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Moms, Just Say "No"

Business mom with baby.
Photograph by Getty Images/Hemera

When I was growing up, my neighborhood was led by women who were the archetypal “Big Mommas.” Nearly every house had a woman who was all things to all people. She cooked, cleaned, nurtured, paid the bills, attended PTA, disciplined the children, and in most cases worked outside of the home. How is it possible that one woman could be all things to everyone—including herself?

Martyrdom is almost expected of modern-day mothers. Mothers work inside and outside the home, doing everything in our power to give our families the best we have to offer. The situation we often find ourselves in is one of self-neglect. If you ask a modern-day, college-educated, employed mother if she consistently creates time for her own self-care and nurturing, she will swiftly answer no. Oddly enough, this is probably the only time we can be assured that no will be her response.

In an attempt to assist self-neglecting mothers all over this great nation (and myself too), I allotted time to discuss self-care and nurturing with Cynthia Occelli, author of Resurrecting Venus. Occelli’s book is dedicated to helping women embrace their feminine power and part of that power comes from self-care, rest, and nurturing. Occelli argues that when a woman’s cup is overflowing, she is better equipped to nurture those around her. So I wanted to know, how exactly does a woman with a career, children, a spouse, and a host of other unnamed responsibilities carve out time for herself?

Ask For Help

Occelli believes that an empowered feminine woman truly understands and honors the rhythms, cycles, and needs of her body, mind, and spirit. This includes eating, resting, and whatever else feels good. Ironically, most women are happy to give help to others in need but when it comes to asking for help and believing that others would be happy to assist them, they struggle. My advice is to let go of that idea once and for all. Ask for help from family, friends, neighbors, community. Be willing to accept that help and not feel guilty about needing help. Asking for help when it is necessary (and even when it is just because you can) is a great way of nurturing yourself. Allowing others to help you creates community, which is a manifestation of feminine empowered women. Women who value and nurture themselves are also capable of doing the same for others, which builds alliances and meets the needs of many, rather than the few.

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Occelli says that many mothers often find themselves in overwhelming daily situations in which everyone in their environment demands their attention. When these occasions occur, Occelli advocates asking for a moment before taking action. First, see to it that everyone is safe. Second, give yourself a moment before you give anyone, including your children, anything. It is in the moment of self-care that you have an opportunity to breathe and strategically consider how you will meet the needs of those for whom you are caring.

Say No

Mothers are frequently faced with a to-do list that grows like a wild weed in an open field. They say yes so often that their calendars are filled with events, appointments, and tasks, leaving them depleted and exhausted. Occelli says that another cure for self-neglect is one magic word: no. Saying no is the easiest way to create boundaries and the time a mother needs to rejuvenate. What would it take to help mothers say no without the follow-up guilt? In Occelli’s work with her clients, she teaches them to say no with the same energy they’d say “The sky is blue,” or “Today is Tuesday.” Moms don’t have to say no from a place of guilt or anger. Saying no is a good way to protect the interests and well-being of our families and ourselves.

Moms don’t have to say no from a place of guilt or anger.

When her husband had a brain aneurysm, Occelli had to rebuild her life as a single parent of two children. Although her husband survived, the aneurysm took his memory and their marriage eventually dissolved. She realized that what she most needed to do was to ask for help, and to nurture herself back into a healthy, creative woman, she would have to say no. In her darkest days the “to do list” was inconsequential. All that mattered for Occelli and the eventual well-being of her family was her ability to regenerate herself so that she could once again run her queendom in a way that enriched the lives of those around her.

Every mom can take a lesson or two from Cynthia Occelli’s Resurrecting Venus. Becoming a feminine empowered woman means that we cannot be all things to all people without first nurturing ourselves. Setting boundaries by saying no, and asking for help, are two great tools to help moms care for themselves with the same fervor and excellence they bring to caring for others.

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