On Saying No

love boy and dog

Today I was reading a blog post at Simple Living Over 50 where the subject was Why.   The post focused on questioning everything we are taught.  The following paragraph hit a nerve.

Learn to ask that simple question, “Why” and you will begin to discover that it is much easier to say the word “No”. Even though it is much easier to simply go along we have to decide whether going along is in our best interest.

It took more than learning to question life for me to learn to say No.  I always questioned life but other than rare moments I held the answers I found safely inside for fear of being ridiculed.

At 18 and newly engaged I informed my fiance I didn’t believe in the practice of giving an engagement ring to the woman. I saw this as sexist (what does the woman purchase for the man as an engagement gift?) and a waste of money. I informed him diamonds were not rare but artificially inflated in price because the diamond mines are owned mainly by one corporation, a monopoly, who has a great marketing slogan to convince us we have to purchase a diamond ring as an engagement gift.

I was very fortunate in that he accepted all my “weirdness” and still loved me. 🙂

I was always controversial in my views and yet it took me years before I learned to say no. Why? Because I was taught in the home to always do for others, to put the needs of others before my own.

The day things changed for me it was my oldest son, then 17, who stood up to me and insisted he was tired of seeing me act like a doormat.  It was days before Christmas and he overheard me on the phone (I thought he was sleeping).  From the year my son was born I had inherited hosting the Christmas dinner for the extended family. Every  Christmas my house began to fill by noon, I loved hosting Christmas but it came with challenges too.  On this particular year the family dynamic was changing.  My grandmother had just passed away and my brother (who was on the phone this fateful morning) had recently married and wanted to spend Christmas with his in-laws.

On the phone my brother was screaming at me telling me I needed to check with him before scheduling a family get together. I counted to ten, I silently screamed at the ceiling but then the mediator took over and told him next year I would consult with him to plan our annual Christmas dinner but this year I would not leave my grandfather, widowed only 20 days alone on Christmas.  My brother didn’t take this well and after voicing expletives at me slammed his phone down.

My son had been sitting on the stairs listening and informed me he could hear all the way up the stairs clearly what my brother had said.  He asked me why I put up with it. My answer was that it was what I was expected to do. As the oldest of my siblings it had fallen to me to be the peacekeeper, plus I was trying to keep the peace so my children would have a good relationship with their aunts and uncles. See, in my family if one of my siblings was angry with me they would break off all contact with my children too.

At this point my youngest son arrived and backed up his brother. They ganged up on me and informed me I was setting a horrible example for them. What?!? How was I doing that?  I was doing my part to provide the family connections they deserved.  My boys asked if I would want to see them take the abuse I had been on the receiving end for so long. Of course I didn’t.

What do they say, “out of the mouths of babes?”  It took my children, teenagers, to teach me that in order to raise healthy children who expected to be treated with respect I had to set the example.

It was hard to change. My first impulse was to be the mediator, to say yes, to keep others happy regardless of what I felt inside.  I worked through those feelings because more than anything I wanted my children to both learn from my example and to respect me, something they insisted they would not do if I took one more abuse like this.

It wasn’t learning to question life to enable me to say no, it took learning to love and respect myself, enough. It took learning to be myself no matter what friends and strangers alike would think of me.  It also meant at that point I had to suck it up and explain, to the the family who taught me to put others first, why that message was wrong for me.

Standing up for myself didn’t go over very well but the people who mattered the most to me, my children, got it and supported me. That fateful call was the turning point for not only me but for my boys as well. We all learned an important lesson that morning on relationships, being true to oneself, and when to say No.

Questioning life, minimalism, simplicity, they are all tools that will help us reach the goals we set for ourselves but sometimes it takes more to learn to say “no”.

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20 comments

  1. What a wonderful picture of your grandson and his dog!
    I think it’s hardest to stand up to family. You did raise wise sons, Lois! The first time I really stood up to my family was over Christmas, too! It took me a little longer, though; my girls were just out of college. I was so exhausted and stressed over hosting it every year, doing what everyone expected, I couldn’t do it one more time. The change in simpler food plans caused lots of grumbling and my new rule of “family only” made the first year pretty uncomfortable. But by the second Christmas everyone was getting used to it and now I never hear, “you’re supposed to have turkey for Christmas,” or “We ALWAYS went to church on Christmas Eve” anymore. In fact, my daughter took over the whole holiday and had no hesitation in doing it her way! Like your sons, I hope I my example her that.

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    • That dog and boy are nearly inseparable. It boggles my mind why the dog choose the him as her favorite family member as he was so little when they added the dog that she got pretty abused by him while they taught him to be gentle.

      Family, there is so much I could say about family but the saying, you can choose your friends but not your family, pretty much sums it up. What is it about death and holidays that brings out the worst in family members? I’m sorry it was Christmas that you had to stand up to yours too as it makes what should be a happy time filled with stress. Our children are fortunate in that we opened up possibilities for them by taking a stand and hopefully now they won’t have to.

