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!!!