A previous version of this piece was published in The Fresno Bee on March 8, 2019.
Funny how September swoops in and shocks the hell out of us all every single year. Well, me anyway.
I look at my calendar this month (and for the next few months) and suddenly want to crawl in bed and hide until February. My daughter’s birthday… the start of Sunday School (I’m a teacher)… family weddings and trips to my hometown… the long-anticipated (and severely-delayed) move of my husband’s practice… starting the process of renovating our home… some health things I need to take care of (nothing serious). And don’t forget the dishes and laundry. And groceries. And kids’ wellness and organization. And kids’ school & activities. And my own in-constant-pursuit-of-work-hustle & responsibilities.
All fun things I’m excited to enjoy … just a lot crammed into one month. (This seems to happen every September AND every March — is it because these are the times of my daughters’ birthdays?!)
It’s all manageable, but I blame myself. My valuable go-to trick? To take great care in using one word as often as I can during times like these: NO.
A few years ago, I learned the power of no — while undoubtedly irritating one mom who was kindly trying to get me more involved at our kids’ school. “Like I said before, I just can’t right now. That’s my final answer.” (That was my email response, verbatim.) I was a bit shocked as I typed the words and hit send back then. I felt rude …. yet, it was the only response fitting to address a multiple-email exchange and increased pressure from her days prior.
“We really want to get you involved…” one of her emails read (after I politely declined the first time). “I understand, but right now I’m writing a book, have just started a new job and am on the committee for my other daughter’s school fundraiser. I can’t do this right now … check with me next year.” It took me THREE strongly-worded responses to make clear that I was obligated to sit that year out, because, if I didn’t, my life would swiftly spiral into a spinning struggle involving my kids, my husband and myself. I didn’t have physical time, patience or energy for any of it… so I refused to cave.
Was she annoyed by my unwillingness to give in? Probably. Was it worth it for me to stand strong with my ‘no’ every time she came back to me? YES. I chose to do what was good for me, which coincidentally is the same thing as what’s good for my family.
Serious, unwavering commitment to ignore the oh-so-powerful Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is something only we can do for ourselves as we start what feels like an out-of-control activity-slide into spring and summer.
How to fend off being unintentionally overscheduled? Start with:
1. Birthday parties: Unless the party-thrower is someone that my girls play with consistently at school or church, we kindly decline the invitation. It has nothing to do with not liking the friend who invited us, but we simply cannot attend every single birthday party for every single person. Are my kids lacking a social life? No.
2. After-school activities: Ever notice the research about how it is developmentally healthy for young kids to be bored sometimes? (It’s out there, look it up.) No parent should be forfeiting normal family life for the sake of having little Judy in an after-school activity every single day (unless you’re using it for childcare as a working mom, that is … now that’s a different story). My 7-year-old has one dance class as of now — and I don’t know if I’ll enroll her in anything else just yet. My 9-year-old has one piano lesson and two dance classes per week. The rest of the time, they play, write and draw at our kitchen table … and learn to get along with each other. I do not feel like I’m drowning in kids’ activities… and neither do they.
3. Mom life: Learn your limits and abide by them — no matter what kind of “oh, it’s only a little thing to help with” thoughts pop into your head. Be vigilant about protecting your time… guilt-free. If we feel on top of our responsibilities and content, it’s absorbed by our children. If a parent feels overwhelmed by too much happening, so do our kids. Start slowly at the beginning of the school, ease into it. We can always add that activity later (yeah, I know things book up — pick the priorities and who cares about the rest).
The only person we can control for what we sign up for, volunteer with, get our kids to-and-from or help our spouses and community… is us. Because if we’re feeling out of control, we have no one to blame but ourselves.