebellious. And even if it does sometimes, the other person probably had it coming : )

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  18. I think you can let the teenage years take its course. What you’re trying to accomplish is to teach Anna that a “no” is negotiable, which will only lead to further explanations why some “no’s” aren’t negotiable at all, or negotiable, but only at some later time, and only if certain pre-conditions are met, and so on, and so on. But when she actually wants to argue with you about something (and eventually she will), that’s when you can lay down the ground rules for negotiations.

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  20. Awww, that’s sweet. I get that you want her to fight for what she wants but I think she’s a very well behaved and nurtured girl. She seems really sweet 🙂

    Are you going to buy the bike fore her out of guilt for not teaching her to fight??

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