The expectations that come with Mother’s Day can easily sabotage our ability to truly enjoy it. I hope that my adult children will write me long letters telling me how happy they are with me and what an amazing job I did raising them. When they were young, I hoped that my husband would prompt the kids to let me know how special I was to them. In reality, sometimes he even forgot it was Mother’s Day. So when flowers didn’t come or beautifully handwritten notes or pictures made didn’t appear, I did what most mothers do: I felt like a failure.
Of course, your family’s lack of participation in special Mother’s Day events is in no way a reflection of how good of a mother you are. These expectations can take the joy out of what can be a wonderful day, whether you receive long handwritten letters or not.
This Mother’s Day, instead of focusing on what your family can do for you, focus on what you can do for you.
One of the best things you can do for yourself as a mom is to learn to set boundaries. We’ve all been through a tough few months, especially mothers. Boundaries might feel impossible when there are no boundaries between you and your family since you’re home all day together. But one of the simplest ways to set a boundary can still be done no matter where you are or who you are with. How do you do this? By saying that word most mothers hate: No.
Henry Cloud, author of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life, says very simply that people who understand boundaries know what they are and are not responsible for. If they’re responsible for it, they say yes. If they’re not, they say no. Not only is this word one of the best things you can teach yourself to say, but it will actually make you a better mother. One who is able to care for your family because you can care for yourself.
1. Let Your No Be No
Right after Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he addressed his listeners about the way they spoke. Jesus said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37). Make up your mind, stick to your beliefs, be clear, and don’t make excuses. No waffling, no second-guessing at everything, just do what is good and right.
If you can’t handle another Zoom call, just say no, not maybe. If your child wants to play yet another video game but you know he’s reached his limit, don’t say maybe later, just tell him no. This will teach your child that yeses and no’s are black and white, and he will come to respect your honesty and value that honesty for himself.
2. Let Your Friend’s No Be No
How many times have you insisted on bringing a side dish to a friend’s dinner party even when she said she had it covered? All this does is stress both you and her out. I realize this example isn’t as applicable this Mother’s Day since dinner parties aren’t realistic at the moment, but it teaches a good principle: If your friend says no, trust it. Don’t force a yes. Maybe she really means it. Maybe she really doesn’t want you to bring cheese and crackers and you are annoying her with your persistence. Trusting others when they say no will help you trust yourself to say no more often too.
3. Just Say No to Yourself
We all have negative thoughts running through our heads at any given moment. Negative thoughts about our bodies, performance, personality, or capabilities as a mother. This is why it’s so important for us to say no to ourselves when we are in this negative pattern of thinking.
When a negative thought comes in your head, write it down. Stare at it. Hear the words—as ugly as they may be—and write them on paper. Then, reject them. Fight them. Give them a whack. And when they return, do the same. Consistently telling your negative thoughts no will make you like yourself more, and this affects everyone around you. Who wants to be around a mom who doesn’t even want to be around herself?
This message goes for mothers, mothers-to-be, and those who hoped to be mothers, but it hasn’t happened. We are all women with a heart to nurture and care for others. This is why I celebrate each of you today. I hope you’ll celebrate yourself by reflecting on what you really need, what boundaries you need to set, and tapping into that magical power of NO.