Fear of missing out. The specter of disappointment. Consistent habits. Too much pride. These are the archenemies of supermom, the chronic overscheduler. It really is okay – and possible – to say no.
I’m a child of the 80s, and I loved Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman.
Those bracelets. That hair! That amazing twirly thing she could do that would take her from mild-mannered nurse to patriotic-bustiered hero…
It was almost too much for my nine-year-old self to handle.
Decades later, my childhood fascination with Wonder Woman is indeed a little too much. I’ve taken the supermom syndrome to its furthest extremes, falling prey to what society says I should be able to do:
- Pretty much everything
- All at once
- In heels
But with three intense children, homeschooling responsibilities, a house to take care of, and writing deadlines to meet, I have neither the time nor the energy to pay society any heed. In fact, I don’t know a single mother who has time for those cultural attitudes. Yet we all do it at some point, ending up mired in the mud of unrealistic expectations.
The truth is, a lot of women have a hard time saying no.
I think it’s time we changed that.
Supermom, It’s Okay to Say No
Every superhero has her nemesis – her ultimate enemy she must combat with strength and speed. For Supermom, this nefarious ne’er-do-well has a variety of manifestations.
Fortunately, she has the superpowers necessary to destroy them once and for all.
The Nemesis: Fear
I suffer from FOMO – big time. I don’t want my kids to miss anything, and frankly, I don’t want to, either. Dance classes. Soccer teams. Running clubs. Science fairs. Coffee Chats. MNO’s. If it’s out there, I feel like we should do it.
Until our kids become the canary in the coal mine.
A few months ago, my husband and I committed to a day-long couples retreat offering child care on site. Our 10 and two-year-olds were fine with going, but our six year old had a meltdown. Amidst the general wailing, gnashing of teeth, and insistence that she WOULD NOT GO, our daughter said something that made a whole lot of sense:
“Every single morning we get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave the house. I just want to stay home for a day!”
Her complaint was valid. We’d been leaving the house pretty much every day, and not in a peaceful manner. What good is it for us to participate in enrichment activities if we’re not actually getting anything out of them but stress?
The Superpower: A Mission Statement
B’s tantrum that morning may have brought me to the edge of my sanity, but it also gave birth to our family mission statement. We needed a guiding principle for our choices, one which respected our family’s interests and aligned with God’s will for our lives. We talked to the kids, sat down as a couple, and hammered out our goals for our marriage, our children, and our homeschool. I refer back to that mission statement every time we’re faced with a new opportunity or activity, carefully discerning whether our participation will help or hinder our mission.
If you want to create your own mission statement, keep it brief and simple. Take your family’s interests and limits into account, and keep the focus on what makes your household peaceful, joyful, and productive. Jot it down, keep it in a conspicuous place, and revisit/revise as necessary. When you’re faced with another opportunity or activity, keep my husband’s words of wisdom in mind: stick to the mission and you will get through.
The Nemesis: Pride
Holy arrogance, Batman – have I got a lot of pride. It’s my root sin and something I’ve struggled with my whole life. When I was a kid, it mostly manifested in a consistent desire to be right all the time. Now that I’m an adult, it’s way more problematic: I have a tendency to believe I’m always the best person for the job and, the only one who can effectively complete it. What happens when I’m presented with an opportunity I don’t have time for? I take it on because I think I’m the best woman for it.
And then I fall apart.
The Superpower: Prayer and Reflection
It’s simple, really. The more I turn this issue over to God, the easier it is to know my own limits. I try to pray the Litany of Humility often, and I ask God to keep me in check when my pride is getting the best of me (gently – because you know what they say about asking for patience, and I’ve found it’s pretty much the same thing here).
To combat problematic pride, find a prayer, meditation, or mantra that helps keep that ego to a minimum. Take a look at the people around you, too, and actively recognize their talents and gifts. Not only does true appreciation of other people’s abilities take some of the focus off our own skills, it also helps us to see that we are not, in fact, the only woman for the job.
The Nemesis: Disappointment
I don’t like to let people down. The fear I might disappoint someone close to me (and who am I kidding – someone I barely even know) has caused me to take on way more than I can handle.
This school year has been a fiasco. I’ve spent most of it running around like a Keystone Cop, complete with that frantic music looping in the background. Everything has suffered, from our homeschool to my professional life and all of it in between. I decided a few weeks ago that we would pull way back for next year, turning down co-op, activity, and work opportunities so we could focus on bringing the joy back to our lives.
Then I got an email from an associate asking if I would teach a dual enrollment English course, a pilot partnership between homeschool hybrid programs and the local community college. In order to make it work, the organizer needed a qualified instructor.
I was qualified, and if I said no, the course had a strong chance of falling through.
The Superpower: Objectivity
I was way too close to the opportunity to make a sound decision. I felt obligated to say yes – not by the associate, but by my own sense of duty and a fear that my no would mean the death of a wonderful opportunity. I needed an objective third party, so I consulted trusted friends who were able to help me say no.
The truth is, our choices very well may disappoint other people. But you know what? It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with putting our own needs first, especially when those needs have a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of our families. If you need to develop a sense of objectivity, find trusted friends who have your best interests at heart. Turn to them when fear of disappointment clouds your vision, and you’ll be better able to make a sound decision.
The Nemesis: Habit
Falling prey to our fear, pride, and disappointment can become a habitual practice. But we can also find ourselves saying yes to activities and opportunities because it’s what we’ve always done. Sometimes it just feels weird to say no.
The Superpower: Practice
This is where practice comes in handy. It takes time to break a habit, sometimes weeks or months. I’ve started with the small things, like skipping occasional playdates or not signing up to bring a baked good to a potluck. The more practice I have with saying no, the easier it is to do it.
Being a supermom doesn’t mean we do everything all the time. Being a supermom means we know and accept our limits so we can excel in the stuff that really matters.
We don’t have to lead every club.
We don’t have to teach every class.
We don’t have to do it all.
We just have to do what our vocation tells us, and take good care of ourselves.