I have a confession: I hate to say "no" to people. I'm a first-born daughter so perhaps it's just in my DNA to a be a people pleaser. I get a lot of personal identity value from feeling competent and capable. And, truthfully I love saying "yes." In fact, and I'm more than a little ashamed to admit it, it deeply validates me. I love the "I don't know how you do it" comments, the recognition that I'm the kind of person who always gets things done—they fill me with satisfaction and pride; they fuel me.
So when I became a new mama, I said "yes" to it all… to music classes, workout challenges, the Pinterest craft, date nights with friends. And then I said "yes" some more when I co-founded Motherly while having two young daughters.
Do you know what happened? I got burnt out. My personal tank was on empty because I'd left no time for self-care. I was doing so much for other people and continually putting myself last. I wish I could say that I came to this realization on my own because I'm incredibly wise, but in the end, my body was the one to force me to take a break.
I developed optic neuritis, temporary blind spots in my right eye and was quickly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable neurological disease. Like any significant medical diagnosis, I was rocked to my core and forced to reevaluate everything from my career to my family dynamics, my support structure, my wellness habits—most definitely including how often I said "yes" to everyone and everything except myself.
The good news is, I have amazing doctors and am privileged to have access to cutting edge medical treatments that have successfully stopped the progression of MS.
My disease hasn't slowed me down at all, but from it, I have learned a few important lessons on taking care of myself:
1. Self-care is not selfish.
Repeat after me: Self-care is not selfish. Prioritizing your health and wellness as a parent does not make you a '"bad" mom or dad. It makes you a smart parent, an empowered parent, a setting-a-good-example parent. You'll be happier and more fulfilled. And as everyone knows, a happy family starts with happy parents and no one is going to decide to serve you up a plate of happiness. Take ownership and make it happen.
2. There is a season for everything.
Living in the present means accepting the limitations of who you are right now. You don't need to do all the things at the same time. Some seasons, like when you have a newborn, are going to be a time to hunker down with your family. Other seasons, like when you start a business or new career, are going to lend themselves to a career-focused period of time.
When your children gain a sense of independence, your season for volunteering may arrive. Empty nester? It may be your season to discover a new hobby.
And with each new season comes new constraints and new opportunities. That new baby or new career may mean it's not your season to be a class parent or cook home cooked meals every night. Instead, it may be your season to volunteer for a monthly lunch duty shift and schedule a meal delivery service during the week. And it's okay. There will be a season for the other stuff, I promise.
3. Saying no doesn't have to be hard.
I'm not saying it's easy to say "no" but it does get easier the more you practice. Asked to join a meal train for a new mama? You can say "no" to cooking another home-cooked meal and instead, schedule a healthy delivery service for the night. Trust me, when you're a new parent, any kind of food (that you didn't have to cook yourself!) is glorious.
Asked to chair a new committee? A perfectly reasonable response is, "I love the work you are doing, but it's just not my season to volunteer outside the home right now." A wise mama in my village recommends avoiding the automatic "yes" response to every request by practicing saying, "Thanks for asking—I'll think about it and will get back to you." (Genius.)
Responding this way instead of with a "yes" that I'll ultimately regret, has been life-changing for me. It has afforded me the grace of self-reflection to prioritize what means the most to me in my current season, which now includes managing a chronic disease.
And here's a secret: The offers and requests won't end. There's no need to suffer from FOMO because there will always be another opportunity. But your health won't wait, especially for those of us fighting a chronic disease. We must practice self-care religiously because this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Find ways to fuel your mind, body, and spirit.
Portions of the article are excerpts of "The Season of No" published in This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices.