How are you at saying “no”? Does it make you uncomfortable to refuse to do something for another? Do you feel guilty for wanting to take time for yourself? Do you share all your personal activities with those around you? Are your children constantly in your space?
If you are a woman, I bet you resonate with most of these. The compulsion to say yes and allow others to invade our private lives has been conditioned for many years. We are supposed to be providers, caretakers, listeners, chauffeurs, organizers, fundraisers, chefs, financiers, disciplinarians, maids, teachers, medics, and more. And this is just in your own home! If you are expected to or want to have a job outside of home too, you’ve taken on even more. As moms and professionals, our task list is long and exhaustive but the biggest problem is ourselves. Few of us have been encouraged to set boundaries. Our family members don’t tell us to set boundaries because they would miss out on all the wonderful things we do for them! Why would they want to change this? They don’t keep asking and expecting because they are having a power trip, it’s because we keep saying yes.
So why are your needs so important above and beyond the others? It is because if you are not in good shape to help, receive or give love to yourself, you are of no use to anyone. The quote from the airline safety speech- “put on your mask before helping others,” is my mantra. It has helped me understand why saying “no” is sometimes the best way to care for others.
So let’s take at look at parenting. When I was a new mom, I gave all my time and energy to my child- Like most of us do. And I also could not understand the parents who actually put their own needs first. I saw them as selfish and uncaring. As time went on and I was getting run down and my son’s autism symptoms were getting worse, I was noticing my ability to cope was also diminishing. It took some good soul searching to finally understand where I was failing myself. I was not putting on my mask first. So I wanted to share with you a few bits of advice to reinforce the idea that self-care is necessary and not a reason for guilt or self-hatred or judging.
1. Everyday, find some time to yourself. This can be a 10 minute meditation, a long hot bath, reading, a walk, crafting, a massage. Whatever brings you joy and separates you from the daily grind. I used to set aside one night a week to hang with other musicians. Boy, did I anticipate that!
2. Make your rules clear. For instance, children will take every bit of space in your home that you give them- Including your bathroom! Until you make clear rules and establish boundaries, they will assume that your space is their space. So some spaces that should be sacred to you are the bathroom, a favorite chair in a quiet space, your garden, your home gym or whatever space you can carve out just for yourself. And be sure the rules are expressed and posted with an easy to understand sign such as “Mom’s Space,” “Adults only” or even “Keep out” if you need to be that bold. You may need to enlist another adult in the household to occupy the children while you refuel and that's awesome because you are delegating. If this concept really bothers you, teach your kids to appreciate their private space too by knocking in their door before entering and giving them private time in the way that they need. This way you will all have a common understanding of its value.
3. Get help. When I was a new mom, my son never slept. So as a result, I never slept. My husband had a day job so that left me as the only provider. Except! I had babysitters and I was not too proud to use them. I hired a sitter to watch my son so I could take a nap. Yep! I really did! And boy did I sleep! I knew he was near but also safe so I could let go of my responsibilities and refuel. What ways can you get help? Laundry? Cooking? Cleaning? These all free you up to care for yourself.
4. Make an activity for you and your partner that does not allow the kids to be involved. You remember when you first met and you spent time together without distraction? That needs to continue. It’s so important that you two still build memories that are only yours! This could be as simple as grabbing some to-go meal and eating at a park while the kids are at school or having a weekly movie night after they’ve gone to bed. It does not need to be involved or expensive but it does need to happen regularly. When my son was 19 and living in a young adult community, my husband and I took a week in Hawaii and a week in England. It was amazing how fast we were able to reconnect and just have fun together!
5. And finally- keep in mind your priorities. As a school parent you will have all sorts of pressures put on you to be in band boosters, chaperone, PTA, etc. Before you say yes, ask yourself if it meets your mission. If the time after school with your kids is super important to you then keep that time sacred. Rethink how many activities they really need to be active in because it will impact you too. Invite the family to help with dinner preparations and make them a part of the household routine.
By saying “no” you are expressing self-love and the more love you make, the more you can share. And as a result, the more respect you will gain from colleagues, other parents and especially your own kids.