You Wanna Piece Of Me?: 7 Ways To Get Out of Saying Yes

Last week I attended a Girl Scouts meeting and it was all I could do to leave without taking on two troops (one for each of my girls), signing up for CPR lessons and camping 101, and then freaking out a couple of months from now and barricading myself in the bathroom behind a wall constructed entirely from boxes of Thin Mints.

About 16 of us gathered at a table and a veteran troop leader approached us, gave us the scoop, and cheerfully and matter-of-factly said, “OK ya’ll have enough interest to form your own troop. Two of you need to decide who will be co-leaders before you leave tonight!” and walked off. We all looked at each other and I sat on my hands, I must confess, to keep myself from volunteering. I’m already coordinating a silent auction basket for Miss A’s kindergarten class and that’s about all I can handle right now.

Today I’m featuring a guest post about Why N-O is your best back to school supply from author Lisa Quinn, whose book “Life’s Too Short To Fold Fitted Sheets: Your Ultimate Guide To Domestic Liberation,” is an honest look at cutting through the Martha Stewart BS, learning to say no, and lightening up.

Author Lisa Quinn

Just when you think life will start getting easier now that the kids are occupied for six hours a day, you start to experience the hectic mornings; the homework; the carpools; the bake sales; the PTA obligations; and the embarrassment of begging your co-workers to buy chocolate bars they do not want (no matter how much they like you or your kids.)

Guess what, Mom friends: We’re allowed to say no occasionally and still be a good mom.

Case in point:  I work out of my home, which causes a lot of people to assume I don’t really work. I find myself inundated with requests for afterschool babysitting (“just on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays!”), teacher’s helper duties, and free design services.

For years, I found it difficult to respond with a simple no. I would delay an answer, or squirm while giving a weak one. It can feel awkward, selfish, or even aggressive to deny people help–especially in regard to children’s needs.

One evening, while I was hanging a complicated shelving system in the faculty lounge, it dawned on me that I could be a better mom by actually being WITH my kids instead of performing endless tasks ON THEIR BEHALF. I started saying no—a lot. And let me tell you: it became intoxicating after a while.

It’s all about getting your priorities straight and learning how to effectively help those around you without losing yourself in the process. Think about what you are modeling to your children when you are always complicit. You’re saying that other people’s needs are more important than your own; that you have to slave away to prove yourself; that Mom is too busy to play.

Tips For Saying No

How To Get Out Of Saying Yes

  • Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you before you immediately scream out, “OF COURSE I WILL!!” Take a moment to think it through. Breathe before you answer. You may be signing up for more than you bargained for.
  • Realize your limitations. Set up a date calendar and make sure to schedule unstructured, free time for yourself. Don’t over-schedule into your free time.
  • Remember that you have a right to say no. You’ll get taken for granted and even lose respect if you’re always complicit.
  • Keep your answer short. Lengthy justifications just make it seem like you’re lying. A drawn out response might also give you time to start feeling guilty and say “yes”—especially if you are lying.
  • Be kind, but firm when you say no. Wishy-washy responses build false hope. If you’re not going to make it to the fundraiser, say so. People may be depending on you.
  • Provide an alternative if you can. Maybe postpone for a week, or refer them to someone who can really help.
  • Never offer up a service you don’t want to provide in the first place. I used to do this all the time. I would offer before the person would even ask. This heinous act of self-sabotage usually happens right at the end of a phone call. You’re trying to say goodbye, when you suddenly blurt out, “Well, hey, listen, if you don’t find anyone to help, call me back.” NO! Don’t tell them that! They’ll just call you back!

For God’s sake, don’t succumb to your own pressure.

When someone becomes persistent, repeat your position, perhaps in a slightly different way. If they are still persistent, they are not listening. This is THEIR problem, not yours.

When in doubt, make “no” the default. Remember, it’s easier to turn a “no” into a “yes” than the other way around.

When You Have To Say Yes
Sometimes, for whatever reason, saying no is just not an option.

