Saying “yes” is very important. It can mean the difference between accomplishing something difficult or sitting it out and possibly missing an opportunity. It means putting positive energy out into the world and taking life by the horns. Saying “yes” is fantastic, and you should practice it regularly. But what about when you say “yes” too much?
When we become parents, many aspects of our lives become at risk for set-back and genuine missed opportunities. Over the last 9 years of having children, this fear of missing out prompted me to say “yes” to almost everything. I found myself running several side projects and several businesses, on top of several kids social and academic schedules and my actual life and marriage. By the time I reached the end of 2015, I was burned out. It was time to take some of the load off.
So in 2016, I decided to start saying “no” — a dramatic life change for me. This gave rise to a couple of small changes that ended up alleviating the daily pressure I was feeling in a big way. So if, like me, you’re guilty of saying “yes” too much, here are 5 simple ways you can begin to say “no.” You may find that saying “no” to even the smallest things can give you more space for more meaningful opportunities and joy.
1. Say No To Overbooking. Is your life full of kids classes and practices and birthday parties? Perhaps, you’re just busy? Remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. In many parts of the world, taking time to do nothing is actually very practiced, not just a concept! One of the first initiatives I made in saying “no” was to free up more of our weekends. I began to decline invitations to birthday parties in favor of time with family and friends; I limited weekend activities as much as possible so that we could have one weekend day to do literally nothing. I realize this will not last forever and as they grow into middle and high school, so will their commitments. But for now, this has been a huge relief.
2. Say No To Rushing. To some extent, we are all guilty of rushing through our day: making lunches, schlepping to school, rushing through work calls, eating quickly… But what if we could choose one thing, and do that one thing slowly, with care, every day? For me, it’s my late morning coffee. I work from home three days a week and usually don’t get to eat or drink anything until after 10 am once I’ve gotten everybody where they need to be. I get home and make an espresso in my 18 year old stove-top espresso maker and get to just stand there for 10 to 15 minutes, doing nothing but putting time into something I know I will enjoy simply because of the care I took in making it.
3. Say No To Whatever Keeps You From Connecting. If you have friends over for dinner, don’t do the dishes until your guests are gone. If you’re working at the school fundraiser, don’t take on every responsibility that comes your way. And if you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, try to just hang. During the week, I usually cook dinner, something I truly enjoy. But I sometimes found myself rushing through the process of cooking and eating because the finish line of getting three kids in bed still seemed so far away. So, instead of spending the rest of the night cleaning, we’ve begun to clean up by clearing everything, quickly rinsing and disposing of all food, and leaving dishes and pans in the sink for the morning. It was a huge breakthrough for our relationship when we realized we could take that extra chore literally off the table, at least for an evening. And now, we get to hang out with each other instead of cleaning up.
4. Say No To Hovering. Sometimes it’s important to have hours where nothing is planned, and the parents aren’t the ones dictating what happens (or doesn’t happen). Let your kids loose on the playground with other kids; let them mess up their room, let them use the paints. Hovering over them or worrying about the mess you’re going to have to clean up can prevent them from having independent and meaningful experiences, which can spark not only true creativity, but also courage and empathy. My youngest son, who comes with me to drop off our older daughters at school, will do things on his own, like get a glass of water or find a book to look at, when I set my daughters up in their classrooms. Though it may be the product of being the third child, I like to think that it’s also because I let him do things by himself.
5. Say no to Limitation. While I think it’s important to say “no” more often, saying “yes” to personal limitation is my huge exception. I know parents who forgo experiences, travel and self-care because it’s just too hard to do it all — it gets expensive, the kids may freak out; and who knows if they’ll even remember anything, right? But if these things are important to you, then it’s crucial to share them with your kids. After all, if you always worry about the distance, figurative or actual, you’ll never go anywhere. So take the leap to do whatever you love, be it running a marathon, traveling the world or finishing a New York Times crossword puzzle. For me, it’s taking my kids on as many trips as possible so they can experience the people, the food and the beauty of many different countries. The best byproduct of saying “no” to limitations is that your kids will ultimately see your efforts and know that they too can accomplish anything, too.