Last week, I wrote about how many Good Girls suffer from the same curse as Ella, Gail Carson Levine’s protagonist in Ella Enchanted. Like Ella, who was cursed with the inability to refuse commands, many girls have trouble saying ‘no’ to requests made of them. But the good news is that some women know how to put their needs before the needs of everyone else. My mom is one of these women (Hi, Mom!). She constantly defies the curse and, by doing so, she teaches me a valuable lesson about being a good friend.
Yesterday I was in the grocery store with my mom and we ran into a neighbor. This neighbor recently began selling clothes at parties. The best way I can describe it as a modern-day Tupperware party. Essentially this woman, let’s call her Jane, asks women to host a party where Jane sells clothes and the hostess gets a fraction of what Jane earns.
Somewhere between Poptarts and Cheerios, Jane asked my mom whether she would consider hosting an event. My mother bluntly responded with a no. Jane, saleswoman that she is, said, “But I saw you at one of my events….” My mother then explained that she had gone to support Jane but had no interest in going to another event.
If I had been in my mother’s position, I think I would have been able to tell Jane I did not want to host a party. But her insistence probably would have worn me down and I envision myself promising to think about it and check my calendar. But my mom was honest with herself and with Jane. The truth was, she was happy to show her support…. once.
My mom teaches by example. Seeing this seemingly simple interaction reminded me that gently yet firmly denying a request does not make you a bad friend or person. In fact, my mom is a great friend.
I will never forget her fiftieth birthday (I mean, what? She’s not a day over thirty). Her friends and family battled through a full-blown snow storm to celebrate with her, proving that, when it comes to being a meaningful friend, she must be doing something right. I believe she is a valuable friend because she realistically defines what she can and cannot do. Mom does not agree to do everything for everyone, regardless of how many times she is asked.
We all have that one friend who always flakes out on plans and leaves us hanging. Well, sometimes I’m that friend. When a friend asks if I’d like to do something with or for her, I almost always say yes because it’s hard to ignore a friend’s needs. But I later realize just how much work I have and sometimes find myself disappointing friends when I can’t be there for them. That’s pretty obnoxious behavior, right? Well, don’t worry. I’m working on it and my Mom is a perfect role model.
Mom rarely lets friends down because she does not concede to requests if she knows she does not have the time to do what is being asked of her. But when she can do something for a friend, she commits herself completely and they can count on her. When it comes to supporting a friend, believe me, my mom does not mess around. She has hosted countless parties for her friends’ book signings, campaigns and milestone events.
My mom knows that saying no to friends is hard, but that being honest with them about your limitations actually shows you take their wishes seriously. If she is busy and stressed, she may decline an invitation to watch a friend’s child in a school musical because she would not be able to be fully present. She may pass on the fall musical but she shows up for the next football game ready to cheer.
My mom has broken the curse and does not agree to do things just because she is asked. She does things for her friends because she wants to. She shows her devotion by not overextending herself and by doing only what she can do with care.
This is just one of the many lessons my mother teaches me when she doesn’t give in to Ella’s curse. I could spend all day talking about the impact her ability to refuse requests has on me. And I could spend weeks trying to explain the schmillions of things I have learned from Mom.
I often write about troubling phenomena. But the good news is that just as I am slowly, yet surely, learning how to be a better friend because of my mom’s behavior, curses can be unlearned. My peers and I watch our parents. I believe many of the harmful messages we are inundated with can be replaced by images of adults modeling, for an example, how to be a good friend. Really, we’re watching. Between the eye rolls, we’re watching.