There is a difficult word I am learning in this season of life, with two active children and both my husband and myself involved in various work and ministry activities.
I am normally a pretty easygoing person. I am also a people-pleaser and I like making my friends and family happy. And I hate closing the door on something and saying no to possibilities. All of which makes it hard to say “no” when I am asked to help out or join up or jump on the bandwagon.
But I am learning, and the more I have learned how to say “no,” the more I have gained. If you are beginning the fall season (which leads oh-so-quickly into the holiday season) wondering how you will have time and energy for it all, I hope you will take these suggestions to heart.
Understand your family’s strengths and passions.
When you have a family, anything you say “yes” to impacts everyone, so begin by understanding what matters to your family. Some spouses even write up a family mission statement to help clarify their priorities and goals, both long-term and short-term.
Know what matters to your kids. If they are not all that into sports, but love music, it helps to know that before you sign them all up for soccer instead of piano lessons.
Know what matters to YOU, too. You will get a great deal more joy out of saying yes to something that lines up with your strengths than something that frustrates you (of course it is a great idea to stretch ourselves and learn something new, but not all of the time. That’s just exhausting.).
Understand your family’s limits.
How many days of the week can you commit to something new? How much sleep do you and your spouse and your children need? What do your weekends need to look like to keep your family sanity? What financial limits do you have? What limits on your collective energy? What commitments do you already have that are non-negotiable? It’s important to know, and not ignore, those boundaries.
Understand what you would be saying yes to.
So your child wants to play a sport. What will that involve? Regular practice, games, and driving to and from both. How many days a week? What cost? What will you have to say no to in order to say yes to this? If you have other children, what will they be doing during that time? If you have more than one child in a sport, will you and your spouse divide and conquer or can they practice on the same day?
Or maybe you have been asked to chair the fundraiser at your child’s school. Before you say “oh, sure,” find out exactly what would be expected of you, and talk to the person who did it last year to see if you have the resources to see it through to the end.
Understand what you would gain by saying no.
Time. Dinners at home. Less stress. Time together as a family. Sleep. Energy. Money. Modeling healthy boundaries to your children. All of these are good, solid reasons for saying no. Hear me clearly: It is not selfish to say no when that is the healthiest choice for your family.
Articulate your reasons.
It’s probably even a good reason to write your reasons down somewhere to refer to when someone (your child, the fundraiser committee, the coach, your best friend) asks you “why not?” You actually don’t need to justify your decision to anyone – a simple “this is just the best choice for our family” should suffice – but it will also help if and when you wonder later if you made a good decision.
Say yes to the good stuff.
If you know what matters to you and your family, and you know what you realistically have the resources for, then you can say yes to the things that you will enjoy and that line up with the values that matter to you.
What it looks like.
Here are some ways this has played out for our family recently. Last summer, we signed our daughter up for a bunch of day camps at the YMCA. They were fun, and she learned a lot, but it was also a hectic schedule when we also added in a church camp and VBS and a summer theatrical production.
So this summer we looked at our family interests and values (spending time together, musical ventures, growing in our faith), our limits (our daughter needed more sleep, for one), and chose to have her participate in one week of Vacation Bible School and take ONE week-long camp (soccer) at Columbia International University, where we knew she would also be nurtured spiritually. Both of those were early in the summer, before we felt burned out. The main event for the rest of the summer was her and my husband taking part in the Town Theater production of The Little Mermaid. Lots of late nights, but with no daytime activities, she was able to sleep in and catch up on her rest. And since they did it together, it fed our value of spending time together as a family.
This fall, after being a soccer mom for two years, we have decided to say “no” to soccer, at least for now. What are we gaining? One evening and our Saturday mornings! It means we may be able to participate in more American Heritage Girl activities, including a family camping trip.
We have also decided NOT to sign our son up for sports yet, for some of the same reasons – we want more time at home, as a family, and an earlier bedtime, which is easier when we have fewer evening activities. At the same time, we are saying “yes” to church activities that will draw us together as a family and in our faith.
Learning to say no is a journey, but the more I say it, and the more I say yes to the right things for our family, the more confident I am in my ability to make healthy choices for our family and our children. I hope you find the same to be true for you!