Lessons from Motherhood: Saying “No”

I could probably write about a hundred posts about lessons I have learned since my son was born over 9 months ago, but one has stuck out in my mind lately: I’ve learned to say “No” without guilt. Well, without much guilt anyway.

Being a well-raised Southern girl, my first inclination whenever I get an invitation, or a request to do something, is to say yes. I get it from my mother. I am a people-pleaser and hate feeling like I have let anyone down. It drives me crazy. For my whole adult life, my inclination has been to always agree to as much as possible.

Generally, I think this is a good policy. I miss out on less and it helps maintain good relationships and expand my horizons. Usually when I push myself to do something, I’m glad in the end that I did it. But all of that changed when William was born, because guess what? It wasn’t just me anymore.


The first time I encountered a dilemma was after we had been home for a couple of weeks with our new baby. We were doing our best to keep him home, not taking him out much as most doctors recommend to keep them from getting sick. After a while, we started getting invites to grab a quick family dinner or meet someone for coffee. It wasn’t all just pressure – I was definitely starting to get stir-crazy. I brought William to dinner with my family when he was two weeks old and then tormented myself for days about whether or not that was the right choice. (I was dealing with a  lot of anxiety at the time, so I probably fretted over this more than I really should have.) At that point, I decided that I would go with my gut about what was right for my baby, and if that meant saying “no”, then so be it. Everyone was very understanding, and I felt validated in my decisions.

A few months later, after we were more comfortable taking William out, he entered a fussy period. To our endless frustration, it seemed that he had some kind of threshold and once he reached it, he was done. He would scream until we brought him home. I was upset because I wanted to be out and not just home with my baby all the time, and I also didn’t want to disappoint the people we were spending time with who wanted to see him. But William didn’t care – he just knew he was tired, or hungry, or wet, or whatever, and usually he wasn’t happy until he was back at home. So I had to learn how to say “No” again, as in, “No, my baby is not up for that right now. I’m sorry.” I also had to learn how to bail on a situation if he was unhappy. I remember being so frustrated about not being able to go anywhere, and my mom telling me, “Just keep trying, and once he gets upset, and you can’t calm him down, then leave. It will get better.” Learning to say, “No, we can’t stay any longer, we have to go right now,” actually allowed us to experience more, because we didn’t skip something altogether for fear of our baby screaming and ruining it. And yes, he did get better and he’s usually up for just about anything these days. However, we still have to make sure that he naps, and that he goes to bed on time. That sometimes requires going home early or moving things around, but that is what he needs to be happy and healthy.


I’ve learned to say “No” for my baby, but also for myself. Motherhood can be hard, and especially on those days when William has been difficult, or he was up several times the night before, I’m sometimes not up for much. I still try to be available for as much as I can, because I want to maintain my family relationships and friendships. But if I’m truly too tired for something, or just need a break, I try to give myself permission to say, “I can’t tonight, I need to rest.” It’s an ongoing process, as I’m sure it is for a lot of moms out there. But it’s an important lesson to learn.

Have you had to say “No” more often since having children? How has it changed your relationships? 



Emma is mommy to one-year-old William and wife to Bill. She was born and bred in Baton Rouge, attending Episcopal High School, the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and the LSU Law Center. Married since 2010, she is loving her new life as a mother. She is an attorney but has limited her practice for now so she can stay home with William full-time, and she feels so fortunate to be able to do that. She is learning as she goes, rejoicing in every milestone and happy moment as well as working her way through the challenges that come with parenting. When she gets a chance, she loves reading, writing, and watching movies. She and Bill are both lucky enough to have their families close by and love spending time with them. She looks forward to seeing her little boy grow and eventually expanding her family. Motherhood has been the most fulfilling role of her life.


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