I was supposed to bring dinner to Amanda, a new mother at the church. On the day the meal was to be delivered, Austin came down with a fever. I left him at home with his homeschooled sister while I attended a parent-teacher conference for our son Kolya. Then I dropped off a couple of boxes to be mailed, and stopped by the store to pick up a few things we needed. Once home, Erica needed some help with her schoolwork and Austin just wanted Mom to sit on the couch with him, rub his back, and watch a movie. When my husband, Mark, came home, I was quite proud that I actually had dinner in the oven, considering the craziness of the day.
When we sat down to eat, Mark’s words stopped me in my tracks, “Jill, this is a great meal. Is this what you took to Amanda’s family tonight too?”
I choked on the food I had just put in my mouth as I gasped in horror. In the midst of everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten to take the meal to the new mom! I was horrified as I pictured them sitting there waiting for me to bring their dinner, which should have been delivered well over an hour ago.
I rushed to the phone and dialed Amanda, apologizing all over the place and offering to order them a pizza that would be delivered to their home. This sweet young mom was so gracious and reassured me that they had so many leftovers from the other meals brought that they had already warmed up some food and eaten.
I felt like such a failure. How could I forget something I’d promised to do for someone else?
When I evaluated that incident over the next few days, I came to realize that it had nothing to do with that particular day, but it had everything to do with how much was on my plate in general. I had enough going on that week that I had no business saying yes to bring a meal.
I needed to set some boundaries, and then I needed to abide by them.
Following Jesus’ example
Jesus said no when His mother and brothers tried to use their relationship to pull Him away from the people He was ministering to (Matthew 12:46-50). Jesus said no to Peter and the disciples who thought Jesus should be a political king or military warrior rather than a Savior who would go to the cross for us (Matthew 16:23). He said no to King Herod when he requested a miracle just for the purpose of entertainment (Luke 23:8-9).
Following His example, we know it’s perfectly okay for us to learn to say no as well. As a mother you can’t do everything people ask you to do. So here are several suggestions for setting boundaries that will help us follow Jesus’ example:
1. Keep in mind that you know what is best for you and your family. With many mothers working outside the home, there are fewer school, church, and community volunteers available during the day. Therefore, you are likely to be asked more often, simply because you are perceived to be more available. Remember, even with church activities, that our families are our first ministries.
2. Never say yes on the spot. Always tell them you will call them back after you’ve had time to pray and think about it. This keeps you from making an on-the-spot decision you may regret later. You can say no immediately if you know that the position or responsibility is wrong for you.
3. When considering a time commitment, make sure you take into account preparation time. Most of us underestimate the time it really takes to do a job. If you have been asked to bake five dozen cookies, look at the calendar and determine whether you truly have that much free time available before the cookies need to be delivered. If it looks too busy, say you’re sorry, but you can’t do it.
4. Carefully consider the “brain space” this responsibility will require. Have you ever been listening to your children, but really thinking about a new project or the hundreds of things you need to do? When your mind is cluttered, you are not mentally available to your family.
5. Remember every minute of your day does not have to be scheduled! If you have a doer mentality, you will think of a spare hour or two as a way to fit in one more yes. Yet we need some time to do nothing. If you need to, schedule in downtime each day. Write it on your calendar and say no to anything that would fill that time.
6. Ask for accountability. Ask your husband, a close friend, or your Bible study group to hold you accountable for the number of commitments you will carry. Be open to their insight. If you have trouble saying no, ask them to help you during the first few months while you get things back in balance. When you tell someone you will call him or her back, check with your accountability partner first before answering. Sort through your schedule with her. Eventually you won’t need the partner’s help, but it can help you while you are learning to say no.
7. When you do say no, don’t feel that you need to give a long list of excuses. You know what is best for your family and for yourself. If you feel you need to give an excuse, simply say that it would not fit into your schedule at this time.
8. Keep in mind that you do not have to say yes simply because you are capable. You may have strong leadership skills and will most likely be asked to lead most anything you will be involved in. That doesn’t mean you have to say yes to those responsibilities. You should say yes only after considering your time availability, other volunteer responsibilities, your family commitments, and what you might need to give up to properly do this job. Of course, above all, you should say yes only after praying and seeking God’s will.
9. Remember that saying no allows others the opportunity to say yes. Don’t take service opportunities away from others. Don’t forget to make time to have a friend over, take your kids to the park, write a letter, or go on a date with your husband. We don’t usually schedule these kinds of activities, but they are the first to go when we are overcommitted.
Remember that saying yes to some activities outside the home will be important to your sanity. Moms of young children need to get out of the house to socialize and think about something other than diapers, bottles, and coupons. Contrary to popular belief, your brain will not turn to mush—it will just feel like it at times. We need to carefully choose those activities we will be involved in so that our time will be used wisely. You will be amazed at the patience you will have with your family when you find balance in your activity schedule.
Adapted from Real Moms … Real Jesus ©2009 by Jill Savage. Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.