People like to talk about how small changes can make a big difference. Oftentimes, that’s just wishful thinking. But there is one small change – a small word, actually – that does have the power to make a big difference: the word “NO” (or “no, thank you” if you’re trying to be polite).
As a pediatrician, I often hear, “My kids are so overbooked, I can’t keep up” or “I wish I just had some time to myself.” Many families are feeling overwhelmed and overrun. In a Pew Research Study on balancing everything, over 56% of parents said they felt overstretched. And certainly, we know from experience that between sports, academics, music lessons, social events, and birthday parties, many kids really have no time to breathe.
In my own home, I’ve found myself falling into the trap of thinking that my kids can do it all – play soccer, AND play an instrument, AND be part of the drama club, AND, AND, AND…because, well, everyone else seems to be doing it all and they seem to be doing fine. But the fact is, they aren’t fine. In fact, most families are more stressed than ever before, and so are kids.
Recently, my son complained, “Why do we have to be so busy all the time? Can I just have a quiet day to do nothing, please?” I stopped in my tracks. And I thought, why can’t he have that? Why can’t he just have nothing to do, like many of us did in childhood? Why? Because I’m always saying YES. Yes to the sports teams, yes to the clubs, yes to the birthday parties, yes to my social invitations, and yes to the recitals. Yesses everywhere.
But the irony was, by saying yes, I was saying NO to what he and I really wanted: Some downtime to hang out and relax. To spend time together. To re-energize and replenish. And our bodies and minds need it. Studies have shown that taking that “free time” helps mood and focus, and creativity, too.
I took my son’s request for downtime seriously. The next time we were overcommitted on a weekend – a school dance, a Bat Mitzvah, and a birthday party – I sat down and talked to my son about the choice to say “no.” I asked him what he wanted – did he want to make the effort to see his friends at all these events, or did he want a quiet day at home? To my surprise, his choice was almost instant.
That Saturday, we enjoyed a slow and lazy day – talking, taking a nap , watching a movie, and taking the dog for a long walk on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
I’ve realized that I need to start making “NO” my go to. I’m going to exercise the power of NO so that I can open the door to many yesses – yes to downtime, yes to “me” time and yes to unplanned, lazy, happy days with my kids. Whether you’re a parent or not, I recommend you consider doing the same – I think you’ll be glad you did.