Somehow it has become a lot easier for me to say “No” to my children than to anyone else in my life. Recently, I realized this undesired life skill was beginning to take a toll. There was a crisis at work. It was big and it was real and I truly did need to tend to it. So, “No” we couldn’t go to the park now and “No” I cannot play with you and “No” I cannot cook that, you can have A or B.
Unfortunately, the very real, very important, I really DO need to tend to this and I am NOT making it up crisis lasted all week. My kids were incredible. I was so proud of them, and in between all the unfortunate times they heard “No” I at least made sure they also heard, “You both are being so amazing. I know this is hard. Thank you.”
Then, I received a phone call from a colleague. Between broken words and the disappointment and guilt I could tell she felt, she tells me, “I need to pull out of this project, Sharlene. I am sorry. I have just committed to too much. I am stressed and I cannot do it well. I’m sorry.” Instead of being disappointed by losing her involvement I was proud and in awe of the courage she mustered in between the broken words. I learned something else from her that day too. I learned that you can care passionately about something, and that doesn’t require you to be the one to tend to it. Somehow, at 40, I didn’t know that until talking with her last week. I owe her my thanks.
What I also recognized last week is that I have tried to stay active in a couple of projects that I cherish, but that I cannot do well now. My kids are still small, my girl has special needs, the reasons that I need my time are endless. Yet, because I DO care about justice and I DO care about the kids’ school and I DO care about families having enough with which to live, I kept saying yes.
I feel guilty, a bit ashamed, and genuinely sad to have since said “No” to a project I agreed to take part in. I feel I let folks down. I feel I broke a promise. Yet, while I’d like to flatter myself to believe they will miss my help and support, they are also genuine and compassionate adults who understand. They can put the “No” into a context that my kids are not yet capable of.
I know that my days of saying “No” to my children will never end, and yet, I need to share “No” with the other spheres in my life so my kids don’t feel the brunt or burden of it. Just because they have no choice as my children but to accept it, and just because they can do it with patience and grace (sometimes), doesn’t mean I should make it a habit. Yet, saying “no” to people or a project or issue you genuinely care about requires tremendous courage. It requires courage to confess that you cannot reproduce time, that you lost your superwoman cape, and that you are as human, vulnerable and imperfect as the next mom. I wish you such courage.