First: An unrelated anecdote.
Every day after school I have to remind the big kid to stop pretend-battling his imaginary Pokémon and start doing his reading. Today: the little kid declared, “When I’m in Kindergarten and first and second and third grade, I’m going to do my reading right away. You will only have to say it ONCE and I’ll just DO it.”
Oh, sweetie, I love the world you’ve created here, but you, your brother AND your father have selective hearing on the daily, and these episodes seem to line up in unison amongst the three of you at precisely the same moments I am talking. But it’s a nice thought. I appreciate you anticipating my needs.
But what I really need to talk about right now is boundaries.
I am a big fan of them. I am pretty good at respecting other people’s boundaries. My weird social interactions have about 30% to do with me worrying about whether I’ve crossed a line or am about to cross it.
But I’m not very good respecting MY OWN boundaries.
Today, I made some progress, though. I explicitly, in writing, said “No” to something that I really did not want to do.
Not because I have other plans. Not because I don’t have time.
Just because I didn’t want to do the extra thing someone requested of me. Because I do not need an excuse to “get out” of things. I’m a grown up!
This is huge for me. I will bend over backwards to come up with reasons. I will recruit my husband to tell me we have plans that day. I may even ask my kids to plan on being sick on the day I really don’t want to do this new thing someone wants me to do.
It’s not that I don’t like helping. I do. I like helping out with things I’ve already agreed to do.
What I do not like is being approached just because I’m “nice.”
To me that says, “I see you as an easy target to pawn this thing off on.”
So lately, I’ve been making an effort to be nicer to myself, and not worry about what other people think.
This is way harder than you would believe.
But today I drew a boundary. In a respectful way, I said “No, I can’t do that for you. I’m sorry.”
In this particular arena of service, I’m already doing too much. So, it was easy to identify the fact that I didn’t want to do it.
The other factor that made it easy: I have already, in the past, been burned by doing this particular kind of favor for someone.
All of these factors made it a little easier to say no.
What I’m struggling with is saying no when the signs are not clear why I shouldn’t.
It is extremely difficult for me to draw a boundary when all I want is a boundary for no other reason than… I want a boundary.
I am a kind person, but I’m getting too old to just be “nice.”
I need my sleep, my adult time, my friend time, my fella time, my kid time, my work time, my haircut, my reading, my swim, my shower, and my Unjustified Doing of Nothing While Staring At The Wall time — I need all this way more than you need me to just do this really small bit of extra work that YOU signed yourself up to do.
People might be blindsided by me. They may not like me once I really start to get used to the word “No.” Especially when I can say “no” in person, right out of the gate.
In the long game, I’ll take respect over being liked.
If you’re struggling with saying “no” as well, here’s a little inspiration from our beloved big sister, Lady Gaga, who’s figured it out: