Sunday, August 10, 2008

"We'll See;" The art of putting off answers

It was the most frustrating thing my parents could ever say to me. Every time I asked for something that didn't seem completely probable, I had to hear it:

We'll see.

It's more effective than "go ask your mother." It's more noncommittal than "in a little while." It's more devastating than "no." And yet for the last few weeks, I just keep hearing myself say it. But it's just so darn useful. I can't stop saying it. It quells whatever storm a no answer might generate and it prevents an out-and-out lie with a yes answer.

One of the strange effects of parenting is hearing my parents' words coming out of my mouth--but this time they make sense. Much of the advice, explanations, rules, discipline that I had to hear when I was little has snuck into my daughters' lives. And yet, I just don't see any other way. But when a kid asks for something that is totally unreasonable or just not possible at the moment, or it is reasonable and possible but just not convenient, I catch myself saying that one dreaded line.

My wife and I try to be as honest as we can be with our parenting. We try to answer questions truthfully, even if they may not fully grasp the answer. We don't give them B.S. reasons for rules or discipline. We try to be truthful whenever we can be. But when we're leaving the swimming pool and my eldest daughter says, "Can we come back later today?" I just can't seem to tell her no. Yeah, maybe we can. If we have definite plans, I tell her no, but if it's the weekend and it's early enough, I just can't shatter her bubble.

The truth of the matter is that she probably won't want to come back to the pool later. Probably we'll get busy enough with whatever activity we do end up doing that she'll forget all about it. What she's really asking for, in my mind, is to make the glory of the swimming last a little bit longer. She's looking for a way to let go easily and not have it torn from her hands. So by putting off an answer, I feel like I've let her down easy. Chances are, she'll not really be concerned about the answer once the opportune time has rolled around.

This is the case with most of the questions that proceed the "we'll see." These questions are usually about future activities or purchases that occur during times of transition. Even if I know the answer is "no" to skipping nap time when we get home from an activity, saying that we'll see about it let's her hold on to the prospect long enough to then make her decision that she really would like a nap, anyway.

I don't see it as a totally dishonest way to avoid answering a question. But perhaps that's just the cognitive dissonance talking. Perhaps I've merely asked myself the question, "Is this lying to your child?" and I've answered "We'll see."


tillytoo9 said...

I know! I hated that!
I changed it to "It's a possibility" and so far it fits every situation. My son said to me "I know, I know, it's a possibility". So now he'll hate that word and tell his kids....Shut up, we're going home, no more candy, they can't spend the night and.....

Natasha said...

This reminds me of a vignette that the creators and coordinators of use at the beginning of a party:

You know when a woman is at a bar and a man comes up to her and says: Can I buy you a drink? And she thinks he's a geek but she doesn't want to hurt his feelings by saying no and so she says Maybe later. So an hour goes by and the man sidles up next to her again, real hopeful, and asks in a husky voice, May I buy you that drink now? And she still doesn't want to hurt his feelings and figures he'll get the point and so she says Maybe later. And so an hour later he comes back and comes real close and asks, How about that drink? And she thinks to herself, is this guy an asshole or what?....

In the end, he goes home with a different idea about women. They lie. They don't say what they mean. They lead you on.

She didn't want to say no because she didn't want to take responsibility for or to deal with the consequences of her decision. She was hoping she would never have to.

Need I say more?

the winner of your story auction,