Say No More…. Why Moms Need to Say “No!” More Often

Moms, be honest: How many times have you wanted to say no, but went ahead and did the whatever-the-thing-was anyway?

I do this a lot, and if you’re a mom with young kids, I bet you do, too. Maybe I didn’t totally feel like dropping off a bag of toy donations at another mom’s house at 9 p.m. in the rain for our school’s upcoming family fun night—the first chance I had after another commitment that night at school—but it’s not as if I’m organizing the whole event like that mom is, it only takes a few minutes, it’s the least I could do…. And so go the little rationalizations that I and all moms make as we watch our to-do lists grow, on top of all the things moms normally just do in a given week (review spelling words, wipe tears, pick up printer ink, dispense hugs, prepare meals, get the black pants for orchestra, and so on).

I was talking to a friend the other morning, who also knows a thing or two about busy. “You’re generous, and you do a lot for other people,” she counseled. “But you need to say ‘no’ more.”

Did my friend describe me… or moms everywhere? In Maxed Out, Katrina Alcorn writes that mothers have been sold a bill of goods thinking they can do everything. In the book, Alcorn, a successful executive at a web design company, with a supportive husband and great boss, finds the demands of balancing work and parenting to be too much, and suffers a breakdown on her way to the store to buy diapers one day. In Monday’s Washington Post, Rosa Brooks writes about how she, too, felt the pressure to do more and be more, and ended up miserable. In a rebuttal to the “Lean In” movement in which women are encouraged to put themselves out there more, Brooks advises the opposite: “Women of the world, recline!”

If you’re unsure if you’ve overburdened yourself, maybe the evidence lies in what you look like at the end of the day. Another good friend familiar with my daily hustle suggested I watch I Don’t Know How She Does It for much-needed laughs. In the movie, an adorable Greg Kinnear washes up in anticipation of some rumpy-pumpy with Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays an overtaxed working mom. He emerges from the bathroom to find her on their bed passed out cold, her hair draped across her face like a fleecy blanket. Likewise, my husband found me asleep in corpse pose on our bed, with the tablet I was watching the movie on still in my hand, lord knows looking not nearly as cute as SJP.

The truth is, even if I sometimes harbor fantasies of running away to Bali, I’m responsible: for my kids, my home, my job.  For most moms, most times, saying “no” isn’t an option. And even when we want to say no, it isn’t easy. (How many times have you tried to do something as simple as unsubscribe from an email list, and gotten a message like, “Are you sure?” You can’t even reject unwanted pitches for free chiropractic exams without defending yourself!) Also, who can forget Bethenny Frankel’s immortal words in The Real Housewives of New York: “I come from a place of yes,” she admonishes a less generous wife. No one wants to be remembered as the “no” mom.

But… In an effort to play more offense and less defense against the requests and demands that we all know will never stop coming, I think there are probably some things I can scratch off my list, while others are essential to keep. So, in no particular order, here’s a random list for inspiration:

Yes to spending time with people. Getting together with friends, in any setting, is always a good idea. I’ve slowly made good on a resolution to  have friends over at least once a month, and while it’s hectic getting our place ready and dinner prepared, it’s more than worth it to spend time with people I love.

No to spending more time at school after or before hours. I’m not talking about purposely missing a child’s winter concert. I’m just asking myself if I need to go to everything. (Yes, I know I should be doing things because my kids love them—and I do. Enough already.) So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, are you sure you’ve got time to volunteer at your school’s Donuts for Dads activity? (Come on. Dads don’t need donuts!) Or if you don’t have it in you to hit Family Casino Night at the end of a long week, what’s the worst that can happen? Who’s going to come revoke our mom cards?

Yes to making time for people who value your time. I got an email from someone asking for a small favor. In it she said she knew I was “the busiest person on the planet.” Just reading that made my face flush red with embarrassment. Um, I am not the busiest person on the planet. And you’re not either. If I’m giving off that impression—and apparently I am—I need to slow down and prioritize. There is always time to be gracious.

No to every kids’ movie. I’ve gotten into the regrettable habit of bringing my children to a matinee showing of nearly any kids’ movie they ask to see because…I can’t remember. I can count on two hands the number of movies I saw as a child in the theater. Skipping a movie in the theater here and there is not sad for children. What is sad is the 90 minutes you will never, ever get back sitting through The Smurfs 2. So, if you’re being begged for a third viewing of Frozen in the theater, I say… let it go.

Yes to Buzzfeed quizzes. And similar wastes of time. How else would you know which European country you should move to, what decade you belong in, and which celebrity you’re most suited to getting drunk with (hey now, Aaron Paul). Yeah, you’re busy, and we all feel guilty doing something silly when we should be doing something productive. But it’s essential for moms’ mental health to cut ourselves some slack in our long days for at least a few minutes of selfish fun and fantasy. This winter’s not going to pass the time by itself.

And one more yes… I may be pooped and ready to put my kids to bed at the end of the day. But when I’m cuddled up for story-time with my 2-year-old, her soft wisps of fine hair brushing my cheek, her round little arm resting on my chest… Well, she can always sweet-talk me into one more reading of A Good Day by Kevin Henkes. Because those. Those are the moments.

And they’re always worth saying yes to.

Image: Conceptual stop sign via Shutterstock.

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Parenting Style: Attachment Parenting
Parenting Style: Attachment Parenting
Parenting Style: Attachment Parenting

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