Ask Allison: 'I find it hard to say no to the other mums … and I'm starting to feel like a bit of a fool'
Q I find it hard to say no and I have got myself into a situation with a group of four other mums where I seem to do a lot more playdates and picking up of kids than any of the others. I work part-time, as does one of the other mums. One works full-time and two work in the home. I volunteered to do this originally but I thought it would work out over time. I am not from the area so these women are the only friend group I have. Whenever I ask them to take my son they have an excuse – valid ones, granted, but I am starting to feel like a bit of a fool. How can I resolve this and also learn to say no in the future?
Allison replies: Many a mum has found herself in this tricky situation. So far, you are the only one frustrated by this – that you know of – and I imagine it’s working out quite well for the other mums. However, before we start pointing the finger, I’m going to remind you gently that you offered first. Being direct and having your needs met can sometimes be directly at odds with wanting to please people. Where are you in this equation? How do you value your time and energy? How do you value yourself? These are tough questions that I invite you to answer.
I like to look at the function and form of emotions. The function of frustration is to get you to a point where you say ‘I’ve had enough of this’. Only then can you take the next step. Let’s use your frustration and perhaps feelings of embarrassment of being taken for granted to change things for the better.
What would work for you? What would you be happy to do? You need to be specific.
To work this out, get a blank piece of paper and write out the week in front of you. Pick the shared tasks that you are happy to continue doing. Now we have a starting point. Be honest about this. Do not pretend to be OK with three playdates and four unreciprocated pick-ups if you are not.
Next, take a deep breath and pick up your phone. Start with an upbeat but direct statement: ‘Hey girls, how are you all? I’m working on my calendar as I’m struggling with the mum juggle at the minute and wanted to let you know what pick-ups and playdates I can do, and to see how, or if we can help each other out? I know everyone has different schedules, I can do Monday and Thursday and how about we each do a playdate each alternating Friday? We can chat this through and change things to make it work for all of us, thanks.’
Give the group a chance to step up. Resentment and ruminative arguments in your own head are not going to sort this out, nor is leaving the group with no explanation.
Outline what you can do, you have control over this. You do not have control over how they will respond but it’s a risk worth pursuing.
You said you find it hard to say ‘no’. The work you need to do now is to create healthy boundaries that work for you. How do you find asking for help? It can be easier to give help, but asking for it can feel uncomfortable.
A really interesting research finding is that one way of solidifying a friendship is by asking a person for a favour. Surprising and yet very helpful in your current dilemma.
What emotion is playing on repeat in your background thoughts? I hear fear. What is bringing this up? Is it the possibility of being rejected if you ask for what you want? How do you find friendship? Do you find making and keeping friends hard? Have you ever experienced bullying or being left out? If you have experienced this before, it’s like getting a brain highlighter that alerts you to any potential social threats such as being excluded, rejected or abandoned.
What can result from bad past social experiences is ‘high rejection sensitivity’. The danger is that you ignore your own needs as a people-pleaser. The main issue with this is you will feel resentful and this will block any real friendship if you don’t honestly express how you feel.
You can do this. I’m going to forewarn you though, this will be uncomfortable. Take it as a sign that this courageous step is aligning you to being your authentic self which often will help you connect more with the group.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at [email protected]
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