Saying, “No,” is hard. I get it.
Saying no to an aging or ill parent as an adult caretaker is even harder. It can be downright heartbreaking!
No one wants to say no, but sometimes it has to be done. During a season of caring, we sometimes must do what’s best for our loved ones, even when that choice is difficult or unpleasant.
If you have trouble saying no, you’re not alone. Many women struggle greatly with this – it’s largely due to society’s vague standards of what a “good daughter” should do. But those standards don’t have to become the standards your family, or you, believe in. Sometimes all it takes is a simple shift in perspective, and giving yourself permission to do what’s best, to learn to say no.
Read any magazine article or book about parenting and the author will advise the necessity of setting limits for children. “Set limits and stick to them,” parents are counseled. Limits create the structure and discipline that every child needs for healthy upbringing.
But for adults—especially those who tend to view other people’s needs and wants as more important than their own—setting limits is more than an exercise in discipline; it’s a vital component in good self-care.
Consider Georgia. Her calendar is filled with one family event after another. A niece’s graduation followed by a great-uncle’s 75th birthday party followed by a tea her mother planned for an old family friend. Much as she loves her family, enough is enough. After a day at work and meeting her immediate family’s needs, she has hardly any time left for herself.
Or Burke whose boss scarcely gives him time to complete one project before he lays on another. Then another. Work is so backlogged Burke stays at the office every night till past nine and goes in on weekends as well.
Stephanie’s mom repeatedly calls last minute asking her to take her to hairdressers appointments, meetings for the knitting club, and even to meet a friend for lunch.
By not setting limits, Georgia, Burke and Stephanie are letting the needs and wants of others to come before their own well-being.
Sometimes it’s difficult to learn to care for ourselves as much as we care for others. Especially if we feel uncomfortable or guilty saying “no.” We may fear losing someone or something if we set limits on how much time we can give or work we can handle or if we claim space for ourselves. But always giving in to the requests or demands of others is plowing a field where resentments take seed. And failing to assert our needs and wants or to stand up for ourselves is disregarding our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Far from being selfish and mean, setting limits is a healthy act of self-respect.
Taking a firm stand might be difficult at first. But by being calm, clear and direct—and without intentionally stepping on anybody’s toes—you can learn how to set limits and create the kind of balance in your life that honors your own needs and wants.
For Georgia, it meant coming up with compromises—she’d attend the great-uncle’s birthday party but drew the line at the niece’s graduation and her mother’s tea. Burke had to explain to his boss that it was impossible to do the kind of job the boss expected if he wasn’t allowed ample time to complete a project. Stephanie offered set up a calendar on her mom’s phone so she could add evens that she would need a ride to as soon as they came up.
In each of these scenarios, far from losing something or someone they valued, by setting limits Georgia, Burke and Stephanie got what they wanted or needed, took good care of themselves and in the process gained a healthy amount of self-respect.
Rayna Neises understands the joys and challenges that come from a season of caring. She helped care for both of her parents during their separate battles with Alzheimer’s over a thirty-year span. She is able to look back on those days now with no regrets – and she wishes the same for every woman caring for aging parents.
To help others through this challenging season of life, Rayna has written No Regrets: Hope for Your Caregiving Season, a book filled with her own heart-warming stories and practical suggestions for journeying through a caregiving season. Rayna is an ICF Associate Certified Coach with certifications in both Life and Leadership Coaching from the Professional Christian Coaching Institute.
Read other articles by Rayna
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