I really like books written for women. I like attending events where women are speaking. I've been in MOPS, hearing speakers each Friday talk about women's issues, for seven years. I'm a junkie for woman-to-woman wisdom. (My mom would probably be shocked by this -- she thinks she can't tell me anything. Don't worry, Mom, my girls will pay me back.)
Some of the pearls passed down to me more than once have been about the art of saying "no." Women over commit themselves -- most of us anyway -- and for all kinds of different reasons. We fear being still. We want to feel productive. We don't want to disappoint anyone. We want to be all things to all people. And if we don't learn to say "no," these various wise women tell me, we will experience fatigue, burn-out, stress, sleeplessness, and miss our own lives and our children's childhoods.
The problem is, the idea that I need to say "no" more often doesn't appeal to me very much. I've decided that I would rather say, "I'm going to have to change my answer."
Let me explain.
This summer we had made plans for a barbecue with our siblings. A couple of hours beforehand, my brother called me and said he wasn't going to be able to make it. Some things unforeseen had happened over the weekend, and showing up for Sunday night bonfire was going to push his family over the edge. He was feeling guilty about it, but I said, wholeheartedly, "If you can't flake on your sister, who can you flake on?"
My own wisdom caught me off guard. The fact was, it wasn't poor planning or over scheduling that made my brother's family unable to show up. It was just life -- the unexpected minor crisis that make you unfit to be pleasant in a social situation. I respected the fact that he wasn't going to push himself, and felt honored that he trusted me enough to know he wouldn't be in the dog house for not showing up.
I like to say "yes" to new experiences. I like to say "yes" to social gatherings, and to coffee or dinner with friends. I like to say "yes" to my daughter's school and my church. I like to say "yes", I will bring something homemade to the potluck. I will babysit your child for you. I will pick up your kid from school or walk your dog.
But recently, I've found that that after I've already said yes to something, it's not the end of the world to say, "You know what, actually, I'm going to have to change my answer. Actually, I can't after all." When my babysitter cancels on the day when I'm supposed to help in my first grader's class, it's okay to call and cancel rather than scramble to find a new and more expensive sitter. When I've had a really long week and am coming down with a cold, it's okay to tell my best friend that we have to put off going out to dinner. If I get busier than I expect or my kids are having meltdowns on the day of the potluck, it's okay to bring something I bought at Trader Joe's. If too many important things have come up on the day of my daughter's well check, I can cancel the appointment; the receptionist will fill it up, and won't remember my name by the end of the day!
I can't tell you the freedom I feel having decided it's okay to back out of these small commitments. It's an absolutely, fantastically lightening sensation. If I'm truly close to someone, I ought to be able to tell them the truth when I've gotten overwhelmed. And if I'm not close to them, it probably isn't going to matter that much in the long run.
I'm not saying I'm going to become a Chronic Flake; I don't want to be friends with Chronic Flakes either. There are guidelines. Birthdays of Best Friends and First Birthdays of Best Friend's Children are non flake-out commitments. So are weddings, or any other kind of formal dinner parties where your name has already been printed on a place card. Baby showers of Best Friends, and graduations of any family from first cousin and closer must be attended after a positive RSVP. Also, offers to babysit on Best Friend's Wedding Anniversaries cannot be rescinded except in the case of contagious illness or bodily injury. Canceling plans for dinner or play date three times in a row might also earn you Chronic Flake status.
So I guess what I'm saying is not that I reject the Wisdom of Saying No. This Christmas I've used the line from one of our speakers, "I'd love to, and I can't" at least half a dozen times. But what I believe is that Saying No isn't enough. If I have to follow through on absolutely everything I say yes to or want to try out, I'd be afraid to do anything new. I have a relative who was terribly concerned that letting his daughter drop out of martial arts, which she truly hated, would teach her to be a quitter. But what I say is, if we can't quit things that we truly hate -- especially if they are to be recreational -- how in the world are our lives going to be tolerable? And how are we going to get our kids to say yes to things if they're not ever allowed to change their minds.
I've inspired myself while writing this. There are one or two things, both long-term and short term commitments, that I need to call audibles on. I've looked at the field from the line of scrimmage, and the original plan is not going to fly. The martial arts class is not shaping up to be what I was expecting, so to speak. I feel lighter just thinking about it. And you, my friend, if you need to say, "I'm going to have to change my answer" to me, please know you have the freedom to do so.