Back in May I was completely overloaded with a preposterous number of end-of-year school activities, my son’s graduation, work, and the million other things that we moms do on a daily basis. I was feeling physically ill from the head-spinning pace of our lives. I complained to my husband about another “thing” I had agreed to do, and he looked at me (completely calm, somewhat incredulous) and said, “Why didn’t you just say no?”
Of course that got me angrier – I wanted sympathy, dammit! – but the truth is, he was right. Why didn’t I EVER say no? To anything?
Two months later, with the (somewhat) calmer pace of summer, I think I have an answer. Three, actually.
- Pride. I never want to say I can’t do something. We can do it all, right moms?
- Ego. I like being asked to help, I like feeling useful. But when the ego’s involved, it’s questionable if we are doing things for the right reasons. And God forbid someone might be angry with us or no longer “like” us if we don’t say yes. Could our egos survive?
- Guilt. It’s a powerful force. Feeling like you “should” do something is often motivating, even if you really don’t want to. (Think: I have to do this rather than I want to be doing this.)
Looking back, exactly zero of the above explanations are legitimate reasons to say yes. But all are valid reasons to say no. And “no” should be a complete sentence, right? So why do we feel the need to qualify our answers? To explain ourselves? See reasons numbered 1 – 3, above.
None of this self-writhing or self-inflicted guilt leads to any good. We are spinning out of control, running around, angry, over-worked, tired, and resentful. And if you’re like me, complaining. A lot. To anyone who will listen.
Sometimes, though, feeling a little guilty or a little uncomfortable for a few moments after saying no is better than feeling resentful and angry for days.
Sometimes, it’s necessary just to say no for our sanity and the sanity of our partners and children.
Our time is precious. It’s important – and perfectly acceptable – to prioritize. But we have to be honest with ourselves first. What is really important to us and the most precious people in our lives? Exactly why is our plate so full? Why are we agreeing to do everything when we know we do not have the time? What is our true motivation?
Here’s what I learned when you say no: people will be upset, they may not like you for that moment (or longer), you will feel bad for a bit, you will soon feel relieved and empowered, and everyone will move on. We all have to set boundaries. We have to set our priorities – and we ourselves have to be on that priority list. Self-care is essential for moms who want a happy, healthy family life. Yes, we have to be reasonable. Yes, we want to be kind and helpful.
So there needs to be a balance between being overly selfish with our time and way too generous with it.
That balance is hard to find sometimes, but the first step – for me at least – was recognizing that it’s actually fine to say no. The world will keep spinning and everyone will get what they need, perhaps in a different way. And you will be less harried, less pressured, and more empowered. I still say yes way more often than I say no. But I am no longer afraid to say no, without apology or explanation.
After all, “No.” is a complete sentence.