When you say “no” to a request I’ve made, I may be sad – or even mad – but that doesn’t make you bad.
Understanding healthy boundaries has given me clarity in many ways, but perhaps no other idea has had more impact than this motto. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend teach it in their eight-week video series on the topic.
It’s one thing to become stronger by saying “no” to a friend’s request; it’s another to graciously accept their “no”.
Over the years I have been blessed with numerous opportunities to connect with younger women, particularly those in the early years of parenting. If I had to identify one question they ask most often, it’s “how do we tell our parents that we want to have Christmas on our own this year?”
It seems like a simple answer could suffice. “How about telling them like you just told me?”
Invariably their reaction tells the story. “Are you kidding me? If we say we aren’t coming it will be World War III!” or “Clearly you don’t know my mother-in-law. It isn’t enough that we have Christmas with them, it has to be on the day and at the time of her choosing.” You get the idea.
It seems that some moms have difficulty receiving a daughter’s “no”.
The Boundaries authors say that if I protest against someone else saying “no”, I am really judging their ability to decide for themselves. Put another way, I think that I know what is best for them. But I don’t.
And, when I make the “no say-er” the bad guy, I am often doing so to avoid addressing and owning my disappointment, sadness, or fears. In fact, I find it quite helpful to remember that someone else’s reaction to my “no” is a reflection of their character, and perhaps an indicator of boundary issues in their lives.
Not having my children home for special occasions can be upsetting. However, if they come because they fear my anger or don’t want to disappoint or want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, they aren’t really fully present. Put another way, they have come out of guilt or obligation, not freedom and love. Ick.
I can’t always have what I want in life. Will I be mature enough to own my feelings, grieve those losses and free everyone I love to choose and live with the consequences of their choices? I sure hope so.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst