When we started having children, I became painfully aware of my own limitations. Before having kids, when someone asked something of me, I could usually do it with no problems. But these days, my schedule is pretty much booked all day every day (and some nights if I have a newborn or a sick child) with meeting my spouse’s and children’s needs and doing anything extra requires some very careful planning (and an extra shot of espresso).
That was when my husband and I had to make an adjustment in our relationships with people outside of our little family. We still love our extended family and friends just as much, but we found ourselves having to tell people “no” way more often than we did before we were married or even before we had children. When we were married, we suddenly had to set boundaries with people according to what was best for our marriage. After having children, we found ourselves with these tiny souls who were our total responsibility, and we had to adjust everything according to what we thought was best for them (not to mention, our marriage became more important than ever since this was the key to the stability and predictability in their lives.) Both were jarring adjustments, but once we made them, our little family became so much happier. The key, I have found, is to gently but firmly set boundaries with everyone else.
It is hard telling the people you love “no” when they are asking something of you. The people pleaser in you feels guilty. And sometimes, it can even lead to the person to whom you said “no” complaining about you to your entire circle of friends or family and speaking ill of you behind your back. You cannot control people’s reactions to your boundaries. If they choose to be offended, it is just that: their choice. But here is something important that I have always found helpful. You, mama, know your limitations. If a request makes you feel uncomfortable or is causing you anxiety, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Even if it isn’t necessarily for the sake of the children, but for the sake of your own sanity and emotional well being. Because if you aren’t taking care of yourself (particularly if you are pregnant), then you won’t be able to competently take care of the little beings completely dependent on you. (But hey, if you are saying “no” because you think it is what is best for the children, then you really have absolutely no reason to feel guilty whatsoever!) You don’t even need to delve into an explanation, because that could lead to the person arguing with you about it. Just stick with politely declining.
Here is my rule of thumb: I will do something that someone requests of me, or offer to do something spontaneously of my own accord only if I am absolutely sure that I am capable of doing it and it will not tax me or my family unduly. If I don’t think it meets those criteria, I don’t do it. That way, people know that when they request something of me, I will always be honest and upfront with them. By the same token, if I am offering to do something for someone, they know it is not an empty gesture and that I actually plan on (and look forward to) doing it. I don’t want to be doing things for the people I love out of guilt and then inevitably hanging it over their heads afterward. That is simply unhealthy.
People sometimes won’t understand your limitations and will try to make you feel like you are declining for reasons that are not valid. But they are not the ones to dictate to you what reasons are valid and what reasons are not. They are not living your life. They have no idea what is or isn’t a valid reason for you and your family. That is a decision that can only be made by you (and your spouse, of course).
Moms who are pregnant and moms of young children do not tell their loved ones “no” because they are lazy or spiteful. They tell them “no” because they find the request overwhelming or unworkable. That does not mean they love their extended family and dear friends any less. It just means they find the request overwhelming or unworkable. I have learned this after much trial and error during my six pregnancies and while caring for my three babies. Nothing is worse than agreeing to do something and finding out midway through that it is proving overwhelming or unworkable. And really, I had no one to blame but myself. Because I could have just said, “no.”
So mamas, don’t feel guilty about not planning that trip, not helping them move, not having those friends over, not babysitting those extra kids, not offering to have her stay the night at your house, or not driving him to the airport. For an undetermined amount of time, (moms of older children could probably give you a better idea of how much time exactly) you are not going to be acquiescing to a whole lot of requests by other people while your children are small. And people without small children might think you are being insufferable. But that is ok. You are doing your very best, mama. And by the way, you are doing a great job.
Here is Wren, because she is cute.