  • Avoid open-ended or ongoing commitments. Put a condition on your agreement. For instance, say, “I can help you with your project, but I’m going need everything from you by tomorrow at 3 p.m. or I won’t be able to help again until after the Christmas break. It’s so easy to get railroaded if you don’t define exactly what you are willing to do. You will save yourself a lot of drama if you state a beginning, and an end, to your obligation from the start.
  • And finally: Commit Fully To Your Yes. When you have said yes, commit fully, be cheerful about it, and go about the task with all the pleasure you can muster with no resentment.  No one likes a baby. If you have given a half-assed yes and now you’re acting out that way, you are being passive-aggressive and not only pissing off yourself but everyone around you.

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate link used in post.


  1. Sarah says:

    Great advice! I love the bit about the candy bars. I have always hated that corporations use school children to make money. I’ve already got my no practiced on that one. Mia can just take a check from us to school (they won’t have to share profits on that) and I’ll buy her the $10 sales prize myself! Now, I should think about my other N-Os… like maybe I should have said no to my MIL coming this week! 😉

  2. Jennifer says:

    We haven’t had this issue yet, but I’m sure it is coming. I put on all of the forms sent back to the school that I would like to help, but I’m a full time working Mom and my time is limited. I’m hoping that keeps the requests to a minimum.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Good isnt all its cracked up to be =-.

  3. Meagan Francis says:

    LOVE this advice! It’s so hard not to feel railroaded into taking on more than we are really able to (and much of the time we’re only railroading ourselves!) but you’re so right that we need to think about spending time with our kids, not just doing stuff “for” them. And our own time factors in there, too!

    I definitely agree with this: “Wishy-washy responses build false hope. If you

  4. MargieK says:

    Good advice. But as a mom of three who worked full time throughout their childhoods and still managed to be a scout leader, PTO officer, book fair chairperson, room mom, team mom, scorekeeper and team photographer (albeit not all at once), could I make one suggestion?

    DO try to say “Yes” to at least one thing. Things like scouts or sports teams or even school field trips cannot happen without parent participation, and that isn’t just the one (or two) parents who volunteer to be leaders, but ALL parents. If you can’t be a leader, perhaps you can come to one or two meetings to help with crafts, or do something behind-the-scenes that doesn’t involve going to meetings but can be done on your own time (like sending snacks). Do not be the parent who wants her daughter or son in scouts, or baseball, or what-have-you, but cannot help with ANYTHING (unless you have cancer or some other good excuse — and I don’t mean working full time because even SAHMs still work) — because all those things you’re saying “No” to (which have to be done or there will be no program) end up being done by the person who can’t find anyone else to help. 🙁 Scouts and sports teams are not an after-school babysitting program.

    Apart from enabling a program to exist, there are other benefits to becoming involved. You meet new friends. You get more insight into how the school (or program) operates, and know what’s going on, who to call to get information or to get things done. You gain confidence, and experience doing/seeing a lot of things you might not get in your regular job, something that might even be worth including on a resume. 🙂 And your child gets to see you demonstrating the importance of education, the value of volunteering, and to beam proudly that “my mom made these” or “my mom helped with that.”

    School fund raisers are a pain. But most of them are necessary to pick up the slack created by budget cuts. Sending a check in lieu of buying wrapping paper (or candy bars, etc.) is a great idea. So is getting other businesses to donate money or supplies. But fund raisers are not going away unless enough people get involved and come up with an alternative, effective way to pay for the items fund raisers do.

  5. Cathy Cress MSW says:

    Great post. As a grandmother who worked , I think we all know that you come to you can’t do it al as a woman and Mom. But you can chose the best projects for your kids and say yes and then as you say – really commit. With Mom’s now so technologically savvy- unlike how we were as young Mom’s ,you can do so much from home now. I think volunteering is a great choice for Mom’s but knowing when to say no is also a great choice for your family.

  6. Rachel R. says:

    I’m not a mom yet, but I often feel the pressure to say yes and cave in at work. Very good advice!

  7. Heather S says:

    That books looks like a great read. Saying no is hard sometimes since us Moms are big pleasers. We want to make everyone happy, but sometimes we’ve got to put ourselves and our sanity first. Maybe more than sometimes 🙂

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