I was thirteen when, to my surprise, I was welcomed by a new family member. My dad’s girlfriend’s stomach got bigger, and the relationship between me and him became more distant. It was all about her and the baby. My parents had already been divorced for quite some time. I was seven when my parents got divorced, but it still hurt that they moved on and I hadn’t yet. I was holding on to hope that they would get back together one day.
I didn’t like that everything was changing around me. I wished things would go back to the way they used to be. Soon I felt invisible and that my existence at my dad’s house was invalid. I was a good kid—a great kid, actually—because I never used the word no. Not even once. It would always bubble up inside me, but it would never come out. I never let my voice be heard, or lived a life of my own, or stood my ground. I dwelled in and soon succumbed to my own insecurities.
When my baby brother was born, things got harder—a lot harder. My dad’s girlfriend soon became my stepmom. That confirmed things were officially over between my parents. I was still a teenager, but I wanted to live in my youth a little longer. They made me grow up too fast for my liking. Eventually my dad and stepmom grew accustomed to having me babysit. They relied on me to watch him.
Never asking, they just told me what I was going to do. What if I had plans like going to the movies or staying over at a friend’s house? What made it worse was that my stepmom was a flight attendant, so she would be gone a few days each week. Sometimes I felt like I was the one who had this baby. My dad worked the night shift, and I would be up with my brother until he got home in the morning. Then I had school. I felt like everything started to fall on me, like I was drowning. My life became very limited.
I knew something had to change or else I was going to fall victim to a life full of resentment. I talked to my mom about my dilemma. She told me that I was allowed to say “no.” I didn’t have to please everyone. It was okay to let people get upset and live my life because I’m the only one who can. She told me to just say no and don’t worry about the outcome. I would sit in my room and practice. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked in my mirror. “No,” I said calmly. “I can’t.” I stated. “Sorry, but no.” I said. I took another breath and said it one last time in the mirror, “Sorry, Dad, but no. I can’t.” I smiled. That was how I needed to say it. I didn’t yell; I stayed calm, cool, and collected.
I was so used to saying yes that I didn’t even think about having the option to say no. It nourished my body like a drug, like an overdose of neglecting my own happiness for others. I would always be there to help, but enough was enough—I wanted to live for me for once. My mom gave me numerous ideas on how to say it. “What’s the worst that can happen? He’s gonna get mad?” She laughed. I laughed too, but inside I was terrified of upsetting my father. He had a temper, and I didn’t want him to direct it toward me. So, I thought about it. I practiced more in my room at my mom’s house. The next time I was presented with the opportunity, I was going to say it because I wasn’t scared anymore.
When I went back to my dad’s house, I was sitting in the living room watching TV. Then here he goes, “Ash, I need you to watch your brother because your stepmother is going on a trip.”
“When will you be back?” I asked her.
“Oh, I’ll be back on Monday,” she replied.
I took a deep breath and said, “Sorry, I can’t. I have plans with my mom this weekend.”
“Okay,” my dad said and shifted in his seat. I watched their demeanors change. They weren’t thrilled, but I finally felt like this weight had been lifted off my chest. It was exhilarating, it was exhausting, but most of all it felt good! After that it became easier to keep saying “NO!” more often. I didn’t use too much of my power, only when I needed a break. I was still there for my family, but I couldn’t be there for them all the time.
It’s never easy growing up, but all you can do is learn from your unhappiness. The art of saying “no” is hard, but you can find a way to say it.
Ashley Harrison says
What a lesson for us all. Saying no is the ultimate self care and setting boundaries.
Thank you, I need to learn to say “no” more often and be ok with it.
This is definitely my year of no and what it does help me say yes to the things that are important to me.
rita Henderson says
I am proud of you. I completed understand because I had to always watch my sibling and I did not say no because I did not think I could say no because that would be disrespectful to talk back. I feel that watching them I had to grow up fast. I am having issue with this today being a caretaker. I am in therapy work on these issues. I did tell my mother as an adult It was not fair to care for my sibling. She still today as me to take my sister out when I go visit and I don’t want to because I had to do it as a child and now, I don’t have to because I am adult, and I understand sister have a disability.
Good for u! You used your voice! God bless you!
Love this story. Trying to teach my granddaughter the art of saying no and not feeling bad when she does. Will be sharing this story with her.
Learning to give a firm “No” is an important skill to have.
Evalyne L Bryant Ward says
I totally understand that. I love my mother but she controlled me all of my life. Finally at 26 I said “no” to her for the first time. She didn’t speak to me for about a month but I stood firm. It got better.
Barbara J. Sorey-Love says
I really appreciate this post! I am a 71 years YOUNG caregiver to my 84 years OLD husband. Being a caregiver to him can be challenging however, I too learned to say NO to his often demanding requests without fear of his outbursts. It doesn’t matter to him that he has a physical therapist, occupational therapist, home health care assistant who cater to many of his needs but when they aren’t around he expects me to do for him the things they have trained him to do to improve his daily living. He does them well when they are present.
Due to his illness he doesn’t drive so this weekend there were events that he wanted to participate in so I made sure that I’d have enough energy to make sure he participated in ALL of them.
First on Friday I drove him to his Dr. Appt After the Dr. Appt. which is in the same city as our church. we attended our church’s Fish Fry. Traveling to and from our church and his dr. appt is 36-40 miles roundtrip. I made sure he participated/ attended the Fish Fry because he loves to talk to and meet people. After being there for 4 hours, we left and I dropped him off to his barber for a shave. I left him there and went and went back to pick him up.
Saturday I drove him to participate in a 2 hour Men’s conference at another church in the same town as our church. I made sure he was on time. I went to the mall in the same city while he attended his event and bought him a nice shirt and pair of slacks to wear for Resurrection Sunday.
Sunday we attended church (36 miles round trip) and afterwards went to dinner at a restaurant in the city where we live.
Afterwards I took him home then drove to another city to see my sister who is in a rehab center 38 miles round trip. So after all of the activity which included driving, I was exhausted!
Part of his occupational therapy includes learning how to put on ‘depends’ properly without my assistance. He does this very well however when I returned home he asked me to assist him with this activity. I said ‘NO’. He became beligerant and went into one of his temper tantrums! I looked at him, called him a ‘devil’ and left him holding his ‘depends’, which he threw across the room.
Anyway I stood my ground, had a good nights rest and here it is Monday. Thank you for posting ‘the art of saying No’. At any age saying No is POWERFUL for the caregiver at any age!
N McG says
Thank you for your say. I finally learned how to say no when I during my internship year. And it was to my discovery the importance of setting boundaries and having healthy boundaries. As well as being assertive. Today, I have no problem saying no or that I feel uncomfortable with a situation. It is essential to take care of yourself.