Saying Yes to Less


A woman giving a double thumbs up.I asked fellow working moms what their priority is in the New Year, and the resounding answer was around setting boundaries and saying “no” to opportunities in the spirit of self-care. Why do women have a hard time saying “no”?

Perhaps we’ve been socialized to believe that we are givers first and foremost; therefore, helping is our primary role. This resonates with me, especially as an educator whose profession is consistently asked to give more out of the goodness of our hearts for our students and communities.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps utilizing a Dialectical Behavior Therapy strategy would be helpful. 

The assertive communication strategy is called “FAST” and it stands for:

  • Fair: Be fair to yourself and others in your requests and responses.
  • Apologies (no apologies): Avoid unnecessary apologies; only apologize when appropriate.
  • Stick to values: Clearly express and stand by your values in communication.
  • Truthful: Be honest and truthful in your communication.

You could use a direct approach such as, “I appreciate the opportunity, but I have to prioritize my family commitments right now.” 

Another option is to convey gratitude while maintaining boundaries, “I’m grateful for the offer, but I need to focus on my current responsibilities at home and work.” 

If you are trying to juggle multiple family commitments, such as three children with active schedules, consider, “Unfortunately, my family schedule is quite full right now, and I won’t be able to commit to additional responsibilities.” 

You may have a contact who would be a great fit for the opportunity and have more flexibility to add this to their plate. In that case, “I won’t be able to take this on, but I can recommend someone who might be a great fit for the opportunity.” If you want to maintain open lines of communication regarding future opportunities that may be a better fit, “I appreciate the offer. If the opportunity arises again in the future, I’d love to be considered.” If you want to ensure the asker understands your sincere interest, “At this time, I need to decline, but let’s revisit this in [specify a timeframe] to see if my schedule allows for it.” 

Often, the request will be made multiple times either because the organization/person/group truly believes you are the best person for the role or because they think you’re saying no out of humility but really would like the opportunity.

Perhaps you feel guilty saying “no” or declining to volunteer for your child’s bake sale/sports team fundraiser, declining the classroom parent role. However, remaining firm is the best way to ensure your message is received clearly. “I have to decline this time. My family commitments are my top priority, and I want to ensure I can give my best in all aspects of my life.”

Saying yes to less allows you to do more of what you enjoy. How do you say yes to less?

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Born and raised in a suburb of Buffalo, NY, Vanessa moved to the Bronx, NY after college, where she met her husband and gradually migrated north together. Now they reside in Newtown, CT with their three children; two sons (2013 & 2019), a daughter (2016), two dogs - Gracie (2022 lab mix) and Penny (2022 pitbull mix), and three cats - Bella (a 14-year-old Persian cat), and Ozzy & Luna (2023 tabbies). By day she's a school administrator; by morning/night, she's a taxi for her kids' activities. In her "free time," she enjoys being in her pool or hiking with her family, listening to 80s/90s hip-hop, watching the Bills game, and sharing sarcastic mom memes with friends. You can follow @resiliencethrougheducation for more!


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