I’m all about listening to parenting advice. I find it much easier to have a discussion with a more seasoned mom than I do reading a 200-page book written by an expert. But of all the things I've learned in the past few years of motherhood, there's one piece of advice that always comes through for me. It may seem obvious, but it's something I believe all new moms still need to hear: Learn how to say no.
Sounds easy, right? But this is definitely something that's easier said than done.
As moms, we are pulled in so many directions. We want our main focus to be our babies. But we are also wives, daughters, friends and coworkers—and we don’t want to isolate ourselves. We still want support, but sometimes we also just want to be left alone with our babies. So, learn how to say no.
When our daughter was born, my husband and I decided to limit our visitors in the hospital. I knew I wasn’t going to be sleeping well and I badly wanted to get this breastfeeding thing right. So, it ended up being just my parents. I didn’t even get on my phone much, save for the occasional text. I let the notifications pile up because I was too busy cuddling my little girl.
When we came home, we were blessed with several of our friends and family who quietly came with food and left. My mom came and stocked our fridge. We were pretty much left to our own devices, figuring this whole keeping-the-baby-alive thing out for ourselves. I never felt isolated. I texted my experienced mom friends like crazy. My mom and sisters came to visit and hold my daughter. But it was all on my own terms.
The more I did it, the more empowered I felt.
As the weeks and months passed, I said no to dinner dates when I knew my baby was fussy and nursing would be at its peak. I shut my phone off at 7:30 p.m. to sleep in preparation for the baby waking again to nurse at 11 p.m. I took a maternity leave from my writing jobs. I declined invitations out to family gatherings and meetings with friends. Not all of them, but I only did what felt comfortable.
I can say with no doubt in my mind that saying no when I needed to helped me to bond with my daughter. I know it contributed to my success in breastfeeding. I was less anxious because I didn’t have to do it all. I never felt like I was missing out. When I needed adult time, I met with a friend for coffee. When I was unsure what to do as a mother, I sent a quick text to a friend for advice. I said yes when my family wanted to come hold the baby—one they’ve been waiting for for years.
However, I had no problem saying no when I needed to be with my baby. When I needed to have it just be my husband and me figuring out this parenting thing together. OK, I’m lying a little bit. It was hard for me to decline invites, to say someone couldn’t come visit right then. But, the more I did it, the more empowered I felt.
As a person who hates feeling overwhelmed, I knew I needed to stick by this rule if I wanted to keep my sanity. I was so sleep-deprived. I was sick of being spit up on and always having to double-check I wasn’t topless when going to answer the door. Keeping more things from being added to my plate when my whole world had already been turned upside down was something I needed to do for myself.
To be honest, I didn’t even think of it as being some sort of golden parenting advice at the time. I thought I was just being selfish and being delighted about it.
So, mamas, if you’re finding yourself overbooked, if you just want to snuggle your baby, but you agreed to too many things, I’m here to tell you it’s OK to say no.
It’s OK to cancel plans and disappoint people and seclude yourself when you just want a break. It's OK to not call someone back right away because you're just too damn tired to talk. It's OK to say no to that friend of a friend who wants to come over and meet the baby. It's all OK.
Becoming a parent is like becoming a different kind of human being. You can swear up and down that you will maintain some semblance of your former life, but you'll probably end up keeping only a few pictures to look back on wistfully. But rest assured—your kids will find and destroy those pictures, leaving you instead with memories of when you didn't do all the things you swore you wouldn't do as a mom.