When Mama Needs to Learn to Say “No”

As a teenager, I was sometimes too nice. I often didn’t voice my opinion in order to not make a scene. I didn’t like ruffling feathers. I wanted others to like me.

I said “yes” too often to satisfy others rather than myself. I replayed what I actually should’ve said over and over in my head. As a result, I often felt frustrated by this later; I didn’t like that I had settled. I didn’t like that I didn’t feel like myself when I went along with something that I didn’t believe in.

Luckily, this changed as I gained both independence and confidence. I’ve learned that it’s better to say no than to be unhappy later. I’ve realized that sometimes it’s worth being a little selfish and looking out for yourself. If you don’t do it, then no one else will.

I feel this way even more now that I’m a mom. I’ve got a little one to protect and if I don’t stand up for him, then who will? I don’t want to regret my actions later, or feel frustrated that I didn’t respond in a different way that would’ve benefited him more. I am convinced that this negative energy is bad not only for me, but also for him. Especially as a mom, I know babies are sensitive to these things.

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Here are a few situations in which saying no is absolutely justifiable:

You don’t want people to hold your tiny baby. When Liam was a few days old, I was bothered by people who insisted on holding him too soon. I wanted the special time to bond with him as a family first and, well, he just felt so small and fragile. I mean… he was only 7 pounds! I know that I would never want to hold someone else’s 2 day old, 7 pound baby… Way too soon. I think that for this one, you’re the parent, you call the shots. If you want to wait until your baby gets his first immunizations or for your milk to come in (and be protected by your antibodies), then it’s your decision, period. Even if you want the first week to spend some quality time alone with baby, then that’s fine too. No one should make you feel bad for it. A good response is, “our doctor/midwife told us to wait a week or two before letting anyone hold him” (which was our case!)  or if you want to scare people off, “he has a sensitive stomach lately, I wouldn’t advise it.” Friends and family should understand that they need to be patient and respect your wishes above all. This also applies to people washing their hands before holding your baby or not coming over if they are feeling under the weather… Remember that you’re looking after your baby and no one can make you feel bad for voicing it out loud.

You don’t want their sleep, parenting, or breastfeeding advice. Every parent thinks they are doing parenting the right way. The issue is that, sometimes, parents think that their way is the only way. What they’re forgetting is that each and every baby is insanely different and unique. A toy/swing that one baby loves will be another’s worst nightmare. A sleep routine that works perfectly for one will be a recipe for disaster for another. Smile and say, “It’s great that Lucy is responding so well to your schedule” or “I think we’re doing pretty well, but thanks for the advice”. In regards to breastfeeding, I simply didn’t take any of it. From day one, I felt like Liam and I were in perfect harmony. He latched on amazingly well and didn’t waste a drop of milk. When the lactation consultant at the hospital nitpicked about certain details we were supposedly doing “wrong”, I said thank you, took the advice, but knew what we were doing was working. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, right? Within a week, Liam was back to his birth weight and has been thriving ever since… he’s now in the 90% percentile for weight!

You don’t have time do someone a favor this time. Truth is, you’re insanely busy, exhausted, stressed, and every other word in the book. When someone asks you to do something that may add to your level of stress and exhaustion, then simply apologize and tell them you can’t do it. Be honest and tell them you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately. Truth is, if they’re a friend, they’ll probably understand you’ve got a lot on your plate and forgive you for it.

Remember that you don’t always have to make everyone else happy — right now, it’s time to put baby (and yourself) first. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person… It just means you’re looking out for your family, know what’s good for you, and trust your own instincts. What’s healthier than that?

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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