Nicole Lapin, author of the upcoming career guide Becoming Super Woman, explains how to say no to mom-friends, your partner, and family in a diplomatic way.

By Nicole Lapin
Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

I get it. You have an insane job? Five kids? Maybe want to workout or even sit down for dinner once in a while? Whatever it is that's occupying your time, you have the right to get it done successfully. And guess who decides if that happens? Nope, not your kids, their teachers, your partner...You! You are the one who says “yes” or “no” to anything and everything in your life (there are even ways to do that as a m-o-m! Shocking, right?). Do you feel “obligated” to do something that doesn't really fit into your day? If the answer is “yes,” ask yourself: “Why”? 

You’re a Super Woman and a lot of people will want your super self at their baby showers, on their committees, and heading up their bake sales. Wanting to say “yes” to all of that is not wrong. But saying “yes” to things you are not stoked about or don't fit into your family's schedule out of a sense of obligation is not a good idea in general. It’s even worse when it eats into your “me time” and undermines your obligation to yourself. Sure, being active in your community, your kid's school, and your office are important, too. But making plans with yourself or your family is making plans. Period. You are your own party, your own committee, and the queen of your own projects. Say “yes” to those all day. 

“Having it all” is not about being equal parts PTA mom, master chef, seductress wife, and C-suite exec. “Having it all” doesn’t mean “Doing it all.” That’s an impossible, unrealistic recipe for burnout. Instead of saying "yes" all the time, follow these scripts to say "no" when you need to. You'll be happier, and no one will even resent you for turning them down. 

Saying “No” to Mom Friends

Being a good friend doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything someone asks of you. Now, if a friend is in need, that’s one thing. Let’s be real, you’re not going to leave their kid stranded at school if they can’t make it to pick-up. But not every request can be an emergency. And you don’t have to feel bad about being thoughtful about those that aren’t. Consider this: 

Your neighbor: "Hey Nicole! I’m putting together a weekly book club with some of the other women in the PTA and thought you might be interested in hosting at your place. Are you able to?"

You: "Wow, thanks so much for thinking of me—I’m flattered! My schedule doesn’t allow for hosting right now, but I’d love to join you when I can. Have you thought about introducing a theme to tie all of the books together? I’m very into mindfulness books at the moment!"

Your neighbor: "I hadn’t thought of that, great idea!"

You: "Let me know if you find a host, and keep me posted on the schedule."

Your neighbor: "Will do, thanks!"

Why this works: The fewer details about why you can’t commit, the better. You said your schedule doesn’t allow for hosting, but you didn’t claim you’d be working late. You live in close proximity to this person, so you don’t want to provide specific examples, which they might, in turn, hold you to. Also notice that I didn’t suggest “asking Maria, who has a son in the same class as ours.” You might know that Maria is a fabulous cook who loves to host, but you likely don’t know what else she has going on. So, don’t put another mom on the spot like that. 

Saying “No” to Your Sig-O 

It’s important to make time for your relationship, but if you have a busy week and your partner wants to hire a babysitter for a mid-week date night? You can turn him or her down without causing a fight. Here’s how: 

Your Sig-O: "There's a new Thai place that just opened in town. Want to call a sitter on Tuesday night and check out the menu?"

You: "That sounds like fun! However, I have an early meeting at work on Wednesday so I want to read over my notes and then try to go to sleep soon after we put the kids down."

Your Sig-O: "Maybe we order in instead? I'll do the dishes so you can get work done."

You: "That's a great idea, thank you. How about we order from somewhere else tonight and book the sitter for Sunday so we can make a reservation at the Thai restaurant then."

Why this works: You’ve asserted that your work and your time are valuable and that you’re the kinda lady who crushes deadlines. If that’s not sexy, then I don’t know what is. By offering to make a reservation for Sunday instead, you show him that you value his ideas and reaffirm your commitment to spending some alone time with him. 

Saying “No” to Your Family 

It’s an unwritten law of nature: no one has more power to guilt you into doing something you don’t want to do than your mother (or other close family member or in-law). There is a lot to be said for answering the call of extended family, but sometimes your duty to yourself or your kids is greater. Try this: 

Your mother: "Aunt Susan tells me you haven’t RSVPed to your second cousin Rachel’s baby shower next Sunday. I assume you’re still coming? I’ll pick you up at 10 am."

You: "I’m not able to make it next Sunday, and I actually just got off the phone with Aunt Susan to tell her."

Your mother: "What do you mean you’re not coming?? This is Rachel’s first baby! And you two were so close growing up..." 

You: "I’m thrilled for Rachel, and I sent her a gift from her registry so that she has something from me at her shower. However, Rachel and I have hardly spoken since first grade. My weekend time is limited these days, so I have to prioritize how I spend it."

Your mother: "Well, alright...Can we still meet for coffee at 10 a.m., before I go to the shower?"

You: "Of course! Looking forward to it."

Why this works: When it comes to family, sometimes you’ve gotta go the extra mile to avoid hurt feelings and drama. So, when letting a family member down, call (or at least attempt to). The personal touch of your voice (or voicemail) will go a long way to remind them that they’re important to you. Don’t give a million excuses as to why you can’t be there; just decline the invitation graciously with “I’m not able to make it next Sunday” and leave it at that. Your mother might remember you and Rachel as little girls, but that was a long time ago—you're both about to have little ones of your own. Define the relationship in present-day terms, and then assert your right to set your own priorities. She may not like it, but she’ll have to respect it. If you can, concede to meet for coffee with her. After all, she’s your mother, and you’ll need coffee to get through your long day anyway. 

Saying “No” to Teachers

We all want to be the perfect volunteer moms loved by our kids' teachers. But if your current commitments (including the one you’ve made to yourself and your family) will suffer from taking on more commitments, then instead of crushing anything, you’re gonna get crushed. So, the next time you’re faced with another commitment that you know you just can’t take on, try this tactic: 

The teacher: "Nicole, I’m looking for someone to spearhead the planning for the bake sale next month. It's raising money for the first-grade play."

You: "Thanks so much for thinking of me—this sounds like an amazing way to raise that money! However, I am already volunteering to help plan the field trip next month and want to keep my focus there. I'm happy to bring in some cupcakes that we can sell, but I won't be able to be involved in planning."

The teacher: "I had no idea you were part of the field trip committee. That’s great, thank you!"

Why this works: When you present actual examples of what else you have cooking, like planning the field trips, you demonstrate the many other ways you are contributing to the good of the school. Of course, you still want to help out and be involved when you can, but it's OK to turn down opportunities, too. You will have plenty more years of bake sales ahead of you. Maybe you'll join the planning committee next year. 

Nicole Lapin is the New York Times bestselling author of Rich Bitch and Boss Bitch. She is the host of the nationally syndicated business reality competition show, “Hatched.” She has been an anchor on CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg. Her next book, Becoming Super Woman, comes out in September 2019.

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