A couple year’s ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to be more reliable. I had been finding myself in the awkward position of having to be in two places at once and having to cancel on things last-minute. I never considered myself a pushover who couldn’t say “no”–I just didn’t want to not say “yes.” Truthfully, I didn’t want to miss out–on anything, ever. So I resolved to say yes, mean it, and follow through.
I formed a habit of foregoing sleep and routine (…and a savings account) to accept every invitation and chase the next adventure. And all those “yes’s” took me to a lot of cool places with great friends and left me with lots of great memories.
But after becoming pregnant with my firstborn, I quickly realized my days of “yes” might be coming to an end.
But I didn’t stop saying “yes”, necessarily. Throughout the pregnancy, I wanted to prove myself at work, at home, and to my friends. I traveled, I photographed weddings, and after our son was born, he was merely a few weeks old before we flew to Florida, then drove to Ohio.
The Downside of Yes
It wasn’t easy, but I kind of liked it: I felt like I was striking a balance between the “me” and the “mom me.” Until he started to grow and not sleep all the time and I realized how essential a baby’s routine is- for him, and for me. A missed nap might sound like nothing more than an inconvenience, but for me it meant wrangling a screaming baby in front of other people, and the ensuing comments about what I should be doing or how I should be handling it (and the embarrassment). The thing that bothered me was that I knew what I should have done to prevent it in the first place: honor that nap time. But I didn’t so I could oblige someone else (even myself). I’ve written about the importance of predictability, but was neglecting it with my own developing baby, in my own life, in spaces where I, ultimately, had the control if I would just say “No.”
After the arrival of our daughter, the importance of routine and predictability has exponentially multiplied–for their sanity, and again, mine. Things that might sound unimportant, or even stupid, to other people–like sleeping in their own beds, bed time, morning routines, regular nap and meal times–have become essential for me (and them?). I do like to do things spontaneously, but I am learning my limits, and that there’s a lot I just can’t do well anymore with two toddlers.
The Hard Part of “No”
Learning to say “No” is HARD. There’s that feeling of disappointing someone or lots of people, but then there’s also this nagging feeling of, “If I just try a little harder, I could make it work and make everyone happy” And while I know other people’s worlds don’t revolve around me, that feeling of disappointing them tends to weigh heavy.
Maybe there are things that I could make work, but the truth is that it’s still not going to make everyone happy, and it’s going to come at a price to me. This short trip here or there, letting my kids spend the night at someone else’s house, waking them early from nap time or foregoing bedtime: all of these things sound small, but we’re never just “in the moment” anymore. I always have to be thinking about what’s next. Between two working parents and a (meager) social life, saying “no” is just necessary. When I start to wonder if I’m being too rigid, I remind myself that I’m not a jerk, and I’m not being inconsiderate. My priority has to be the tenuous balance we’ve struck between work, childcare, finances, and growing kids. These are just moments in someone else’s life, but my kids are young enough that the after-effects of an indulgent weekend takes us days to re-claim our routine: the one we depend on so my husband and I can sleep, work, and parent.
Hopefully the time will come when hopping in the car for a road trip will be easier. But for now, sometimes a “no” is necessary for invitations to do what we know will be fun things, but just can’t make work, even for reasons other people may think are stupid.
A friend of mine recently said to me that she doesn’t want to spend her kids’ childhoods trying to make other people happy.
What a powerful statement. I still want to be reliable, I still want to be able to follow-through. But now that means instead of saying “yes” all the time, I’m going to have to say “no” too, and mean it. And if someone else has a problem with it (which is, in all reality, probably unlikely since I’m not the center of the universe…I mean, other people’s universes) that’s on them, not me.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2016? Set the right expectations. Say “no”, mean it, and be done feeling bad about it.