Thursday, June 21, 2007

I’d love to but I can’t

Six little words that will save your sanity. I learned them from my friend Laurissa one day when we were talking about the guilt that often comes from saying "no" to a commitment, even when saying "yes" would mean spreading yourself too thin. She said she had first heard about them from her own sister, who told her that it was the perfect, succinct way to graciously decline an unwanted obligation without giving offense or going into unnecessary detail. Thank you, Laurissa; I needed those words today.

When I got home this afternoon, a message was waiting for me on the machine. I had just finished grocery shopping after visiting an elderly friend on the mend from a back injury—all with Jimmy in tow, who’s been wearing his cranky pants the entire week and wasn’t about to stop just for me to run my errands.

So the last thing I wanted to see as I panted into the kitchen with several armfuls of groceries was a blinking light attached to the following message: “So-and-so [an older woman from my church] is having a yard sale on Saturday and we’re looking for some ladies who could work a shift to help her out. I know you’re pregnant and so I understand if you’re not feeling up to it, but if you can, please call me back.” A friend had left the message, and I know she didn’t intend any sort of guilt trip. I confess, my initial and completely uncharitable reaction as I listened to the message was, “Why, yes, I am pregnant! Why aren't you sending someone over to work a shift helping me to put my groceries away, cooking my dinner, and scrubbing my two disgusting bathrooms?” But when I thought about it, I realized she probably did call someone else first, and I’m probably a ways down on her list—so then the guilt kicked in.

Or at least it tried to… however, I spent too many years in therapy working out my inordinate need to fix other people’s problems to relapse now. Just ask my poor sisters what a hopeless busybody with boundary issues I was before, sticking my oldest child nose where it had no business. I like the feeling of being useful, of knowing that I've helped someone, but I would often get overwhelmed with doing things for other people to the point where I mismanaged my own needs. Recently, I've been better at finding the balance, but it's something I still have to think about consciously when I sense that I'm getting overcommitted.

No, I definitely got my money’s worth from counseling; one of the best lessons I learned was that saying “no” when it’s not my problem or I’m feeling maxed out makes it easier for me to give myself permission to say “yes” when I feel it’s appropriate for me to help. So, while I may say “no” to watching my ankles swell as I work a sweltering afternoon at a yard sale, I can say “yes” wholeheartedly to having my brother-in-law over for dinner with us a couple of times while his wife is out of town.

After mentally sorting out my boundaries, I called my friend and said (with no pangs of remorse) those six magical words: “I’d love to, but I can’t.”


Crafty Green Poet said...

excellent post, it is so important to know when to say 'no'.

Dory said...

Good work! Dear Heart, it is a marvel and a delight that you are living your life so fully for yourself. As mothers we take care of everyone else, but if we forget ourselves, we just aren't going to last long. I am so proud of you!

helgaruth said...

I will remember and use those six magic words. As one of those "poor sisters" let me say - not to undo any already paid for therapy - some of those times you stuck your nose in were the best of times to have done so. You've always been a great sister. I'm glad though, that you take care of yourself as well as you often took care of us! I love you.