learn to say no

Mastering the Unapologetic No

Saying no is hard for most of us and most of us don’t say it often enough – at least to other adults. How many times do you agree to go somewhere that you really do not want to go, or don’t have the time to attend? As the time approaches you dread it, you get mad at yourself for saying yes and then you feel guilty about feeling that way. We all do it. As moms I think we often say yes out of habit or because we will feel badly if we say no. It’s time to give yourself some grace and for moms to give grace to each other.

The word “no” is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation and should not be met with resistance, pleading or a demand for further explanation. This is what you expect when you say to your child, “No you may not have the cookies before dinner.” If they continue to whine, beg and insist on the cookies, we step right in to correct this unacceptable behavior. Or we might let fatigue, a pounding headache and the overwhelm of the day take over and give in to the cookie request.

Why do we as moms have so much trouble saying no to another adult? In general, moms are the doers. We take on a large part of the childcare, the housework, the carpool, the birthday parties, the neighborhood gatherings. Note, I am not complaining that the dads of this world don’t help or participate in parenting. But as a society, we have always expected moms to take on more of these duties. If in addition to being a full-time mom you also run a business you have more invitations, more obligations and less time to get everything done that has to get done.

When you say ‘no’ to something you don’t want or can’t do, you’re putting yourself first. It is hard as a mom to put yourself first. Your family comes first, as it should, the majority of the time. You may need a good night’s sleep but if your child wakes up vomiting at 2 in the morning, the child comes first. If there is only one slice of apple pie left and your kid wants it, they get it. And anyone with a child under 5 knows that you are not permitted to shower, go to the bathroom or take your own 5-minute timeout – EVER.

We need to learn to say “no” without guilt. Sometimes you need and deserve to come first. Stop and think before answering someone’s request. Try to resist the urge to say a reflexive “yes” to every demand for your time and energy. Think about what is actually being asked of you and how much time it will take. Consider whether it will interfere with something else you want to do or have already committed to doing. Ask yourself if saying yes will mean you are saying no to something that is more important.

Committing to putting yourself first doesn’t mean you say ‘no’ all the time. It means finding a balance in life that works for you and the people you care about as well. It’s not a zero-sum game where your needs are satisfied only at the expense of others. On the contrary, learning when it’s appropriate to say ‘no’ means being true to yourself.

Learning the art of saying ‘no’ is a great investment in building more positive, respectful relationships with your family, friends, and colleagues. And you’ll be in a better relationship with yourself as you assert your right to have your own needs met. The more you honor your boundaries, the better you’ll feel. It’s time to build the new habit of saying ‘no’ to others and ‘yes’ to yourself.

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