“Why not?”

He stands his ground, fiercely. It’s an old routine, and I’m tired of it.

Just say no. Just say no. Just say no.

He asks over and over in varying ways, with all of his charm and most imploring expression. Each time, I raise my eyebrows, I shake my head, and I say no – without qualifiers, without surrendering to the irritation, without throwing in the towel by saying yes. 

Yes, just to be done with the arguing. Yes, because it’s easier.  Yes, because he’s worn me down as kids will do, as lovers will do, as spouses will do, as many will do – because they can. So I stick to my “no” all the same. I hold the line. He acquiesces.

Mental Toughness, Teenage Tenacity

I’ve been more about “yes” than no with my children. I’ve given them respect, given them rope, and if they abide by the former and don’t hang themselves with the latter – I’ve sanctioned an increasing amount of independence.

But one of my sons has pushed boundaries for the past few months. It’s only natural; he’s on the verge of flying the nest.

Lately, superstition has stopped by, aroused by a few incidents early in summer, and capped off by a boating accident two weeks ago. The timing was dreadful and I should have said no to the trip – but he was persuasive, and I was tired.

Given a stream of nightmares (and a handful of minor scares), in the past week I’ve hardly let my son out of my sight. Yes, he’s annoyed. Yes, I’m still tired.  

Cutting the Cord with Fear

Fear is my issue, and possibly shared by every parent. Yet I need to cut the cord with my fears, and allow my son to take risks.

I must allow him his head of steam, while balancing his youthful enthusiasm (and narrower experience) with a healthy dose of “Mother Knows Best.” I must battle the exhaustion that comes with being a solo parent, alone in both the “yes” and the “no.”

Deciding which?

Never easy.

Enforcing a no?

It takes backbone.

People Pleasing? Tempting Trouble

I was raised to be a people pleaser – not unusual for a girl in the 60s, coming of age in the late 70s.  I retain those tendencies with men, but I’ve trained myself to shed them – not only for healthier choices in potential partners (and the dynamics of relationship), but as a mother.

As a single mother, going it alone. And mental toughness has been a critical survival tool.

The psychology of mental toughness is often referenced in sports – that ability to dig deep, to push through pain, to go the distance of the marathoner – to find a combination of relaxation, motivation, and mega-watt energy to meet the challenge of competition, and the limitations of your own body.

Mental toughness is sometimes defined as:

An ability to cope with and handle stress, pressure, and adversity; an ability to overcome or rebound from failures; an ability to persist or a refusal to quit

It isn’t that we don’t recognize our limitations, but we develop the skills to push past them, using self talk, our own positive energy, visualizing the end goal, finding that necessary “flow” that Kristen of Motherese speaks of as she returns to her running regime after giving birth.

Relationship Toughness

The psychology of mental toughness is called for in far more than parenting.

Who hasn’t found themselves embroiled in a relationship situation that is more than they bargained for?

Maybe your partner is taking terrible advantage of you, and it’s happening so gradually that you allow it. Maybe the rhythm of the relationship is for him to insist, and you to capitulate.

Perhaps he oversteps (into verbal abuse, addictive behaviors, physical abuse), and in your fear you back off, you hide your head in the sand, you try to focus on the positive and you talk yourself out of necessary action. Not easy action – but necessary – which could begin by speaking up or seeking outside counsel. Instead, you accept apologies for the hundredth time though shelved in the back of your mind is a gloomy stew of realizations: nothing will change until you change it.

Remember that definition of crazy?

Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

Finding Yes

The inevitable “no” is often the only way to yes – yes to a way out, yes to your self-respect, yes to physical and emotional safety, yes to a greater balance, yes to increasing opportunity – yes to standing up for yourself and finding the strength to cope, and dealing with adversity rather than running away from it.


Motherhood? Single motherhood? Parenthood in any configuration? All those incapable of unearthing their mental toughness need not apply!

Some speak of positive attitude, but I believe that mental toughness is so much more. It’s guts, it’s stamina, it’s willingness to be wrong and admit it. It’s an openness to letting others help. It’s a singleness of purpose, a commitment to discipline, and the ability to adapt and adjust your course. Sometimes it’s about saving yourself, saving your dreams, safeguarding your child’s dreams.


For us – for my son and for me – I hope we possess the tenderness to stay connected, and the toughness we both will need to move forward in letting go, each in our own way.

As to my battles with people pleasing tendencies, I’ve made improvements. I’m better at yes when it’s called for, and I’ve learned to say no. A definitive, no-room-for-navigation, energized no.