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  2. Your sons were very wise. There were two issues in that phone call as I see it. One was you trying to smooth everything over no matter what and the other was your brother screaming at you. The screaming was unacceptable no matter where Christmas dinner was. And you sons recognized that. We spend our whole life learning important lessons. And that was an important one.

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    • Yes, my boys were wise and it was their love for me that caused them to finally stand up and confront me. My brother was always like that, still is. He think the world revolves around him and treats everyone else as lesser beings. I had wanted to stand up for a long time but couldn’t do it until I knew my children weren’t going to feel caught in the middle if I did.

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  3. It;s wonderful that your boys stood up for you and saw a pattern that needed to be addressed. Mine saw the same kind of thing and brought it to my attention. Thank goodness my children didn’t perpetuate the behavior. I don’t think yours did either. Some things we see clearly, others are so ingrained, they seem normal to us. Those are the hardest to change. Glad you did. Giant hugs.

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    • You and I were truly blessed to have such wonderful children. I’m glad yours stood up and pointed out the problems they saw for you too. At first when I realized that my boys were only continuing a relationship with one of my siblings I felt horrible, but it’s worked out for them. They are happier not to have the negativity around them by the rest of them.

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  4. Just WOW!!!!! So much is going on in my family right now, and I am struggling with what I might be able to say No to. I heard for years about how difficult it was to be a care-giver for an aging parent, but I never thought I’d have to do it. Thanks for posting this one.

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    • Cindy, you are really in a tough spot and my heart goes out to you. You have the stress of caring for an aging parent, which is hard enough, but added to that it would be hard to say no to extended family as a result. I’m sure you have to put your feelings aside and put up with demands and visits from those you might not have contact with because it’s important to your parent. I hope you can find a happy medium and please make sure to take enough “me time” for you to decompress and keep your stamina up.

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  5. Thanks for this very real post about the complex lives we endure with difficult family members. I too have made the decision to leave all the drama behind . I felt it was unfair to my children not to have their cousins and aunt in their lives but I believe they felt as your sons did!

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    • You would think that since we were born to the same parents and raised with the same values in our childhood homes that we would have learned to get along but unfortunately that isn’t true. Maybe it’s living so close to each other for so long that causes the stresses later. I’m sorry you too had to come to the final choice to walk away, severing ties just to keep your sanity. Whether or not your children ever discussed with you how they felt just know you taught them a very important lesson….not to accept being treated disrespectfully. You did a wonderful thing for yourself and your children.

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  6. it is not so easy, to say no to “relatives” and still stay on somewhat good terms..

    Yes, I do it, have for a long time. However, talk about serious bombardment of questions/demands/insults etc if I say no. Now we ARE talking about folks who have been told/made aware of some of my/our limitations, yet, I swear to God that this just makes it a challenge for them to “push”. For example Lois, you have some physical limitations, you use a motorised chair….I swear to God if you had my relatives, they would phone you up from time to time with requests such as “could you try out this high jump for us?”…now, maybe that is an exaggeration, and maybe it is not…sigh.

    I have settled with my relatives, of trying to find out ahead of time what it is they are likely to ask, and getting my mind set on what I will say. This is not always possible, but really does not matter so much, as I say pretty much similar stuff anyways.

    something along lines of
    “No, we / I won’t be able to”
    “No,we/I have commitments”
    “I will give it some though, but it is not likely I / we will be able to”.
    It is all usually followed by DEMANDS that I explain in detail WHY NOT…(now if they gave the slightest thought to this, they would likely realise why not). I no longer feel I owe due to politeness , any explanation etc. I used to try to “make nice” and try hard to “explain again”. Honest to God, I swear each time they act as if this is the first time they have ever been told no.

    I have been on the receiving end of dozens of phone calls / getting screamed at over some requests. and more.

    I do not sit for any of this, anymore (actually I never sat for the screaming at).

    At the first time I was screamed at, I still recall my shock, my furious thought process of “did I miss something?”/”did I say something?” ” etc”, and concluded NO.

    at first sign of screaming (it is only one who has done this over the yrs), I say _______ “If you don’t stop, I will be hanging up. ” then hang up. This has happened three or four times over thirty yrs, and oddly enough, my comment has never stopped the screaming… I have always hung up. — After the last time, I pretty much screen my phone calls, and if that number shows up, I first go over in my mind if I am in the mood to/up to “coping” with any conversation with this person. Often I do not answer it.

    I am truly totally at a loss why this person in particular (and some others as well), somehow feel they are totally entitled to demand things/actions/etc.. The two (of my relatives) who are/were the worst, have gotten the most from family, and have always made it CLEAR “they were entitled”..

    okay, that was my rant for the day…

    but the good thing about it all is..

