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The Power of Saying No

Take a pass on just one thing. Why it's okay to say no sometimes.

Jessica Barron is a mother of three young children, part-time pediatrician, and wife of a busy radiologist. She appears to have it all. But like so many other moms, she was overwhelmed. “I constantly feel like some ball I am supposed to be juggling is laying pathetically on the ground,” she says. Then, she did something that some moms have not found the courage to do.

She said no.

Barron was offered a promotion at work which would”ve increased her hours significantly. “The career woman in me was thrilled,” Barron says. “The mother in me was devastated and panicked about losing more precious moments with my young children. Ultimately, the mother convinced the career woman to decline the position,” Barron says. It wasn’t easy, but saying no was what she felt was best for herself and her family.

In the universe of self-care (which is often overshadowed by the larger universe of a perceived “perfect life”), the decision was huge for Barron. At first, she says she felt relieved, but not necessarily at peace. As time has gone on, however, the peace has settled in and saying no feels like it was exactly the right decision for her.

“We all try to figure out day to day what the right balance is for ourselves and our families…and the ground is constantly moving,” says Barron.

“No” Peace

That lack of peace in saying no is not uncommon, according to Leslie Potter, founder of PureJoy Parenting in Lafayette. Potter says that the “yes” cycle is hard to break because it “often requires feeling feelings that we may not be comfortable with or accustomed to by turning toward our own needs.” Potter notes that busy moms have to be willing to feel selfish or unsupportive, thereby giving them the power to say no. She points out that feeling these things should never be confused with thinking these things or realizing these things as truths.

Kristin Stiles, a mom of two young children and CEO of a revolutionary babysitting app, says she used to say yes to almost everything.

“I felt guilty if I said no, as if that meant that I wasn’t a good mom because I wasn’t thrilled to spend hours and hours volunteering at my kid’s school. I felt like the other moms would judge me and I already carried a crazy amount of guilt for being a working mom. I thought if I could volunteer at school then maybe that would alleviate some of the guilt, but, it only made it worse,” Stiles says.

The stress of additional commitments on top of everything else became overwhelming, Stiles says, and she became grumpy with her husband and kids. Fortunately, someone reminded her that her time is precious and limited and the word no is a great one to use, especially if she’s not ecstatic about doing something. Now, instead of taking on volunteer hours at school, Stiles will spend extra time kicking around the soccer ball or skiing with her family, which are things that they all enjoy more and together.

As a stay-at-home mom of two girls, Renèe Rozycki of Denver says that the more time she spends volunteering in the classroom or the community, the more invitations and requests she’s received.

“While I want to be involved and apply my skills, I still have to prioritize the needs around me and decide how they”ll impact my family,” she says. “As long as I remind myself that I’m declining something for the sake of my own sanity, it helps counteract some of the guilt that often comes with saying no.”

Forget the “Ideal” and Get Real

“As parents, we need to forget about the ‘ideal image” of a parent that we have and be more real,” says Shayna Brody Whitehouse, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Boulder County. “We need to balance our participation in all our commitments with our and our children’s happiness.”

Whitehouse says that letting go of the mythical ideal creates balance, relieves stress and ends up giving us the gift of connection, both to ourselves and to our families. The connections made can be far more valuable than any time you might commit to a board, project or fundraiser.

Perhaps we can all use a little more of the simple secret Michelle Logan, a working attorney and mother of three, abides by. She says she’s never been a chronic yes person.

“It’s all about figuring out what you value, what will bring you and your family joy, and prioritizing that,” Logan says. She admits that she’s under no illusion that she’s got it all together and things are perfectly balanced, but does know that if she did say yes to the many outside-work-and-family requests she gets, she”d be “completely insane.”

“I love and value chill time with my family,” Logan says, ‘so that makes it easy to turn down requests that would otherwise drain the time that we have together for that.”

Steps to Saying No

Consider these steps before you say yes or no to a certain project or commitment.

  1. Drop the guilt and ask yourself if whatever is being asked of you is something you’re excited to do.
  2. Consider your priorities and enjoyment. Realize that what you prioritize and enjoy may be different than what someone else values and appreciates, and that is just fine.
  3. Let go of the impossible pursuit of perfection. There is no one ideal. What matters is your happiness as yourself and as the very important person you are within your family.

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