This was a boundary I set for my own sanity

I stopped by my son’s pre-k cubby at the end of the day, and there it was: a paper invitation resting above a stack of my son’s artwork. “Joe is 4!” the invitation read in bright blue font. You’re invited to celebrate during your baby’s naptime. At the local germ factory. On the one day you and your husband have off work together each week.

When we got home, I covertly discarded the paper in the recycling.

It was not that I had anything against Joe or his parents. In fact, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to pick any of them out of a lineup. And I wasn’t against birthday parties, either. Once my son was older, once he began making friends on his own, once he could read those invitations himself, I vowed I would begin to RSVP yes. Until then, though, I wasn’t about to sacrifice our sacred weekend to meet strangers for stilted conversation over lukewarm pizza and dirty inflatables.

This was a boundary I set for my own sanity.

I had friends with different boundaries. Some of them prohibited Paw Patrol because they found those pups so incredibly annoying. Others weren’t going to waste their money at nice restaurants when there was such a high probability of a meltdown. Another never let her toddler eat the food off her plate, because that was her food, dammit, and parenting requires an incredible amount of energy.

Before becoming a mom, I often felt like saying no was mean. If someone asked me to do something at a time when the slot on my calendar said available, I felt like I had a moral obligation to say yes. I functionally believed that my time was for others to occupy rather than something I could control and have agency over myself. I had not yet realized that when I said yes to one thing, I was saying no to a host of others. I also had not realized how eager people are to steal (especially women’s) time, if you let them.

Fortunately, parenthood taught me the art of saying no. It comes with the territory. You will be decimated if you don’t figure out how to say that two-letter word. No, my kid has a fever. No, that’s a miserable activity with a toddler. No, I’m still bleeding from delivery. No, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in years.

And, eventually, I learned how to say the word without an added excuse. No. Full stop. You don’t need to know.

When someone says the same to me, I can appreciate their limits because I have learned how to set my own.

Even though I am boundaried, I do not want to be selfish. I emphatically believe there is a difference. Sometimes we do need to inconvenience ourselves for others, to open ourselves up a bit to discomfort. If birthday-party-Joe had no other friends and little family nearby, I would re-think my response to the invitation. If my son had a particularly close bond with him, I would also consider saying yes to nurture their growing friendship. Sometimes I do need to watch a kid’s television show that I vehemently dislike because my child’s passion for it is so strong. As I set my boundaries, I try to keep my values in line with them: I love my children. We all deserve rest. Sometimes my comfort is worth fighting for. And at times, I should risk discomfort for the good of others.

I wish there was an easy formula one could apply to execute these things. Until I figure it out, though, you can expect that I’ll be skipping out on our acquaintances’ weekend pre-k birthday parties. And when my best mom friend turns me down for lunch because it interrupts her baby’s nap time, I will be grateful that she feels comfortable enough to be honest with me, that our relationship allows her to prioritize her own values, too.

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