If you are old enough to have grown up during the Reagan administration, then these three words are something you will remember. They were the anti-drug and alcohol mantra that law enforcement, teachers, parents, and Nancy Reagan told us over and over again: “Just say no.”
Just. Say. No.
So simple, powerful, and memorable. But so very hard to actually do.
I grew up being a people pleaser, basking in the glow of compliments on my behavior and my willingness to step up and help. It became engrained in me to say yes to just about anything I was asked to do for school or work. “No” was uncomfortable. I always felt like I was letting someone down, or I was admitting that I couldn’t do what was asked of me. Forget that! “Yes” felt so much better. It made me feel accomplished and dependable. I liked that very much.
I was a yes girl. And everyone knew it. When I was teaching high school, one of my 14-year-old students asked me to take her young chocolate Labrador retriever. Her father was making her get rid of it one way or another because the dog was so naughty, destroying their home and escaping to dig through the neighbor’s trash. Now, my husband and I had never discussed getting a dog. In fact, we weren’t really dog people. Despite the fact that I didn’t even mention it to my husband and I had essentially no experience with dogs, I finally caved and told her yes, we would take the dog. Because no was not an option. The dog eventually moved with us to four other states, and she taught me a couple of very valuable lessons that I still carry with me today. 1) Dogs are a heck of a lot of work, and 2) I am not a dog person.
I did learn my lesson there, but in other areas of life, not so much. For years, I committed to things that I didn’t have the time and energy to do. Before the person could even finish the question, I had already said yes. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough. In fact, I was so proactive about being known as “the helper” that I created lots responsibilities for myself before people could ask.
If you are a yes girl (or guy), you know exactly what I’m talking about. Class mom, carpool coordinator (except I’ll drive 90% of the time so that no one else is inconvenienced), team mom, event organizer, playgroup coordinator, volunteer baker for school, supper club organizer, Sunday school teacher, hostess for meetings and get togethers, co-leader for a church group. And these are all great things.
Have you heard of the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? Wikipedia defines the idiom as “the seemingly minor or routine action which causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions.”
That, friends, is what led to my Season of No.
After we added child number four to our family through adoption, I was determined to keep everything as it was. For the most part, I was able to maintain our busy schedule and most of my volunteering. There was added stress for sure with a new toddler in the house, but I still had my head well above water. Besides, stepping back from any duties would admit weakness, right?
Within 13 months, we had added child number five to our family through adoption, almost doubling our number of kids in merely a year’s time. I wasn’t simply determined to keep everything normal; I was now hell bent on maintaining our pre-adoption life. In fact, I was so addicted to this image I had created for myself of being a Supermom that I took four kids to our oldest son’s baseball game less than 48 hours after getting off the plane from China with kid number five. I do not recommend that. Jet lagged mom and two jet lagged toddlers, plus two daughters that had spent the last 16 days with the grandparents… total recipe for disaster.
Yet, I forged on.
Over the next several months, we were slammed with dozens of appointments for our newest addition, and I still held on tightly to Supermom status. I dragged both toddlers to the church moms’ group I was still co-leading, even though I could no longer actively lead the discussion. I spent most of my time trying to keep my toddlers happy and moderately quiet while cleaning up their wake of crushed Cheerios and Goldfish. After seven months or so, I made the decision to step down as co-leader of the group, but I tried to still attend the twice a month meetings.
My Season of No began on January 5, 2017. I brought my not-quite-twin two-year-olds to another moms’ group meeting. I tried my best to keep the boys from being a distraction, but it was not working at all. The meeting had to stop a few times while one (and sometimes both) of the boys wailed and screamed as I did everything in my power to calm them and redirect them. I finally packed our stuff and hauled both boys to the car mid-meeting, holding back tears of embarrassment, anger, and helplessness. That was my straw. That was the day this camel crumbled.
I felt like a failure, an experienced mom defeated by the emotional needs of my young children. My imaginary Supermom cape was torn and tattered. For one of the few times in my life, yes wasn’t an option, and that was a hard thing to face.
A couple of weeks after that fateful moms’ group meeting, one of the moms messaged me on Facebook, and what she said meant so much to me.
“I meant to write you this past week. I get what you are feeling. I know sometimes it doesn’t make sense when God gives you a vision and then tells you to step down or walk away. But this is a good thing… and it doesn’t mean he won’t bring you back to it.”
