Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saying No

"Never blame anyone for doing what they want to do." 


I had a realization the other day about a friend of mine. 

Whenever I ask him to do something and his answer is, “No,” he ignores my email or text or voice message. Just pretends it never happened. Never mentions it, never says a word about it.

If, on the other hand, what I am suggesting is something that he would like to do, he responds right away.

I love this. Not only because now I know what a non-response means from this particular friend, but because it is such an interesting view into another person’s relationship with saying no.

Which made me think about my own....
My old MO was to say "yes" when I meant "no" and then scramble for an excuse to get out of whatever I had agreed to. 

Sometimes I found one, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes the one I found was "true" (more or less), sometimes it wasn't. I did this for YEARS.

It never felt very good, but I didn't know any other way to do it. Then I met Dr. Cat. 

Dr. Cat is a therapist, shaman, energy worker, seeker and all around groovy gal. I picked up a free copy of her book (Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook) at a local coffee shop where she keeps a basket of them for people to read or take as they will (see what I mean by all around groovy gal?) and immediately starting reading it. 

She talks a lot about saying no: knowing when you want to, knowing that you deserve to, allowing yourself that right, and doing it with integrity. She has mentored me in the art of saying no. 

Take last week for example.

A few weeks ago I noticed that one of my kids' after school activities could use an extra volunteer on hand each week to just sort of be around and provide some consistency to the other parents who were volunteering. I thought that this was something I could do so I talked to the lead parent volunteer and told him I would fill this roll. 

He seemed pleased, but did not force me to commit and said something along the lines of, "That's great and if you want to come for awhile and then not come or let someone else take over after a few weeks that would be fine too."

So I have been showing up each week and helping out, doing what I can even though I am not particularly skilled or adept at this particular activity. 

The next to last meeting of this activity before Winter Break was kind of rough. The kids were antsy, I was tired, and by the time it was over I was done. 
I dreaded going back the next week and knew that I really needed to take a week off so I could come back refreshed after Winter Break, but old habits die hard and I didn't say anything right away. 

The day of the activity I woke up still feeling like, yep, I need a break.

I knew I should call or text the lead parent volunteer right away to let him know that I was not going to be there that day. But I just couldn't. 

I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like I was letting him down and the kids down and myself down and everyone down and WHY couldn't I JUST show up and do it this ONE MORE TIME before the break. 

But I just couldn't. I just didn't have it in me. 

Correction, I COULD have, but I didn't WANT to. And I know myself well enough to know that when I do something I don't want to do what follows is resentment and anger and a loss of internal energy that I no longer wish to feel. 

I knew I could always just not show up and that I could justify this by telling myself, "He SAID I could do it for a few weeks and then quit or let someone else take a turn....." But I also knew that this was slimy and not how I wanted to handle it. 

So, at the last minute, a little less than an hour before I was supposed to show up I sent him a text letting him know that I would not be there. 

This was less than ideal. Ideally I would have texted him first thing that morning, or called him within the hour, but I did the best that I could at that moment. 

Later that afternoon, when I went to pick up my kids, I walked right up to him and said, "Sorry I couldn't make it today." 

He wouldn't look at me, but mumbled out a few words of understanding, "That's all right. It's a busy time of year." I could tell that he was disappointed, hurt, that he felt that he had been left in the lurch and that got me, right in the gut. 

I started to feel bad: regret, remorse, GUILT....

As we were walking out of the school I ran into another parent whose child we had had over for a playdate the previous week. In fact we have had many playdates with this child at our home, without reciprocation. 
The mom thanked me for the playdate and then said, "Sorry I can't reciprocate right now. Playdates overwhelm me. After about two hours I am done for the rest of the day and I still have the whole night with my kids. So I just can't do it right now."

I knew at that moment what the rest of the day had been about. 

I turned to her and I said, "Don't worry about it. I felt the same way when my kids were younger. Thank you for honoring your feelings and not inviting my child over to play when it is not something you want to do. I think things go better when everyone wants the playdate."

She smiled and said she thought so too and we parted with good feelings on both sides. 

As I walked home I felt proud of myself for honoring my truth  and for supporting someone else in honoring theirs. Now that's what I'm talking about!

(Many, many thanks to Dr. Cat, my husband and my friend LR for modeling this for me!)

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