Just Say No

8 10 2009

Dear Readers,

I have received so many letters recently that I have not been able to get back to everyone in person. I hope to address each and every one of your letters. Please be patient with me! In the meantime, I wanted to do a quick post on a topic that I think will help many of you. This is it: Learn How To Say No.

I know that saying No is not easy. Believe me. But I’ve been practicing saying No in a loving, kind way to protect my energy and my open-heart and by gosh, it’s been amazing. Not only am I happier and do I respect myself more, so do the people I’m saying No to. The author and wonderful man Gay Hendricks calls this “The Enlightened No” in his new book The Big Leap.

Here’s an example. I have provided free daycare for my stepchildren every summer since we moved in together. I did it at first because I wanted to. I felt it was important that we have that time to get to know each other. But I am a working woman who works from home and it quickly became overwhelming for me. As the other adults in our family came to expect me to be the summer babysitter, I started resenting them. That snowballed into my relationships with the kids and I was really cranky with my stepkids as they can attest to.  Still, I didn’t think I could say no.

It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter when I realized that my need for time to work was about my personality and what I feel I’m here to do on this planet. But I had beaten myself up for years thinking that I should be a better stepmother, a more giving person, the kind of woman who would continue to sacrifice herself for her stepchildren and her family. (This is a great example of how stepfamily dynamics make everything so much more complicated!)

Several months ago I began a big work project and I hired a nanny for my daughter. I didn’t feel guilty or bad about it for a minute because when I had time to get my work done, I was able to be more present with my daughter. It was a revelation for me.

I told my husband in a loving, kind way (I hope–you’d have to ask him to be sure!) that the structure of the summer would have to change. At first he rubbed his eyes as though a migraine had come on and I felt the guilt blossom in my chest. I almost blurted out a retraction, but managed to keep silent.

A day later he told me that the summer daycare issue was solved in one phone call with our other household. It wasn’t even a big deal! And here I was torturing myself for YEARS.

I want all of you to think about this concept because women are notoriously bad at saying no until we’re pushed up against the wall and then we say it in anger and self-defense. The goal here is to start saying proactive, kind-hearted Nos to protect yourself so you can extend to your families in positive ways.

Consider these questions: Every time you say Yes, what are you saying No to? When you say Yes, does it make you feel good? Do you need to say No to something but are afraid to? What would happen if you said No? What are the worst and best case scenarios?

This week, test out saying No. Do this with me! Without anger. Without defensiveness.

Here are some examples that relate to some of your letters:

To a spouse:

“In order to be the best stepmother I can be I need to say no right now to cooking another dinner for children who say they hate it even though I know it’s their favorite meal. Why don’t you order pizza or ask one of the kids to cook a meal? I’m taking the night off.”

To a stepchild:

“Sweetheart, I would love to help you plan your wedding, but my feelings are still so hurt from the last wedding that I need to protect myself right now. I know this is a special time for you and my heart will be with you but I can’t be treated so badly again.”

To a spouse:

“You know I will do everything in my power to make our family work as well as it can, but I refuse to allow your children to treat me disrespectfully. I need you to tell them it’s not okay to treat me like that. Will you do that?”

To an ex wife:

“I appreciate that you have strong feelings about your children. However, I won’t allow you to talk to me like that. If you have an issue you want to discuss with me, please email it to me because I will not be answering the phone only to be screamed at.”

If you manage to say No this week, then please comment on this post and let us know about it! In fact, I think this is so important that I’m going to run a contest. Set your boundary in a kind and loving way, say your No, tell us what happened, and I’ll choose a winner to give a signed copy of my book to.

We can do it!!!

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5 responses

9 10 2009
Peggy Nolan

Jacque – this is so timely and needs to be repeated often and loudly in the stepmom community. I tell my sister stepmoms that NO is a complete sentence. (But as you say, “Just say no with loving kindness!”)

I’ll be linking to this from my blog. Everyone needs to read it!

9 10 2009
Claudette Chenevert

Great post Jacques. It is so important for women to understand that saying NO is actually taking care of themselves and loving their family. Doing something in resentment and anger is no gift or service to anyone.
It is also showing others how to treat us and teaching our younger generation how to respect their own space and time. We have a generation of kids that have no idea of how to put boundaries and by being a positive role model, this is the first step in making a difference for everyone.

9 10 2009
Carrie

Great post Jacque. This advice is a gift — thank you.

9 10 2009
StepMom Magazine

Right on! Years ago, I saw a show where Oprah explained how she declines (says no to) an invitation she feels some obligation toward – but really doesn’t want to oblige. Her standard response? “Thank you so much for the invitation, but I have other plans.” It’s a kind way of saying NO – something many women can’t do. She went on to say that the “plans” might simply be to spend a quiet night in a bubble bath” but nevertheless, they are her plans, and therefore an important priority. She too, said it was liberating once she learned how to say no without hurting someone’s feelings or having to feel guilty about it. Here’s to “NO”.

8 01 2010
LaVerne B.

This is such a long story but I’ll keep it short. My boyfriend has a seven year old that lives 2 hours from where we live. We regularly drive to and from his child’s home to pick him up, every other weekend. Actually, I DRIVE regularly to and from his son’s home, because my boyfriend temporarily lost his license (It’s nothing serious) and has needed my help. I have said yes to all this driving for almost a year because I knew how important it was that my boyfriend spend quality time with his son.
Just this week his son’s mother said she’d be going to Oregon to see family and that on her way back she’d like us to meet her half way to pick up her son. We live in San Francisco, and I would basically be driving 7 hours round trip so that she wouldn’t have to make the entire trip on her own. Let me say that she has never met us half way when we pick him up for the weekends. We make the three hour trip every other Friday to pick him up and the each following Sunday to drop him off. I am not complaining because no one forced me to do this, I’m just stating that she’s never offered to meet US halfway to make it a little more convenient for everyone.
So I said NO. NO I will not drive 7 hours on my day off. NO I will not do someone a favor at the expense of resenting my boyfriend and harboring anger towards him and his son. I said NO, she’ll have to pick him up in San Francisco and I feel GREAT today. Who wouldn’t want to visit San Francisco anyway?

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