During the busy back to school season, requests start flying towards unsuspecting families from all angles. If you ever wanted to participate in any aspect of your child’s lives, September is the time to sign up. As the emails flood our inboxes, how do we determine the best use of the only commodity we can never regain: our time? When it’s necessary, how do we say no?
I remember a time so clearly, not too long ago, when I was an over-eager participant in anything that came my way. Over time, and with each additional child, I wised up, but only ever so slightly. I was desperate to ensure I was doing this mom-thing right. It was also critical to ensure that my contribution to my community and to my children’s lives mattered.
Within a year of having all four girls in tow, our volunteering level hit its peak. It was almost out of hand, though we managed to smile through gritted teeth. We found ourselves with a calendar busting at the seems, with no reprieve in sight. The joy in participating had vanished. Our children lost interest in anything that we were contributing to their rather busy lives. We just didn’t know how to say no.
What Was I Doing?
It was almost embarrassing; I mean, I teach time management for a living. And not just the “How Do You Organize Your Workday and Study Schedule” time management. I teach the “How Do You Choose Between Which Dying Patient to See First” time management. While I could juggle life-altering decisions in the moment, I struggled when it came to the everyday decisions of running our family.
Being a people pleaser, who struggles to say no in the first place, didn’t put me in the right corner. I carried a fair amount of guilt that I wasn’t involved enough in my children’s daily activities because I was working outside the home. There is ample wisdom from seasoned mothers who struggled with this as they raised their own children. Even after reading their books, I found myself only to find myself back to saying yes to any and every request that came my way. I didn’t feel I knew how to say no, much less how to say no gracefully.
As it often does, the answer popped up in the everyday wisdom of my young daughter:
When to Say Yes
It’s always in the best interest of your community, your family, and your own sanity to contribute where your gifts lie. In our house, I cannot contribute to my daughter’s robotics team to save my life, but I can organize a teacher luncheon for the PTO. I cannot execute said luncheon without hiring a babysitter, since I have a three-year-old who will stick her hand in the burners. I’ve found a great co-chair who can fill in where I fall short. I will make 120 gift bags before I will ever coach a soccer game. We will educate the girl scouts on first aid and hand hygiene long before we will ever take them hiking or camping.
Some families create a mission statement, and refer back to this when deciding how to dedicate their time. If a request doesn’t support the mission, the answer is a simple, gracious, but dedicated, “No thanks.” When I’ve said no, I try not to over-explain myself, listing off the 55 reasons why I can’t do what they’re asking, to the point where I’m sure that they were really regretting asking me in the first place. If the requester is persistent, see if you are able to participate in a small way, on your terms, so you can still contribute without being in charge.
When You Must Say No
I always worry that by saying no, I’m going to truly offend someone or really hurt their feelings. This might be true in the short term, but I have found it’s much worse to commit to something that you don’t really want to do in the first place. It’s also much easier to say yes to fewer things, and then to be able to help more as time moves forward.
In our current season, I’ve been resigning from a couple of volunteer roles I took on when the kids were younger. At the time, they served as an amazing way to meet other parents, contribute to their schools and activities, and learn about different programs. Today, I have positive feelings about my involvement, but realize it was time to step back.
As my girls grow and change, so does my involvement. Keeping our mission in mind, and recognizing that my time is the only commodity I will never regain, I look forward with the knowledge I gained in each season, hopeful to make it to the next with all my marbles still intact.