She went on to tell me about what she called her “Be Still” year, where she had to step away from responsibilities and say no, and that’s when she learned what true obedience was. “He needed me for other things. I had learned sometimes that He uses me to start things so others can finish them or carry them on… that it wasn’t quitting. I also had to truly learn to be okay with being a mom (that I didn’t have to do all the other stuff to be a mom). It was those seasons that prepared me to say Yes to things today. I am not sure what God is specifically doing in your season, but I know it is going to be good.”
Those words meant so much to this yes girl.
I tell you this story because I know, I know, that at least one of you reading this is feeling the same way. I would bet that most of us who feel called to adopt have the “helper” blood running through our veins. It’s second nature. Yet, you brought this child into your life, be it your first or your fifth, and this adoption has rocked your world. It is the most beautiful, sacred, joyous thing you have ever experienced. It is the most soul searching, gut wrenching, trying thing you have ever experienced. And, yes, friend, they exist together, often at the same table.
I tell you this story to give you permission to enter your own Season of No. I needed that validation. I really did. Bringing an adopted preschooler, eight-year-old, or teenager into your family is downright life altering. Even though on the surface, we know this and acknowledge it, deep down we are letting our Supermom capes flutter in the breeze as we confidently think, “We’ve got this.”
It’s okay to step back.
It’s okay to step down.
It’s okay to say no.
I recently had to quit a job I loved. There were not enough hours in the day to give everyone the attention they needed, to get to all the therapies that were required, to be present when I needed to be, and to do it all and do it well. That realization hit me hard when I found myself crying (actual tears) at 11:00 pm because I just wanted to find time to mop the kitchen floor, and the only way I could do it was to give up even more sleep.
Since then, I have reframed what my Season of No means. It’s not just about saying no to others and to opportunities. It’s about protecting my time and our space for the people I love and who need it the most, my husband and five kids. For us that means:
1. Keeping a firm hold on the calendar.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings are for preschool, therapies, and errands. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are, for the most part, strictly open days. Occasionally, I will have to schedule an appointment for one of those mornings, but in general those are free mornings for me to hang out at home with the little ones to play or do homeschooling activities. If I do schedule something for those mornings, I only commit if it is life-giving for the kids and for me.
2. Defining what is considered “life-giving.”
Just because the calendar space is open, does not mean you must fill it with an activity outside of the home. I am now more cognizant of what is life-giving (refreshing, renewing, or worthy of devoting our time) for myself and for my kids.
Let’s take library story time for example. It was marvelous for the first three kids. The two youngest ones see it as torture. I don’t sign up for activities that cause undue stress. We can read books and do an accompanying craft (or not!) at home, and everyone is happier.
Playdates at our house with friends and their similar aged kids are life-giving for us all. It’s usually just one or two other moms and their kids because that is what works best for our dynamic now. Playgroups with lots of kids are a little tough for us to manage at this point.
3. Identifying flexibility in our family calendar.
For the past few months, we’ve been doubling up kids’ activities two nights per week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my husband drops our daughter off at cheer, takes our son for hitting lessons, and brings them both back home. One parent is gone most of those nights, but it knocks out two of those activities and frees up some other weeknights for us.
Carpooling has been a life saver. This was actually a tough “no” for me. No, I don’t have to drive every child to every sports practice myself if there is another adult I can trust to help us out. Once I was able to embrace it though, leaving the house only 50% of the time for one of our children’s practices has been a huge blessing for us and for our friend who helps with driving the kids.
4. Reminding myself that this is, simply, a season.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Seasons come and go. You change, and your family dynamic changes. If this is your Season of No, do not feel one bit guilty about owning it. The time and energy that you are pouring into your family are invaluable. The cocooning that is necessary with your adopted children is crucial. You will not look back and say, “I wish I had spent more time volunteering in the middle school library.”
What have we gained from my Season of No?
For starters, a less stressed mama who enjoys down time with her family. When I was committed to so many things outside of my family, I felt guilty and stressed while fulfilling those commitments. I felt like I should be spending time with my husband and kids. When I was spending with my husband and kids, I was preoccupied with mental to-do lists for work and my volunteer roles, and I was at the beck and call of every ding my phone emitted announcing a text or email.
Now I savor the times of doing crafts, reading books, playing card games, hearing about everyone’s day, watching movies together, listening to music and cooking together. We have gained so much more time for our family.
What else have I gained?
The confidence to say, “No.” Just last week, I turned down a hamster. Our second grader’s friend is moving, and they don’t know if they can take a pet hamster across the Canadian border. I received a text from her mother, and without hesitation, I told her, “No, we cannot take on a hamster right now.” Just like that. Oh, the emotional turmoil this would have caused me a year ago!
I am sure my Season of No will come to an end in the next few years, but for now, I’ll gladly take these precious moments that it’s giving me.