Before I became a mother, I was all about living up to other people's expectations and pleasing others and doing what others wanted, so that I could feel worthwhile and appreciated. I bought into the idea that being "selfless" and constantly saying "yes" was what people liked about me, so I continued to do things for others, even things I didn't necessarily want to do. Then I became a mom, and realized that moms are great at not doing sh*t they don't want to do, because I quickly stopped doing sh*t I didn't want to do or didn't feel was necessary or just didn't have the energy to do, even if I thought it would anger and upset others, or leave me open to judgement.
It took some learning, to be sure. In fact, I still have to remind myself that saying "no" is a really good thing, and something I should feel free to do without apology or guilt. I think, as women, our culture conditions us to say "yes" and be everything to everyone, and unlearning what has been taught to us since we were little is difficult, to say the least. Still, motherhood has given me so many opportunities to say "no," and refuse to do the things that I just don't want or need or feel like doing. My schedule is too packed and I am too busy with work and my son and my romantic relationship and my friendships, to try and prove to others that I am "selfless" and totally capable of doing all the things. Motherhood taught me that, in the end, it's just not worth it.
Of course, there are instances in which I do have to do things I don't want to do. I mean, wiping my son's butt after he's had a massive blowout isn't necessarily my idea of a good time. Still, when it comes to saying "no" to others, even people I love and care for, I've perfected that skill and am completely fine not doing things I just don't want to do. It's freeing, it's necessary, and it's possible because of the following reasons:
They Quickly Realize They Can't Do Everything...
Sadly, I spent the first few weeks as a new mom trying to do everything. I was exclusively breastfeeding, recovering from labor and delivery, still cleaning and cooking, and even working (I turned in an article three days after my son was born.) I couldn't say "no," because I didn't want to admit that procreation was somewhat overwhelming and required me to shift my focus. I didn't want to feel like I had "failed."
Then, I found out I was suffering from postpartum depression and, well, I was acutely aware that I couldn't do everything for everyone if I wanted to be able to do anything for anyone. In fact, I realized I didn't want to do everything for everyone.
...Especially All At Once
I like to consider myself pretty good at multitasking, but that doesn't mean I am going to do a million things at once because I "can." In fact, since becoming a mother, I have realized that splitting my focus between multiple things usually just means I am going to do multiple things poorly. If I can focus on one thing, at one time, I can get that one thing done correctly and move onto something else (if I want).
I don't need to be some multitasking wizard in order to be a good mother, so when someone asks me to do something and I'm in the middle of something else, I'm quick to say, "Yeah, no."
They Realize How Important Their Health Is...
I used to pride myself on self-sacrifice. When I was living at home with my parents, in college with friends and even in my post-college live-in romantic relationships, I would fancy myself some kind of martyr in the name of selflessness. It was so unhealthy (and probably why I lost friends and so many of my post-college romantic relationships failed spectacularly).
Going through pregnancy, labor and delivery, I realized that my health matters, especially when it comes to my kid's health. I can't take care of him and keep him healthy, if I'm not healthy. I won't do him any good if I run myself down to the point that I'm sick, unable to get out of bed and running some ungodly high fever and puking every few hours. I need to take care of myself, so that I can take care of the people I care the most about (and because, you know, I matter as a human being). If someone asks me to do something and I know I don't have the bandwidth, or I haven't had enough sleep or haven't had the opportunity to eat yet, I am going take a hard pass. My health matters more than making someone happy by saying "yes" to whatever it is they're asking me to do.
...Including (And Especially) Their Mental Health
Not only is motherhood taxing on your physical health, it's taxing on your mental health, too. Taking care of your own life while simultaneously taking care of another life (or lives) requires constant vigilance, and that's mentally exhausting.
So, it becomes pretty easy to say "no" to people when you know that adding another thing on your to-do list will only make you stressed or anxious or overwhelmed. You can only give so much of your mental space to certain things and people, and when others are threatening to crowd or take over that space, you're all about showing them the door or removing yourself from a particular situation.
They Learn How To Prioritize
Nothing has made me better at prioritizing, like motherhood. I know what has to be done vs. what I would like to be done vs. what others expect and/or need me to get done, and I adjust accordingly. If someone wants me to do something, but I know it's not a necessity, it'll either go to the bottom of my daily list of sh*t, or I'll leave it off entirely.
Myself, and my partner, know what is needed of us both in order to have productive, fun days with our son (and one another, and ourselves), and anything else is either icing on the cake, or not worth our time.
Their Quick To Dismiss What Others Think
I've never been one to really care what other people think in general (after all, I'm a writer and comment sections are a thing so a thick skin is, sadly, somewhat of a necessity). However, motherhood has given me the undeniable ability to perfect that skill. Everyone has an opinion about every little parenting choice I may or may not make, and I only have to look so far as the internet to hear about it.
So, I've become somewhat of an expert in shrugging my shoulders when it comes to what other people think, want or expect of me. If they think I'm "failing" because I'm not taking my kid outside enough, attending enough mom groups or working too much, I simply ignore them. They might, maybe, get a sigh out of me, but that's about the max amount of energy I'm willing to spend on a retort. In the end, I really only care what my son, my partner and myself think of my parenting (and even then, those three people aren't the end-all-be-all barometer of my abilities).
They Know That "Having It All" Is Dumb
The idea that women are trying to "have it all" if they make the life choice to have a kid, maintain a romantic relationship and pursue a career, is laughable at best and hurtful at worse. For far too long, I thought "having it all" was an impossible thing to, well, have. I really did think that I couldn't be a mother and enjoy a successful career, so I decided I wasn't going to be a mother. At 27, that changed, and I realized that "having it all" isn't an impossible thing, because it isn't a thing at all.
Women are just as complicated, multifaceted, complex and capable as men. "Having it all" assumes that isn't the case, and any attempt at having a well-rounded, fulfilling life (the same life men enjoy without question or concern) is just that: an attempt. Nope. Women can do it. Women have always been doing it. More often than not, that means saying "no" to other people and making your own decisions about what you want to do.
Let's Face It, They Say "No" To Their Kid All The Time...
I mean, I have said "no" to plenty of people in my life before I became a mother, but I sure as sh*t haven't said "no" as frequently as I do now that my son is a toddler and wants to get into everything and test the limits of gravity and spit water on my computer. I am really good at saying "no" now, you guys. Like, so good.
...And They Say "No" To Other People, Because Of Their Kids
I've also learned to say "no" to other people, even people I genuinely love and care for, because my son needs me more than they do. I can't always go out with friends or enjoy a happy hour with coworkers, because I have to be with my son or he is sick or my partner can't watch him because he's at school. I've had to say "no" to some work functions, because I feel I haven't spent a significant amount of time with my son and I would like to remedy the situation.
I don't really care what those people think in those instances, mostly because I know they'll understand, but also because I know my son matters more. I matter more. My mental health and physical health matter more.
Their Alone Time Is Precious And Worth Protecting
Sometimes, even if I have the ability to add something to my schedule or do something for someone else, I don't because I simply don't want to. Sometimes, a nice night in with a glass of wine and a book or an endless Netflix queue is exactly what I need, and that will take priority over what someone else needs (that isn't a necessity). As a mother, my "me time" is harder to come by than it was in my pre-baby days, so I'm very (and unapologetically) protective of it.