I’ve never liked saying no to things.
I’ve always enjoyed happy hours with coworkers, festive holiday traditions with family, drop-of-the-hat road trips, trying new restaurants and bars with new friends, and other last minute fun. While I rarely had to say no to things because I only had myself to answer to, if I did have to miss something fun, I hated it.
I knew it would probably change once I was married with kids, but when that happened, our first baby was pretty easy-going, so we just took her everywhere with us. She was happy to be worn in the baby carrier, would nap on the go and I prided myself in being a mom that could say yes to things even with a new baby. A day at a winery? Sure! Brunch during nap time? Why not! A day trip into New York City? Absolutely! But then we started noticing her melting at events that were supposed to be fun if she hadn’t had a good nap or was out around bedtime. We realized then that it was time for more of a solid routine with our daughter, and this meant we needed to start saying no.
The things we were doing when we were trying to do it all became stressful and the element of fun slipped farther and farther away.
Things changed even more when we had our second baby, which turned everyone’s world upside down in our house. He was not as easy-going; he would only nap in his nursery, he was often fussy, and always wide-eyed and alert anywhere we went – he clearly inherited his mom’s FOMO. After a while, I started noticing how often I said no to things. No, we aren’t going out for 4th of July fireworks this year. No, we can’t meet you for dinner at 7:00 pm. No, we can’t make it to the parade that starts at noon. No, we won’t be able to make that vacation. The list seemed to be getting longer and longer.
I hated saying no, but I realized my reasons for hating it were no longer because I was afraid of missing something. My reasons for hating saying no came from guilt and pressure from my friends and family, whether they meant to be pressuring me or not. I was worried they would stop asking us to do things altogether, or worse, think I had become the overly rigid parent I swore I’d never be. But I enjoy happy, well-rested children. They have more fun, behave better and make me want to do fun things with them. So, if keeping with familiar routines, not missing a nap and having a firm bedtime window make me too rigid, I’m okay with that for now. What I don’t enjoy is being scoffed at for saying we need to be home by a certain time to start bedtime routines, or getting eye rolls because they “knew” I would say no.
This made me reflect on what I was saying no to, how often, and – most importantly -why. I was saying no because it’s not worth it to me to have a fussy baby and tired toddler out until 10:00pm to watch some loud noises light up the sky. I was saying no because it was more stressful for all of us to have my kids out at a restaurant for a 7:00 pm dinner when they were exhausted and terribly behaved as a result. I was saying no because once that FOMO second child fell asleep, you bet your ass I wasn’t waking him up to make it to a parade. I was saying no because packing the kids up in the car and traveling 5 plus hours to a destination for a weekend, messing with their sleep, their environment and their routines seemed exhausting before I even started packing. I’m even saying no to things my kids aren’t invited to that I do kinda wish I could do, like happy hour with girlfriends. But while self-care is important (and let’s be honest – a night out enjoying margaritas with girlfriends is total self-care) I’d honestly rather be home for bedtime books and snuggles because I know those won’t always be freely desired by my little ones.
Does this mean my kids and I stay inside following a strict schedule while waiting for nap and bedtime, never venturing out of the house?
Not even close. It means we do things when it works for us. And if friends and family can meet us, great! If not, I love spending time and making memories with just us. My priority has become making these memories, and I no longer focus on what other people may think I’m sacrificing. Saying no to things around the holidays which would have us out at hours I don’t want to be, like trick-or-treating by the moonlight, or going to see Christmas lights, doesn’t bother me one bit anymore. I actually prefer to say no because it means I am creating space to find festive events at times my kids and I will be able to fully enjoy them. Instead of the traditional evening and night time festivities, we do a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt after school, followed by early trick-or-treating and a spirited Halloween-themed dinner. We have breakfast with Santa and decorate cookies with friends after nap time. We find activities and events that work for the ages and stages of our children. And I don’t feel bad about that at all.
I spent so much time letting other people dictate how I felt about how we were not spending our time, that I wasn’t ever fully present to enjoy the time we did spend making memories.
I love getting creative about how to change things up while the kids are little, shifting the things that give me anxiety to even think about, to planning things I’m able to be truly excited for.
I guess I always thought when I became a mom that we would immediately start re-creating and making the memories I have from my childhood like driving around in the family minivan after church on Christmas Eve pointing out our favorite Christmas lights, or catching fireflies in a mason jar on a warm summer night. But those things don’t happen immediately. Making the shift from chasing those memory-making moments and feeling guilty for not allowing them to happen, to living in the now and choosing how and when our memory-making moments happen is the best thing I could have ever done. All these things are important to me as a mom, but I don’t need to do them just to check it off of some memory-making to-do list. I’m not rushing to do things because I am more than content to protect the time I do have with my kids while they’re small. This is our time to be together and share in creating moments we will fondly remember in the future. Whether this means coming up with new traditions or just taking time to be together, I’m proud of myself for taking back the power of prideful decision making and not guilt-driven decision making.
We’ll go to a parade or county fair when both kids are ready to go and I can enjoy working it around whatever schedule I have in mind for us. I take my time getting all of us ready and we head out for days at the park, walks on local trails, and dinners at kid-friendly restaurants at an hour that doesn’t present meltdowns over menu items or seating arrangements.
Some parents work really hard to fit children into the life they want to live and some work hard to shift their life to meet the needs of their kids.
I learned that it’s worth it to me to rearrange my wants and needs to meet theirs while my kids are little. For my own sanity and wellbeing, I kicked the guilt and embraced the fact that this is a season. It’s one season among many I’ll experience as an adult, a parent, a mom. I won’t always be saying no to the things that don’t work for us right now.
But instead of focusing on the no’s, I choose to focus on the yesses and the memories those yesses create. I am lucky to get to say yes to staying in and nursing my sick toddler when he needs me, yes to mid-day 4th of July sparklers and red, white and blue themed picnics that don’t require travel outside our backyard. I get to say yes to vacations I can plan and be present for, rather than hustling to get everything and everyone ready on someone else’s timeline. I am saying yes to a life that I get to produce along with my kids because it works for us.
I have become confident in the space I’m in now, the tweaks I’ve made so that I’m not saying no to life, but yes to being creative with our options on how to live the life that fits our wants and needs. And ultimately, if I do find myself having to say no to something that I wish I could do, I find comfort in knowing it won’t always be a “no,” for this season will pass just like all the others.
Caitlyn Doenges was born and raised right outside our nation’s capitol and attended college in southern Virginia. After moving to Connecticut and shortly pursuing a career in media, she decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree in Elementary Education. After taking a quick pit stop to be an au pair in Italy for a summer, she came back, moved in with her now-husband and started grad school and teaching. After five years in the classroom, a tiny little force entered her life and she decided to live out her dream of teaching in a different way as a stay-at-home mom. One more baby completed her family and she stays home raising two very different but both easily lovable kiddos. She chose another new career path in Marriage and Family Therapy, so splits her time teaching life lessons to the little ones, studying psychology and family dynamics and writing for fun whenever she finds the time (which is not as often as she’d like...yet)!