Learning to Say 'No'

Young mom working on laptop and talking on smartphone while her cute baby plays with a toy.

"So how do you do it?" she asked.

"Do what?" I replied.

"How do you say no?" she questioned.

"I just say no," I answered.

"No, I don't mean like that. Do you say no and offer an excuse, or do you just say no? I feel so guilty when I say no."

Thus began a recent conversation with a mom who called and asked how to keep a good balance between volunteer activities and family responsibilities. As mothers at home, it is not work and family we need to keep in balance. After all, our family is our work! For many of us the issue is balancing volunteer positions (church, community and school) with our family responsibilities. Some of us figure a home-based business or part-time job into our schedule, too. We easily can put ourselves back in the position of working full time, outside-the-home hours without bringing home the pay. We must learn to use the word no effectively.

To keep a balance between mothering and helping others outside your home, here are some guidelines for learning to say no.

1. Keep in mind that you alone know what is best for you and your family. With many mothers working outside the home, there are fewer school, church and community volunteers available during the day. Therefore, you are likely to be asked more often, simply because you are perceived to be more available. Remember, even with church activities, that our families are our first ministry.

2. Never say yes on the spot. Always tell the person you will call back after you've had time to pray and think about it. This keeps you from making an on-the-spot decision you may regret. You can say no immediately, however, if you know that the position or responsibility is wrong for you.

3. When considering a time commitment, make sure you take preparation time into account. Most of us underestimate the time it takes to really do a job. If you have been asked to bake five dozen cookies, look at the calendar and determine whether you truly have that much free time available before the cookies need to be delivered. If it looks too busy, say you're sorry, but you can't do it.

4. When considering long-term commitments, make sure you consider all your household responsibilities and the time constraints that accompany them. It may seem that becoming the president of an organization you really believe in will not take too much time. But after a few months, the phone calls, meetings and errands begin to take up the time you previously used for laundry, housecleaning or paying the bills. These are big jobs that need to be integrated into your weekly and daily responsibilities. Don't allow your family responsibilities to be sacrificed for your volunteer responsibilities.

5. Carefully consider the "brain space" this responsibility will require. Have you ever been listening to your children, but really thinking about a new project or the hundreds of things you need to do? When your mind is cluttered, you are not mentally available to your family.

6. Remember every minute of your day does not have to be scheduled! If you have a "doer" mentality, you will think of a spare hour or two as a way to fit in one more "yes." Yet we need some time to do nothing. If you need to, schedule in "downtime" each day. Write it on your calendar and say no to anything that would fill this time.

7. Set a limit to the number of long-term commitments you will carry. For instance, I encourage women to carry no more than one large and one small long-term volunteer commitment. If they were to take on another long-term commitment, I would encourage them to give up one of their previous commitments. Limiting your long-term commitments allows for more time to help out in short-term service projects. You will be more likely to have the time to bake brownies for your child's classroom or be a teacher's assistant during Vacation Bible School if you take a similar approach.

8. Ask for accountability. Ask your husband, a close friend or your Bible study group to hold you accountable for the number of commitments you will carry. Be open to their insight. If you have trouble saying no, ask them to help you during the first few months while you get things back in balance. When you tell someone you will call him back, check with your accountability partner first before answering. Sort through your schedule with them. Eventually you won't need the partner's help, but it can help you while you are learning to say no.

9. When you do say no, don't feel that you need to give a long list of excuses. You know what is best for your family and for yourself. If you feel you must give an excuse, simply say that it would not fit into your schedule at this time.

10. Keep in mind that you do not have to say yes simply because you are capable. You may have strong leadership skills and most likely will be asked to lead anything you get involved in. That doesn't mean you have to say yes to those responsibilities. You should say yes only after considering your time availability, other volunteer responsibilities, your family commitments and what you might need to give up to properly do this job. Of course, above all, you should say yes only after praying and seeking God's will.

11. If you have too much on your plate now, reevaluate your priorities. Determine what responsibilities you need to let go. Give a one-month notice to those organizations that you will no longer be able to serve. Although it may be difficult to give up a responsibility, you are not doing the organization or your family any good when you cannot fully commit to the job. As soon as you let go of some of the responsibilities you are carrying, instill new boundaries for your time. Don't let yourself become overcommitted again.

12. Remember that saying no allows others the opportunity to say yes. Don't take service opportunities away from others. Don't forget to make time to have a friend over, take your kids to the park, write a letter or go on a date with your husband. We don't usually schedule these kinds of activities, but they are the first to go when we are overcommitted.

Remember that saying yes to some activities outside the home will be important to your sanity. Moms of young children need to get out of the house to socialize and think about something other than diapers, bottles and coupons. Contrary to popular belief, your brain will not turn to mush. It will just feel like it at times. We need to carefully choose those activities we will be involved in so that our time will be used wisely. You will be amazed at the patience you will have with your family when you find balance in your activity schedule.