Just Say No — It Can Be Good For You

adult-alone-anxious-568027By Kathy P. Behan

Believe it or not, Nancy Reagan was right. I’m not talking about her political views, or her spending habits, or — heaven knows — her child-rearing philosophy. What she happens to be right about is the slogan that she supposedly coined about drugs, “Just say no.” This is an important expression for all of us to remember, and use, not only when it comes to drugs, but to many other aspects of our lives as well.

I perfected my use of this word after becoming a mother, but I learned the hard way. It probably began with a freelance writing assignment that I accepted when my first child was just one month old. For many reasons, this was not a good idea. For starters, I was so sleep-deprived I could barely remember my own name, much less how to coherently string words together. And because as any parent knows, one-month-olds don’t have schedules, I couldn’t plan when to conduct interviews and write. However, I gamely attempted to work on the magazine article while my infant slept.

The crisis came when a half-hour into a telephone interview with a nationally renowned doctor, my son woke up and wanted to nurse. I asked the doctor to please hold for a second, quickly got my baby, reorganized my tape recorder and notes, and began nursing my son. All was proceeding splendidly until Cullen spit up on the tape recorder, and shorted it out. Fighting back tears, I brokenly explained to the doctor what had happened.

“Calm down and take care of your son. I’ve got seven kids of my own, so believe me, I know what you’re going through,” he kindly replied.

I pulled myself together, finished feeding Cullen, put him down for a nap, and then continued with the interview. As a side note, the article turned out really well, especially under the circumstances.

When trying to work on that assignment, and simultaneously take care of my baby, it dawned on me that life wasn’t going to proceed as before, and that something had to give. What “gave” turned out to be a lot of what gave me pleasure and satisfaction — my career ambitions, regular exercise routines, and just plain free time. But I realized that the best way to take care of my child, and myself meant reprioritizing and streamlining life. Hence, my true introduction to the “n” word.

In the beginning, saying no didn’t come easy. I wanted to please everyone, and to prove to myself that just because I was a mom, I could also handle lots of other responsibilities as well. Learning to juggle motherhood, working, a husband, friends and running a home was no easy trick, but I was determined not to let any of these “balls” drop. Consequently, I developed sleep problems, an upset stomach and a mean eye twitch.

It was hard to admit that just as I couldn’t have it all, I also realized that I couldn’t do it all. Even though saying yes is initially much easier, in the long run it’s often a time-consuming, frustrating and demoralizing mistake. So that’s why I decided to change.

After awhile, I must admit that I got pretty good at turning down requests. No, I couldn’t take on another writing assignment until my child was older. No, I wouldn’t be able to make a deadline that had been moved up. No, I couldn’t be at a friend’s house an hour earlier.

Yes, I still have occasional pangs of guilt, but no became the word that preserved my sanity, sense of control and well-being. This word continues to come in handy, and I probably use it now more than ever.

With all the demands on our time these days from children to charitable organizations, we can’t possibly do everything requested of us. So the next time someone asks you to add just one more item to your already full plate, instead of going crazy, losing sleep and living in a pressure cooker, take Nancy’s and my advice — just say no!

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published free-lance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

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