    I have gotten pretty good at no…
    and no longer feel I need to be polite and “explain”

    sort of a Nancy Regan…”just say no”…

    the only thing the perplexes me, now (grin , should I be so lucky)
    is
    if I win a big lottery, should I share any with these ones?

    mmmm

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    • I don’t get that sense of entitlement either. What could cause someone to think so highly of themselves and so little of others? I don’t blame you in the least for not answering your phone when you know it could be another demand of your time, I think you are quite smart in fact.

      When I gave up my car to go car-free I only considered how often I used the car and if it was worth the cost. But it’s been more freeing than I could have imagined because I no longer had people calling asking me to take them places. Looking back I used the car to drive friends and relatives around more than I used the car for my own needs yet I was footing the bill both in repairs and gas while also giving up my time. On the other hand, I also learned real quick who my real friends were once the car was gone. A few I thought were close friends and I’d given rides to stopped calling and talking to me all together when the car, and their free rides, were gone. It was only three people but it was still three people I’d sacrificed my time to help.

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      • thank you for understanding… It is not everyone I could relate all this too..sigh.

        very interesting your car ride experience…Pretty scummy of them to stop calling when you were no longer able to help.

        did they ever offer you anything, even something small to thank you for your time/expense/trouble? I am betting not..

        sigh

        on a slightly funny note re this all

        it is a good thing I keep a usually well stocked “pantry” etc.
        one of those , the one who screams,
        had never in thirty or forty yrs, actually showed up for a meal when they said they would
        what would happen, they would phone before the appointed time “something pressing had come up. well maybe it had, but it all sounded like malarkey to me, but I never once questioned it/called them on it. It was always said as some type of family obligation, and who knows maybe it was
        well after two or three times, I just never expected them to show for any kind of meal , seriously

        there were one or two times they would phone and ask if they could come for a meal, once or twice I did invite them and each of these it seemed confirmed, so I made a meal etc, and then the phone call

        well one time they phoned they were in time could they stop for coffee, I invited them for a meal, and they accepted,
        honestly I did not expect them to show for the meal and did not make anything

        I ‘ll be darned, they did
        cant recall what not, but I did scramble around and put food on the table, cant recall now, wht, but I fed them.

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        • There were a few times I asked for gas money and received it but no, they never offered anything upfront. It was more of an assumption that as a friend I would help them out.

          Your story of having food on hand is something everyone used to do. I grew up in a time when everyone had enough to share for unexpected guests. It’s a shame the way things are today, isn’t it?

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          • all too often a shame, as I see more and more folks think it is ridiculous to have more than supper on hand..

            I do it because
            it is good to have “just in case|
            it is good hedge against skyrocket food prices (I do not “need” to buy much that is not on sale/managers super special, etc)
            I do it because there were many times when I did not have enough, and having “plenty” is very reassuring.

            what shocks me, is the number of folks who think it is ridiculous to have more than supper or maybe a day or two on hand..A LOT of folks feel anything more is stupid. After all, just go to the store.

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          • I too keep a lot of food on hand for many of the same reasons. I don’t have to worry about getting groceries or fighting crowds at the store before a big storm either. I also am attempting to put up enough food in the summer months that I don’t need to rely on the grocery store during the winter months at all. I believe much of the problem today goes back to the rejection of how one was raised. I see many thirty and forty year old people who say they hated that they didn’t go out to eat growing up and see going out to eat as their right. The problem there is they don’t do it as a treat, occasionally, and instead rely on take out and such as their main source of meals. I also see laziness playing into the equation. People don’t like to cook. But I also see how advertising and the changing business model have enabled people to escape from preparing meals every day. For example, no business delivered meals to the home until some time in the 80s, at least in my hometown. If we wanted pizza, for instance, our options were limited to purchasing one from the grocery store that we would heat up at home, making our own from scratch or going to a sit down restaurant. Today even sit down restaurants offer take out and some delivery.

            But why can’t they see how much this is costing them to eat out, or have dinner delivered, all the time? I think that this is because money and budgeting isn’t taught in the schools and because spending money is so easy with the use of credit and debit cards. We live in a society that has instant gratification and no one thinks about the cost of having every thing you want at the tip of your finger. Look at how easy it is to purchase things online, or streaming of movies instead of leaving your home to rent a movie.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe we live in a time when few people stop to think about the costs of our conveniences of modern life.

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  7. I did a whole blog post on saying “no.” I am a firm believer – and it took most of my life to get to the point that “no” was a positive word – positive for me!!

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    • I’m not sure if I read your post on saying no, could you send me the link? Saying no, while finding out not everyone appreciated my found backbone was very liberating for me. I may not have enjoyed the initial confrontations with a few but once they learned I was not going to just go along with their demands the demands stopped and for the first time I got to live a pretty stress-free life. Sure there will always be stresses in life but forcing myself to say yes when I wanted to say no was a stress I put on myself and am happy to have it gone.

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