When her family goes out for pancakes, Rachel Mairose keeps an eye on what her children order. The Eden Prairie mom, 33, thinks that syrup makes a pancake breakfast sweet enough, without the sugary add-ins that her kids beg for.
But on a recent Saturday, she held her tongue when 8-year-old Lilah and her 3-year-old brother, Cavan, placed an order for a stack of buttermilk beauties complete with chocolate chips and whipped cream.
“They were checking to see if I meant it, if I really wasn’t going to say no to them,” Mairose said. “They saw that they could call the shots.”
Mairose and her husband, Kyle, 32, had decided to give their kids a Yes Day, a full 24 hours when parents suspend their veto power and allow children to plan the activities.
Yes Day was introduced in a 2009 picture book of the same name by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. It features a little boy whose mom agrees to all his requests, including pizza for breakfast, food fights and a late bedtime.
The practice rose in popularity more recently when actress Jennifer Garner Instagrammed about her family’s annual Yes Day tradition. The mother of three posted a selfie, appearing as haggard as it’s possible for a glamorous actress to look.
(The experience apparently showed Garner the comedic possibilities of a day when kids rule. A Yes Day movie that Garner will produce and star in is in development in Hollywood. It’s safe to assume that hilarity will ensue.)
Of course, the appeal of a Yes Day to children is obvious. But it turns out that parents also relish the chance to give up the role of family cop and take a break from saying no, whether in enforcing kids’ screen time and bedtime or nixing spontaneity to stick to the schedule.
“My husband and I thought this would be a cool and important opportunity for them,” Mairose said. “In today’s culture it seems like our kids are regimented with their activities and a full social calendar and the parents dictate what they do. We wanted them to have a day to show their autonomy and let them blossom.”
Families that embrace Yes Days are advised do it with some structure.
When parents present the idea to kids, it’s often with boundaries and parameters. Parents often impose a modest budget, and explain that even on a Yes Day, they can’t pursue activities that could inflict injuries — for example, if kids choose a family bike ride, they still have to wear their helmets, or if they want a family movie night, it can’t include fare with off-limits content.
“A Yes Day reinforces that what kids really want is their parents’ time and attention, to interact with them,” said Art Sesma, associate professor and chairman of the Psychology Department at St. Catherine University in St. Paul who also teaches child psychology.
With two sons, he sees the transformative potential of the day on parents as the real value of staging such an event.
“Parents can use this experience to become more mindful of when and why they say no. Do they do it reflexively, because it’s convenient?” he said. “If they go back to their scolding selves the next day, it’s not helpful. If they reappraise how they interact with their kids moment-to-moment and look for those opportunities for affirmation, that can influence how they parent.”
Yes Days seem to have struck a nerve with millennial moms and dads.
“This appeals to parents who are willing to let go of the controls a little,” said Jack MacKinnon, who studies trends and attitudes among contemporary families as a senior research analyst at Gartner.
“A Yes Day is also a way to practice moderation,” he added. “This generation of parents places importance on moderation — eating healthy, for example, but allowing themselves treats, too. A Yes Day is a way to recognize the need to take a break from trying to get it perfect.”
For their Yes Day, the Mairose children asked for a family outing to Valleyfair, then an evening at their grandparents’ house, with a request that Nana bake a pie with blueberries the family had picked on a recent vacation.
Their other request was to adopt Penny, a dog the family had been fostering.
“They had been begging to keep her, and she was special to all of us,” Mairose said. As executive director of Secondhand Hounds, she has fostered more than two dozen dogs awaiting placement, so there’s always an extra pooch or two sharing the family home.
Mairose and her husband had agreed that Penny was destined to become a member of their family, but allowing the children to fill out the adoption papers on their Yes Day made the decision to keep the spotted pit bull more celebratory and memorable.
“She is my special dog, and I will always remember getting her when we were the boss of the family,” Lilah said.
Psychologists have long agreed that one quality that strong families share is building traditions that they cherish and look forward to, so making Yes Days a ritual is another reason some families have adopted the practice.
The Mairose family plans to make it an annual event, and the children are composing their lists for when they will take the reins next year.
“I want us to go horseback riding,” said Lilah. “And stay up late again!”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.