I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled to say ‘no’ to people.
I’m the middle child in the family and spent most of my childhood running around after my two sisters trying to keep them both happy.
They constantly fought and as the main peacekeeper in the family I felt like it was my job to make sure everyone was getting along.
I was always running after them to relay messages, doing their chores so they wouldn’t get into trouble with mum and dad, and keeping secrets for them when they snuck out of the house to go see their friends.
It wasn’t something that bothered me in particular; as someone who avoids conflict at almost any cost, I was happy to do what I could to keep everyone satisfied.
When I married my husband and had my two children, things carried on like usual.
I was running my household, going to work, cooking dinner for my family, and doing most of the housework. But most women were doing this – it wasn’t something I felt I was alone in.
Where I ran into trouble was when I took on everyone else’s problems, too.
As my parents got older, I found myself doing most of the organising and caring when it came to their health. I drove them to appointments, helped them with housework, and eventually arranged their move into an aged care facility – something that took months of planning and careful budgeting.
There were friends who needed babysitters, colleagues who wanted help with their workloads, and teachers who needed volunteers for school events.
I seemed to have developed a complete inability to say ‘no’ to anyone, no matter how much I already had on my plate.
When I retired two years ago, I was looking forward to having time for myself for the first time in my life. Taking my job out of the equation meant I was going to have free time to myself for the first time in years – or so I thought.
I quickly found myself filling up my spare time with tasks for other people. Two of my closest friends have stopped driving in the past few years so I found myself driving them to appointments or dropping them off at shopping centres.
I told my son I would help him and his wife pack a few boxes when they moved house; soon enough I was scrubbing their bathroom floor and hauling heavy furniture across the lawn and into the removal van.
What was supposed to be a few hours worth of help turned into two days of hard work. But they asked, and me being me, I found it impossible to say no.
My husband’s work needed someone to help make a few salads for the annual company picnic so I said I’d be happy to help. Soon enough though, I was driving across town to pic up balloons and plastic chairs and was volunteering to bake cakes and muffins for 100 people.
Sometimes I don’t even know how I get myself into these situations, but I’m sure I’m not alone.
I’ve been trying to work on saying ‘no’ to people lately, but without hurting anyone’s feelings. After years of always saying ‘yes’, people have come to expect me to be there for them whenever they ask.
I recently told my friend I wouldn’t be able to commit to driving her to her regular doctors appointments every week and I could see the surprise in her face when I said ‘no’.
As strange as it might sound, it was so hard for me to bite my tongue and stop myself from quickly taking it back and promising to take her to the medical centre.
While I’m more than happy to help my loved ones when I can, I’m at a point where I know I need to start being stronger and taking time for myself to actually enjoy the retirement I spent years working towards.
If anyone out there has any advice or has been in a similar situation, I’d love to hear how you would deal with this problem.
As silly as it might sound, it’s something that is having a huge impact on my life and something I definitely want to change.