Working Moms: Just Say No.

By Nora Isaacs, author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age

As a writer, I get a lot of requests for help from complete strangers. They send me emails wanting to know how to hone a pitch and break into the journalism business. They have burning questions: Should they email an editor or call them? Should they take a copywriting course or a proofreading one?

They think because I write about staying balanced and healthy, I can tell them what yoga poses to do for their niece’s chronic fatigue syndrome or how to get their husband to do the dishes. I was a younger once, too, and many kindhearted people helped me along the way. I put myself in their position. Who am I to squash a true talent that might never be realized, so discouraged they might become from my lack of response? What if they advice I give them changes the course of their life forever? So I answer them. When I really want to be sleeping or doing the bills or reading a book to my son.

I really want these strangers to succeed in life. I do. But last week I finally reached my breaking point. Under a tight deadline, I got an email from a woman who couldn’t make it to a writing class I taught. She asked me about what RSS feeds are best for health writers. First of all, let me tell you that I don’t know what this is. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t text message, own a Blackberry either. I can barely get by figuring out the volume on my cordless phone headset.

But I digress. The point is, I didn’t know what she was talking about and at that moment I didn’t have time to answer. I wrote her a direct email saying so, no big apologies. I knew it was the right thing. So why did I feel so guilty? We women don’t know how to do it. It’s that simple. When we do, we feel aggressive, assertive, bitchy, and selfish. As a (very informal) survey done very unscientifically shows, this is why we don’t do it enough. We think we need to please everyone all of the time. We need to prove to ourselves and the world that we are worthy, we are capable, we can handle it. . . all. But at what cost?

This is the dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. For me, the cost is my sense of balance. When I don’t say no enough, things start to build up like those pressure cookers of old. And then I burst. And it’s not pretty. It means that I feel taken advantage of, underappreciated, resentful of everyone who travels in my orbit. And we know this isn’t good for anyone, especially spouses who are trying to love us and deal with their own sense of overwhelm. When I say no, I feel like I have to explain myself. I feel like I have to constantly apologize, backpedal, and be wishy-washy.


Ditto on what SFMOM2 said. Why is it that we feel we have to take care of everyone and everything? OMG! I'm going to be 36 in 9 days and cannot figure out why I haven't learned this yet. I've got to get to a point where I can better prioritize or I'm going to burn out! This article was such a great punch in the gut! Thanks Nora.


Wow, I needed to hear this so much right now. There is such a solid sense of empowerment that comes with being true to your limits.
Thanks for the reminder.
Back on track!:)


I just said no to a request to be on a committee at church, and am so relieved! I started with the explanation that I am just too busy at the moment, and then realized that I don't need an excuse. So I finished by saying that it just wasn't something I felt called to do right now. How liberating!


I have started doing this in small but notable ways. The relief that washes over me when I turn down a dinner that I wasn't really looking forward to is impossible to overstate.


I think this is the single biggest mistake I make on a regular basis.
I say yes to way too many obligations. I think I need to put the big YES with the circle through it on my bathroom mirror as a reminder to only bite off as much as I can chew.