This post originally appeared on Mama Knows It on September 13, 2017.
I am a self-admitted over scheduler. I find it nearly impossible to say no to someone who asks if I can volunteer for something. I have served as a Daisy Scout troop leader, cookie mom, softball coach, school council member, volunteer school librarian, field trip chaperone, school fair ticket seller, book sale volunteer, class raffle organizer, classroom craft helper, T-ball coach…the list goes on. My husband is just as active in the parent-volunteer circuit, so it is a rare day that one of us isn’t volunteering for something. The funny thing is that I am not even close to being the most active parent in our community. In fact, I can guarantee many moms are reading this right now thinking: “That’s nothing.”
And like many of us, I assume that I can make the schedule work somehow—I mean, that’s why we have the crock pot, right? And so it goes. My calendar becomes so crammed with meetings, practices, and appointments that I have to add things with a sharpie to even see the writing hidden between our regularly scheduled programs.
But recently I have decided to try something new, and I have to say, it has made me a much happier mom. It is a simple change but has had a great effect: I have started waiting a day or two before responding to a request to volunteer. This conscious act of not jumping on every volunteer opportunity has left me passing on a lot more. It has also taught me a lot about managing my own time expectations. Here are some of the realizations I have come to while trying to break my own pattern of saying yes to things I really have no business volunteering to do:
- Saying no to things I don’t have time to do may communicate to my kids that we, as people, are masters of our own schedules. It’s okay to say that what we are being asked to do is too much.
- Oftentimes my desire to volunteer for something I really don’t want to do stems from feelings of guilt. At least that’s what the Google research says, and I think there is some truth to that. I need to make like Elsa and let it go.
- I need to nourish my own relationships and my own health more than I need to satisfy the needs of outside organizations.
- My time is precious and need not be given away too freely.
- If I don’t say yes to everything, I can do a better job at the things I do commit to do.
- Some parents just have more free time than I do, and us mamas are not in a competition. We all make our choices and they are all okay. Each family is different and only I know what my family needs.
- Not every blank space in my calendar needs to be filled. If I find those beautiful blank squares filling up? I now write in things like “spend time with family” on that blank day and put the sharpie away.
- I am not being lazy by putting a value on downtime.
- I feel like men are better at saying no to things they don’t have time to do, and I am not sure why that is. Just something to think about—especially for those of us who have daughters.
Many of these lessons I can attribute to other moms who I have seen be good at politely and graciously turning down an invitation to help or even a moms’ night out that they were too tired to attend. The moms that are really good at it do it unapologetically. The lesson I learned from those self-aware mamas? You don’t have to apologize for saying no. Let me repeat that: You don’t have to apologize for saying no. You are doing nothing wrong.
Next time you find yourself shooting out this kind of email, stop yourself: “Dear Maggie, I’m so sorry but I can’t help out with that bake sale on Tuesday because I have already agreed to blah blah blah….” Replace it with: “Dear Maggie, thank you for the opportunity to help, but I am not free that day.” Maggie will understand. Why? Because poor Maggie is probably overscheduled, too.
Another lesson it took me a long time to realize is that nobody is keeping track of how much I volunteer in my kids’ activities. There is no mommy scorecard that the principal keeps in a secret file cabinet in the back room. I used to feel like every invitation to join a committee, coach a team, or help with a fundraiser came with an expectation that I would say yes. But, as time has gone by, I have realized that people generally do what they can and nobody cares. And this has actually freed me up to spend quality time with my kids who are the people for whom I was trying to do right by to begin with.
So, as a recovering over-volunteerer, the thing I try to remember every time I get that email from the PTA (you know that email, ladies) is to just pick the volunteer opportunities that mean the most. The ones that make me smile. The ones that don’t completely stress me out. I have found even after limiting myself to what I can handle, I am still pretty busy. I may be diligently collecting box tops from my cereal boxes (because I find that incredibly satisfying for some reason), but do not sign up to be the class parent—that kind of thing. And I can also say that some of my most favorite memories of my kids’ elementary school years include volunteering for the things that did fit with my schedule—like being the mystery reader in the kindergarten class and chaperoning some field trips. I totally love the bigger things like being a coach and girl scout leader, too, and I don’t regret a minute of it. The trick for me is to maybe just not do it all at once.
So, I think the big message I have, from one mom to another, is to give yourself permission to do only what enriches your life and practice the art of saying no to the stuff that doesn’t. Self-care, ladies, is something we all deserve. We spend so much time planning for, cleaning up after, loving, nurturing, and caring for our families that giving ourselves permission to control our time commitments is something we’ve earned.
— By Ann Narris