My Year of “No”


noI’m not typically a big fan of resolutions. They feel much more like fuel for shame and disappointment than confidence and optimism. Now that we are well into 2022 and I looked back over 2021, I realized that I had unintentionally fulfilled some type of resolution.

Saying no.

As a mom, we often feel the need to be all things, all the time, to everyone. We fill our plates until we are weak at the wrist, riddled with stress fractures, and find ourselves spending more time picking up fallen pieces than managing (and certainly enjoying) all that we’ve gathered. But this time last year, I could no longer manage my plate. I was trapped beneath it, finally realizing that by trying to be everything to everyone, I was left feeling like nothing to no one. I was certainly nothing for myself and was merely showing up, but never present, for those I loved. “A shell of a person,” feeling empty inside despite how very full my days were.

The thing is that having a full plate, full to-do list, full itinerary, etc. doesn’t equate to being fulfilled. And I wasn’t. I was left hollow from my daily output.

Slowly, starting with just one thing, I started to say no. And then I kept saying no. I stopped saying yes and was comfortable saying maybe if I needed time to think my decision through. I built boundaries. And then I held those boundaries. I cleared space in my day. I created room in my head. I made time for my heart.

I know, I know – good for you, Krysten. But, saying no isn’t just for me.

Saying No to “Extra” Work

Everything is not your responsibility. Saying it louder for the people in the back – EVERYTHING IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Oh, but we love the control of it. Certainly, during a time that feels so out of our control – we are grasping just to hold any amount of power over our day. But the extra work doesn’t give us as much power as it holds over us and any inkling of energy we might have for ourselves. As the kids say, “don’t be so extra.” What the adults mean by this, though, is that there is a difference between something being supplemental and something being unnecessary. If you’re going to add extra work to your plate, ask yourself first if it supplements a need for you or your home or if it’s simply unnecessary – i.e. extra.

Saying No to Your Kid(s)

It is a kid’s job to learn the lay of the land by testing (and retesting, in excess) boundaries. It is our job as parents to set and stand by those boundaries. Which means saying no. For me, saying no often comes out at mealtime, playtime, and bedtime…so, all times. No, really – I’m constantly saying no. Which can become really tiring. Instead of giving in, I’ve learned new ways to say no without actually saying it. My favorite way of saying no is by offering the yes (often two yes choices so that my kid has options and limited control). “We can’t do/play/eat X right now, but we can do/play/eat Y or Z. Which would you like?” Bonus: Once my kid picks a choice, I approve and let her know that she wins! A little something I learned in The Highly Sensitive Parent by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. When my kid really digs her heels into X, I like to call in my husband for support. Because, again, EVERYTHING IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

Saying No to Your Husband

For me, saying no to my husband often involves one of two things: playing or watching sports. Having kids has shifted our priorities and free time, especially in the category of sports. Golf rounds, club/intramural sports, and endless spectating Saturdays and Sundays – it’s just not in our cards. Our cards. Because the cards aren’t just for me to shuffle, deal and hold. Sure, there is time and allowance for everything. But, I’m not going to feel bad for asking for time out of my husband that is needed at home and really not needed on the tee box. The same goes with assumed responsibilities and this idea that women/moms are the primary parent. Again, EVERYTHING IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

Saying Yes to Yourself

Do you know what is your responsibility? Saying yes to and for yourself. That’s what saying no ultimately means: Saying yes to yourself. Do I need to rest? Is my body in need of a good meal, too? Would I like some time for fun? Am I lacking X, Y, Z? Do I deserve to use the bathroom alone? Yes, girl. Yes. Saying no to others gives you space to say yes to the things you actually want and need to do.

There’s something about the process of becoming a wife to someone and especially becoming a mom that makes us feel like it’s our job to take care of others, not ourselves. My therapist likes to tell me to take care of my daughter’s mom. What that means is that if I can’t do it for myself, then I should do it for the mother of my children. That perspective switch has meant all the difference when I’m in a really low place. Because it’s not just for me – it’s for everyone I love. Loving yourself is loving others.

Give yourself permission to say yes to yourself, to say no to others without guilt. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me.