The Art of Saying No

Trying to say “no”, setting limits and having boundaries is always more complicated around the holidays.  Yet, this year seems a bit easier because there are now external limits being forced upon us.  If you are similar to me and have had trouble saying “no” or setting boundaries for yourself, perhaps this holiday is a positive step in the right direction.  Our government has placed limits to our family revelry by taking a stand on how many can gather together and where we can travel.  The family meal of thirty plus people that took days to cook and maybe you didn’t really want to do it anymore is in the past!  The family member who drinks a little too much and makes uncomfortable conversation at the table that you haven’t wanted to invite for years is done!  That dreaded sloppy kiss from an old aunt who you make allowances for even though your kids despise the invasion of personal space is gone!  The constant debate about which side of the family we are seeing this year is over!  Now, I know what you’re thinking about it not being the same and the holiday is ruined but maybe it is for the best.  Maybe just maybe these restrictions will help us find some well-deserved peace or help us explore how “no” can sometimes be the answer.   

Several years ago, I read a parenting book that centered on not saying “no” to your kids. The idea was that they hear no all the time. “No, don’t hit your sister!” “No, don’t eat that cookie before dinner!” “No, don’t chew on that wire!” Because of this, “no” not only loses its meaning but also creates a very confining box with very few outlets for our children to succeed. Attempting to eliminate this word from my vocabulary while three little terrors ran around my house was very difficult. However, I worked to achieve this and eventually mastered replacement phrases to incorporate into the day-to-day. I picked up on the bigger lesson that was important for my children: if I say “no,” there must be a reason behind it. Of course, I’m not saying that in a crisis I was completely level-headed and did not say the “forbidden no word,” but I did strive to follow with an explanation whenever “no” was necessary.

Oh, and that book! That book changed me. (*are you going to say what book it is?*) It changed how I interacted with everyone, and not necessarily in a good way. No is a very powerful word.  When people hear “no,” they stop. They tune in and evaluate the situation more closely. Eventually I realized that I had stopped saying “no” in other areas of my life. Every time I said the dreaded word I felt the need to justify myself.  I found I was saying “yes” more often than not because I just didn’t want to have to explain myself.  In truth, I have always been a people-pleaser. I was brought up to be a strong woman, but also to please. The mindset that I had developed was that, in order to be liked and loved, I had to please my family, please my husband, and please my friends, all the time.  The book had added to this mentality and “no” became a negative word.  Because I lacked the boundaries that “no” helps to build, I lost my sense of self.

When I listen to how articulate my daughters are, even in the midst of a heated argument, I am so happy I read that damn book. My girls are capable of backing up every feeling they have; each time they have a “no” moment, they also have an explanation for it. Our “no-with-an-explanation” strategy is certainly a reason they are able to do this. However, finding one’s self and learning how to say “no” is tricky business. It is a true balancing act- you have to mean it, not feel guilty about it, and know in your heart that this is the right decision for you. 

To start the process of returning to “no,” I started to work on my personal boundaries. Boundaries are hard for all mammas, especially with their children, because the boundaries between mother and child ebb and flow and are very blurred. In truth, children believe for several years that they are the absolute center of their mother’s universe, so for a mamma to set limits for herself can be torturous. Therefore, I started small. I would find some time to do something for myself without the girls in tow. Then, I started going out to dinner with girlfriends. After the dinners, I decided to go bigger. I came up with a few things that I thought were mandatory limits, but wouldn’t create utter chaos in my house. I would meditate and use the bathroom uninterrupted. I realize to a childless reader, this must seem laughable, but using the restroom alone was a pretty epic advancement. It was a game changer; it meant that my children would not kill themselves or each other if left unattended for a few minutes. The relief that came with this realization was extraordinary!

To accomplish uninterrupted bathroom time and meditation was a great feat that took a lot of practice and early mornings for me. It also allowed me to re-install the quick “no.”  First, it was “no-with-an-explanation,” then it was “no, I’m meditating” and then just “no.” I have been mediating every morning for over 3 years now, and my daughters know that they do not interrupt. The bathroom for some reason is still strangely an issue that I cannot seem to crack the code on, but now I can at least say “no” and they know the meaning of this.  I must admit that I do still usually give my daughters a “no-with-an-explanation,” but they are the only ones. In fact, I say “no” all the time and it feels great. What makes it feel so good is the knowledge that I am doing what is right for me. I know my limits, I set boundaries and feel secure and confident in my reasoning and self.  

All the crazy dysfunctional family moments, that let’s be honest, is what everyone really remembers from this holiday will be missed.  We will be sad that our loved ones aren’t with us this year but the ability to say no, have limits and boundaries we might not have thought were a priority could be in fact like a nice warm blanket.  Do you need it?  Maybe not, but it feels really good snuggling in.  



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