The Value of No

My fingernails are a jagged, broken mess, and my toenails haven't been painted in more than a month. I tell you this because it's a sign of a mom living a life without margin. It takes less than five minutes to do either one of those things. Yet, I haven't managed to scrape together 10 minutes to get them done. So, if you see me today, ignore my fingers and toes.

My kitchen floor is icky, too. I'm not sure when the last time was that it got mopped. It's on the list. It just hasn't made it to the top. I've got several things that have been on the list for a while. Some days I wonder if they'll ever make it to the top of the list.

Some of you came to this blog this morning looking for another post on our 39 Clues summer adventure. It is Wednesday, after all. Up until about five o'clock yesterday evening, I was planning for my day to go something like this: get up and write blog, get two kids and myself ready for Vacation Bible School, spend all morning teaching VBS, grab lunch, have 39 Clues, babysit my neighbors' kids, run my youngest to the doctor to get her latest ear infection taken care of, work for four hours while watching the Stanley Cup game -- all while doing laundry to get ready to go on vacation.

When I write it all down, it looks even crazier than it sounded last night. Yesterday afternoon, I was quickly turning into a puddle of stress as I looked at my very dirty house and thought about everything that I had to get done to pull off VBS, 39 Clues and finishing my freelance project.

Despite the fact that it's summer and schedules are supposed to slow down, June has been our crazy month. We had two car trips planned, VBS and my girls are headed to camps when we get back. And, my parents, whom I can always count on for providing me with some child-free hours, are gone most of the month on vacation. Throw in an unscheduled freelance project, a birthday party and just the general summer activity and June 14 found this household with one stressed-out mama.

My kids and husband will tell you that I wasn't very nice to be around last night. So much so that my husband took my girls and went to the pool. While I enjoyed the blessed peace and quiet, I couldn't relax. There was just too much to do. At one point, I was trying to figure out how many hours of sleep I could do without so I could get everything done. When I found myself trying to figure out how to squeeze in a doctor's appointment for my daughter (which should have been at the top of my list), I realized I was in trouble.

So, I did something that my husband will tell you I don't do often enough. I said "no." I called up the moms of my daughters' friends and told them we weren't going to have 39 Clues today. We'll push it off to next week. I said "no" not because I don't want to do it and not because it's not a worthwhile thing to do. I said "no" because it was something I shouldn't have scheduled on a week where we had VBS and were planning to leave on a trip in the first place.

Why is it so hard for so many of us to say "no"? We take on more than we can handle and then make everyone around us miserable trying to get it all done. Many of us live our lives pressed to the edge all the time. We give up sleep, meals and time with our families trying to be Super Mom. And where does it get us? Does it make us happier? More fulfilled? More Godly?

No. It makes us grumpy, tired and stressed. Wow. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." But you know what? Sometimes that time is not now.

We can't do everything and be everywhere, no matter how hard we try. The myth that to be a great mom, you have to be perfect in everything is just that -- a myth.

Saying "yes" to every opportunity that comes our way not only stresses us out, it sets a bad example for our kids. We try to teach our children to make wise choices -- to consider the impact of the decisions they make on themselves and those around them. Yet, we contradict that by saying "yes" to every request that comes our way. What we're actually teaching our kids is that it's never OK to say "no" and pleasing others is the most important thing -- more important than family, health or sanity.

If you're overloaded and stressed out, it's time to say "no" to some of the things on your plate. Create some margin in your life so you can go back to being someone your family enjoys hanging out with.

Today, I'm going to make sure my daughter gets seen by a doctor, VBS gets taught and my freelance work gets done. But, I'm also going to make some time to file my fingernails and paint my toenails. My kitchen floor might actually see the bottom side of the mop.

And tonight, because I said "no" to something last night, I'm going to have the chance to sit down -- without a computer in my lap -- and share watching the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with my girls. No distractions of work or chores. Just time spent with my hockey-mad daughter and her tolerant sister and dad. Because saying "no" lets me focus on the people who are important in my life. Try it today.