Parents are always way cooler before they’re parents. Before embarking upon the parental journey, we know this and think we’ll be able to get around it, and we give it a shot. Imagine our surprise when it turns out that kids need rules, guidance, and a whole bunch of “no’s.” That’s what happens in Netflix’s “Yes Day,” starring Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez as Allison and Carlos Torres, parents who are caught at a crossroads.
They hear about this concept of a day, a full 24 hours, where parents say “yes” to everything their kids want. They’re unsure at first, but after grappling with their inability to manage their family and themselves, or reconcile who they are in real life with who they want to be, they submit to the idea that they will say “yes” — to everything. There are some ground rules, sure, but they’re not enough to keep the family from going through a car wash with the windows down.
“Yes Day” is based on the children’s book of the same name by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, that puts the kids in charge. But the concept of a “yes” day has taken on a life of its own. Since the book’s release, parents have shared across the internet how “yes” days have gone, and what benefit they have for this generation of incredibly micro-managed kids.
“Parents today are spending all kinds of time, energy, and money trying to increase competency but often do it at the expense of kids’ autonomy. So kids feel like things are done to them, instead of for them or with them,” said Ned Johnson, author of “The Self-Driven Child.”
“People said they need a sense of competency,” he said, “but also autonomy.” This is something a “yes” day can further. But after a year of pandemic lockdowns, where it’s not only been parents saying “no” but the entire world squashing the freedoms of youth, is a “yes” day enough to counteract being overly managed?
I spoke to Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow and founder of Free Range Kids, who said there’s an impulse among parents to “want things to be perfect,” but they don’t have to be. “Some of it is just letting go of the idea that everything is supposed to be well ordered and enriching in a certain way, and that if you deviate from that script for a day your kid is going to prison,” she said.
As to the concept of a “yes” day, Skenazy said, “I think we say ‘no’ a lot as parents simply because we have no time, and to say ‘yes,’ even to ‘yes, you can make your own eggs,’ means saying yes to a mess in the kitchen, so we do it ourselves.”
This is not the best impulse if we’re going to raise resilient kids who can handle themselves, don’t see offense in every disagreement, and know how to deal with obstacles and responsibilities in their own lives. The film makes it clear that a whole bunch of “yes” without any responsibility is a recipe for disaster. It turns out, more important than saying “no” or “yes” is to teach kids how to be responsible for themselves, how to make good decisions, and learn that actions have consequences.
The kids of the Torres family learn this lesson the hard way. Teen daughter Katie (Jenna Ortega) realizes maybe her mom had a point in not letting her go to an all-ages music festival on her own. Tween son Nando (Julian Lerner) finds that saying “yes” to letting all his friends party at his house is not ideal once the whole house gets trashed.
“I could understand why there’s some ‘no’s,’ but I don’t think that kids are made happy when parents say ‘yes’ to everything that they utter. I think they are happy when we let them do things on their own and not our little playthings,” Skenazy said. “Kids like to be seen as growing humans and not adorable fools and petty tyrants.”
A “yes” day doesn’t have to be about doing anything that strikes children’s whimsy, or mean parents have to be at their kids’ mercy. Instead, Skenazy said, what about “A ‘yes’ day of ‘Yes, I trust you to go to the store,’ which is different than ‘Yes, I’ll put whipped cream in my hair if that’s what you want me to do.'”
‘Yes Days’ Are a Shared Adventure
I’ve taken my son on a fair share of “yes” days. They have limits, for sure, but given that we’re in New York City, there are endless things I can say “yes” to. But we put a spin on it sometimes, where the goal is to spend as little money and have as much fun as possible.
This provides a fun activity when everything but my bank account is yearning to break loose and play. It gives a sense of the kind of freedom that comes with imagination and creativity. It also makes clear that spending loads of cash isn’t the only way to have a good time or to find joy, and that there’s no shame at all in not spending dollars.
“Yes” days bring us closer together because we are on a shared adventure. But the truth is that we’re always on a shared adventure, and that’s the adventure of him growing up. I am his mom, and I’m here to guide him on how to live a life with intention, how to develop self-control and to manage his impulses — including the impulse to say yes to every whim.
There is so much joy to share between parents and kids, and we forget that in our quest to make sure our children get their needs met and are set on the right track for success. But that’s not really what life is about. A successful life is forged in knowing how to make your own fun, how to chart your own path, and how to take responsibility for yourself and the people you love.
In many ways, “Yes Day” exemplifies that lesson. It reminds parents that their job isn’t just to keep kids safe, but to teach kids how to keep themselves.