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.