Lessons on Saying No from a Seven-Year-Old

Lessons on Saying No from a Seven-Year-Old

How many times has someone asked you to attend an event and your mind says, “Hell no. I don’t have time for this,” yet your mouth says, “Sounds fantastic! Can I bring a cheese tray?”

Kinda gross, right?

It’s what I call living a double life as a result of having no boundaries. Your mind knows the last thing you need is to add another fundraiser, birthday party or local gathering to your plate, but your mouth bypasses these internal warning signs and goes hog wild — not only signing you up to attend, but to bring a platter of veggies and stack up all the chairs after everyone leaves.

The mouths of mothers can be such jerks sometimes.

Thankfully, over the years I’ve read dozens of self-help books that help me say no more frequently than ever before.The result? More free time, less exhaustion. More happiness, less anxiety.

But I’m certainly not perfect and I always appreciate a reminder that we all have a choice regarding when we say yes and when we say no.

While I love learning from spiritual gurus like Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Gabrielle Bernstein, this past week I soaked up some sacred advice drawing boundaries from the seven-year-old little girl next door named Bernadette.

Here’s how it went down.

My husband and I were getting ready to host some neighborhood friends for a backyard gathering and my daughter was playing with Bernadette in the backyard, waiting for the guests to arrive.

Just before the party started, another mother from the neighborhood stopped by to make a small request of my daughter and Bernadette. “Girls,” she said. “We have some friends visiting from out of town this weekend and they’ll be attending the party. Would you mind welcoming their youngest daughter and looking out for her while she’s here?”

It seemed like a simple request.

However, before my ten-year-old daughter could even process the question, Bernadette had a truth bomb to drop. Leaping to her tiptoes, she tapped Layla on the shoulder and quietly whispered into her ear, “You know you can say no, right? She said, “Would you mind?”

I nearly fell into the pool.

Now, before you get nervous, of course my daughter said yes to extending love and kindness to someone visiting our home, but that’s not the point. The point is this:

Every woman needs the whispers of Bernadette in her ear.

She’s clearly clued in, wise beyond her years and not afraid to look at a request for exactly what it is — an opportunity to consciously say yes or no.

As mothers, we don’t think about requests this way. We completely ignore that when we’re asked to do something that we’re technically being asked if we actually want to do it.

It’s a yes or no question — but you have to give yourself the chance to think before you speak.

My advice is to try Bernadette’s wisdom on for size. The next time your child, neighbor or long-lost friend asks you to do something you don’t have time to do, picture this: your seven-year-old self tapping your current self on the shoulder and reminding you that the question in front of you is a choice, not an order.

This momentary pause will give you exactly what you need in the heat of a decisive moment — an opportunity for your mouth to shut up so your gut instinct has a chance to speak.

And if any part of you says you should keep that time for yourself rather than give it away, then your answer shouldn’t be just no — it should be hell no. 

I think Bernadette would agree.  

Katherine Wintsch