The Art of Saying No

little girls spa day
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10:58 am. The bells rings and it’s time for my 24 minute lunch break. Instead of rushing to be the first at the microwave, I enjoy a cold sandwich at my desk and look over the tasty menu for our school’s holiday party. The party would mean a chance to have dinner at the new restaurant and socialize with some of the faculty at the high school I don’t get to see that often. I know the admins have put a lot of effort in securing the location, planning games and door prizes and I want to support them, but my answer is “no”. And that’s okay.

A dinner with a few dozen people starting at 6:30pm would be a two- hour commitment and with five and seven year olds, missing bedtime starts a chain reaction of events that reach far into the next day. Sleepy kids don’t get ready on time or they challenge every choice made for them: the outfit, the hair-do, the snack. I’m a teacher and a single mom. Missing the bus is not an option. So I confidently say “no, thank you”. It took me a while to get to “no”.

A planner by nature, for many years I set out to prove it CAN be done. You can get from work to the gym to home for a quick bite and back out for the bible study or book signing. Then the kids came and it took two hours just to get ready to go somewhere, but if it was logistically possible, I set out to do it. And it DROVE. ME. CRAZY. In my mind, if it could feasibly happen, then it should. In reality, the kids were unhappy, I was stressed out and angry and my expectations for little children were unrealistic. It came time to say “no”.

Opportunity costs: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

Birthday invitations seem to come in threes, two for one kid and one for the other. Usually on the same day or weekend. As much I want my kids go, doing all three just isn’t possible. A weekend at parties comes with huge opportunity costs. The opportunity for kid fun and grown-up conversations costs the time needed to clean house, do laundry, meal prep and lesson plans for the next week.

I can’t pinpoint which weekend fell apart or when I connected the dots of opportunity costs, but I decided to try an experiment… a weekend of no, as in no commitments, no “have to’s” or trips. Instead I was able to say yes to pretending to be fairies and yes to making pancakes together and yes to rounds of Uno and in between episodes of fun the laundry got done and the bathroom was cleaned and we made lasagna for the upcoming week.

I’m not saying become a hermit, more like, time is more valuable than money. You can’t earn more of it and once it’s gone, it’s gone; spend it wisely and see your time as an investment. The returns on your investment may be surprising.

Think back to your own childhood. Where were your best memories made? Were they made in the car or at some other kid’s birthday party? Or are those precious memories made when you spent time with your loved ones? Some of my favorite memories were made in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother. I learned my aunt’s secret cookie recipe and could make it from memory by the time I was nine. I remember my grandmother teaching me to crochet, my mother playing with me and my dad taking me to work with him and letting me do some of the job. I took ballet and gymnastics and twirling. I was in church choirs and middle school chorus. But my fondest memories were of my parents and grandparents, giving me the gift of their time.

When ballet went bust

I admit, I did buy into to the modern parenting philosophy of giving your kids the best opportunities. We did pee-wee soccer, toddler ballet, kinder music and all of the things they said would shape our kids into prodigies of some sort. Then along the way, they stopped wanting it. Ballet night became an extended fight, filled with yelling and spilling over into bedtime and the next morning. Finally, I concluded it just wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t trying to live through my kids, I was just trying to give them the opportunity to be performers, if that’s what they wanted. Then one Wednesday we just didn’t go. And it was nice. And we had time to play in the bath tub and read bedtime stories. The next Wednesday we didn’t go either and it was nice too. I finally said no to ballet.  We just stopped. No explanations, no guilty feelings we just stopped because it was best for everyone and my kids were happier.

“The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children.” – American Institutes for Research.

Saying NO is not negative. Saying NO doesn’t make you a bad person. Saying NO is not a personal attack on someone. Saying NO simply clears the board and opens up time for what’s most important. In our house, that’s cooking together, plenty of time to play in the tub and lots and lots of bedtime stories.


Try these ideas for  fun times  and memory making with your children.

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About Eve Espy

Eve Espy is the mother of a two creative girls. They love to cook, craft, draw and write and perform their own plays together. She teaches high school audio/video production and has a small collection of goats, donkeys, dogs and a pony.

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