Why Is It So Hard to Say No?

Too many of us get stuck running every fundraiser, coaching every team, and volunteering for every event. Declining every once in a while is an art.

Why is it so hard to say no? Especially if you are a wife, mother, daughter, friend, or let’s just face it…a female? For me, it probably has a lot to do with guilt, followed closely by a need for acceptance. I want to be perceived as that carefree person, the one who can drop anything instantly and help others.

Who suffers in this scenario? Well, to start, my husband usually bears the brunt of my accelerated stress level. He has to listen to me vent and also reassure me that I can handle an already full load of duties. My daughters also suffer because, when I take on too much, I have a much shorter fuse when it comes to solving disagreements between them, or when they choose to build obstacle courses with our couch cushions instead of read quietly. 

Despite being hard, it feels really good to say no. I recently got asked to take over the organizational coordination of a youth sports program. The current volunteer in charge is amazing, and it would have been very tough to fill her shoes. Unfortunately for the sports group, they asked me at an unusually terrible time.

My family had recently suffered the loss of a very close family member, so we were (and still are) dealing with a lot of grief coupled with the logistical challenges of moving forward after a loved one dies. I also work part-time, while being a full-time, stay-at-home mom. 

I did not have the time or patience to be in charge of such an endeavor, but for reasons unknown even to me, I actually considered taking on the challenge. My husband was supportive, but also looked at me like I’d just shaved one eyebrow off intentionally. It made no sense to take on an extra duty, but saying no was hard.

Eventually, I thought about it more, discussed the situation with some good “mom friends,” and earned some much needed perspective. The conclusion became clear that I would be taking on too much, and I politely declined via email. It felt great to have the right decision made and the issue handled.

Yet if I’d had to decline in person, I’m almost certain I would have walked out of there president of absolutely everything. It’s a lot easier to say no within the veil of cyberspace.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also hard saying no to my kids. I want so desperately to be a fun mom whom they admire, and deep down, I know that I am, even though I say no often, i.e. to soda at restaurants 90 percent of the time. My seven-year-old once told me the best day of her life was the afternoon I allowed her to get a cherry coke at the mall (and we have been to Disney World!).

My toddler window shops at Target and always presents the checker with some sort of athletic ball. Every single time, I politely hand it over to an employee and instruct them to put it back in the re-stock pile. There’s a 50/50 chance that my son will scream out in rage or lay down on the bottom of our cart with a look of indifference. But they’re odds I can live with because, some weeks, we spend more time at Target than we do in our finished basement at home.

Saying no to kids is hard because, for them, it feels like a life or death situation. While chewing gum in the house isn’t a crime, it is a no in our family. Wanna ride your bike without a helmet? No. Wanna play outside after bath time? No. Wanna sleep under your bed? No.

I don’t always say no, because, honestly…you have to pick your battles. But I do try really hard to stand my ground. When I say no, I mean it. I also think that if my kids hear no from me, it will be less startling when the real world tells them no. Because it’s going to happen, a lot. 

Saying no does not make me (or anyone else) a bad person. I can say that because I also say yes a lot. I like being able to help my good friends out by watching their kids so they can run errands alone. I’m fortunate to know great people who always return the favor. Car pooling and volunteer coaches would not exist if everyone said no.

It’s the burn out factor that becomes a balancing act. I know too many people who don’t say no and get stuck running every fundraiser, soccer team, and girl scout troop. It’s not fair to them, but it appears to be a difficult cycle to break once you become the “go-to person.” My conscience aches for them, but I also get cold sweats when I think about possibly becoming that person.

I want to enjoy my kids, my friends, my extended family, my work, and all the extra curricular activities that go along with life. Saying no is hard. If it were easy, we’d never hear that much needed YES in the right situations.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, FamilyFootnote.