“For your own sanity, learning to say no will liberate you from the stress of overcommitment.” –Kathryn Sansone 1
There has to be a better way.2
Lately I keep hearing people talk about boundaries. I didn’t quite realize what “boundaries” meant until I tried looking up a few things for this post. Then I was like, “Oh, boundaries are the same thing I’m writing about. Neat.”
So what’s a boundary?
Not in the “keep your dog off my lawn” sense. But in the sense of the relationship that exists between me and you.
Say I’m really busy with taking care of my kids. Sounds strange, I know, but it can happen! Say the house is messy, my baby is sick, the fridge is empty, I have a headache, and someone from church calls asking if I can make dinner for a family with a new baby. Suppose your family has its hands full with kids and school and work, and you get a note from school asking for volunteers for this year’s PTA carnival, or a call from church asking you to teach Sunday School. A friend needs babysitting, parents want to come to dinner, the guy down the street wants you to feed his goldfish while he’s gone on vacation. You know you already have enough to deal with.
How do you respond?
Where do your needs figure in?
You have needs outside of taking care of other people. You probably know this already, but do you apply it to your life? Can you finish this sentence?
“I need _______.”
Now finish it again. Finish it at least five more times. If you answered ‘chocolate’, ‘ice cream’, or ‘cookies,’ go a little deeper.
What about this one?
“I have a right to _________.”
This one is harder:
“I feel______when other people_______.”
Try filling it in with five positive things. Then try five things you associate with feeling negative or unpleasant.
“I will not ________.”
Here’s the one I wish I’d learned to fill in a long time ago.
“I will not allow others to________.”
Ooooooh, now we’re getting into selfish territory. It’s one thing to have needs, but asserting those needs over the needs of someone else? Are moms allowed to do that?
I look at my daughters, remembering that they learn what they see in me, and know I can’t afford not to do that.
I have to be able to say no. Not only does a lack of that personal boundary lead to overwork and stress that affects my family as much as it affects me, but I CAN NOT pass this inability to recognize my own needs, this desire to please above all else, on to my little girls.
Why? Pleasing and putting off our own needs in favor of the needs of others is what mothers are supposed to do, or so I was taught. It’s what women are supposed to do. Yes, men get trained this way too, and it’s just as damaging, but for women, and for mothers, feeling unable to say no is a widespread sickness. The same expectations that cause you to be the overstressed motor that makes everyone else’s life run that much more smoothly, lead you to quietly endure when a stranger makes comments about your body. Led you to remain silent through high school when the boys prodded, grabbed, leered, swatted. Maybe they did more than that. Maybe you never felt you could refuse.
These problems have the same root. The same.
I refuse to pass them on to my daughters. I can’t teach them to say no unless I learn myself first.
For me, this is an ongoing process. Some days I triumph over the littlest things. DH comes home I give him a hug and a kiss and say, “I did not sign up to help out at Bug’s class party next week. I am too busy. I can help next time. Yay me!” and he says “Yay you!” and life continues on that much better than it would have. There have been bigger triumphs, some very personal. I have setbacks too. Just a few months back I was seeing a chiropractor who called me Sugar and eventually started resting his hands on my hips and my rear far more than should have been warranted. When his hands ended up under my shirt and on my bare back twice, I knew for sure he was crossing boundaries. But I couldn’t say anything. I was afraid of being rude. I was afraid I might be wrong. And I was wearing those tight pants, after all, and maybe…obviously I still have work to do. Once my prepaid visits were up, I made an excuse and moved on. I never said no.
My girls must be able to say no.
Is there something you’ve agreed to take on right now (Two things? Three things?) where you rather would have said no? What tasks, duties, positions, impositions, are making your life uncomfortable? Keep in mind that sometimes we can impose these things on ourselves. Sometimes we need to say no to ourselves. “No, Heidi, you don’t need to make Pixie a fancy costume for Halloween. That’s too much work. It will stress out your whole family, and you most of all.”
“_______ is making me feel stressed.”
“________ is not essential in my life right now.”
“I would feel better if ________.”
“I am not ________.”
Developing this sense of yourself–where your needs end and the needs of others begin–is the most important element in learning to say no to overcommitment and everything else you don’t want in your life. We do not exist to meet the needs of others, family or otherwise.
Take it in small steps if you need to. I know I am.
1Woman First, Family Always, p 31.