A mom shared that she had been looking forward to some quiet time. Unfortunately, her teen (who didn’t yet have a license) came to her and asked, wheedled, whined, for a ride to a last-minute meet up with friends. Mom felt cornered. How to say no without coming off as angry and resentful seemed impossible.
She also said that she felt enormous pressure from without. Other parents typically dropped everything to accommodate their kids, and she didn’t believe this was healthy for anyone. They would even offer to drive out of their way to pick up her child. The pressure was on, as well as anticipating the unspoken judgment of those parents.
This is all too real and common. Do your children take advantage of your love and commitment to them? Are you secretly resentful? Do you wish you had a life? Do you feel alone in your beliefs?
There is a way through this. There are two strategies that blend together – preparation and setting boundaries.
In this situation, mom not only wants down time, she’s counting on it. The problem is that she didn’t tell anyone, so of course it’s a surprise to her kids who know her as the ‘on-call’ mom. Now the stage is set for anger and resentment on both sides. She doesn’t know how to say no and be able to exit gracefully. Can you relate?
Nobody like surprises; we all function better when we know what to expect. Talk to your kids about your wants and expectations. Give information. They need to know that you are separate, that there is a healthy line of separation and limits. Without that information, they will continue to assume that you are at their beck and call; that they can have whatever they want; that the world revolves around them.
Think about this: We tell our kids that when they go out into the world, nobody will make exceptions for them. They will have to be problem-solvers, thinkers, creators, self-sufficient, and understand their role in business and personal relationships. And yet, we engage in activities that contradict this. We put them at the center of our universe, and stifle the very growth and resilience they will need later on.
Learning how to say no gracefully is challenging.
Is this what you really want? No, I thought not. So let’s talk about the preparation and boundary-setting. Let’s create a script. (Play with it until it feels comfortable and sounds like something you could say.)
“I’m counting on some down time this evening. Catch me before 4:00pm, because after that I’m done for today. If you need me for something, tell me now. If I can help you out, I will. If not, maybe we can figure out a solution together. I just wanted you to know that after 4:00pm I’m outta’ here.”
You’ve prepared them by giving them advance notice. You’ve set a boundary, a way to protect this special time for you. It’s not that you don’t love your kids, rather that you value and love yourself, too. By the way, I’ll bet that the other moms are wishing they had the guts to say no to their kids and have time to themselves, too!
They learn that you’re not available 24/7; that planning is necessary and useful; and that they will hear ‘no’. You do it all with respect and love. And when she comes to you at 5:00pm, you can honestly and quietly say that it’s after 4:00pm, the time you discussed earlier, and you’re no longer on call. You can acknowledge her disappointment.
She may hate you now (and you will live through it). One day, when she’s a mom, she might even thank you for it. Look at what you are modeling for her: how to say no with love and dignity, self-care, setting boundaries and more. This is parenting at its best.