When a Mom Says No, She Means No

It took me two and a half years to settle into my role as mama. It happened on August 6, 2018, at 1:14 p.m. It was the moment my second child was born. Right as I knew my life as a mother was about to change radically, I finally found the confidence I needed. With two children to juggle and two and a half years of experience under my belt, I just stopped caring what other people thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I still asked veteran moms questions from time to time. When it came time to potty train my oldest, I turned to a few of my friends. When he started school, I asked my parents and friends for help. But I stopped listening to the unsolicited advice. And as I’m sure you know, as a mom, you get a lot of unsolicited advice. I just didn’t really feel like I needed it anymore.

I’d cared for a newborn before. I mostly knew what to expect. I’d changed thousands of diapers, mixed plenty of bottles, folded hundreds of loads of laundry. I’d navigated the four-month sleep regression, the graduation from sitting to crawling to walking, the first fall on the playground that required a trip to urgent care. I’d spent more than a year chasing around a toddler. I understood the basics.

I also understood myself better. I knew what I needed to survive. I knew what I needed to thrive in my role as a mother. I knew what kind of mother I wanted to be. I didn’t need other people to tell me how to mother my children. I wasn’t a veteran quite yet, but I wasn’t a newbie either.

When my first child was born, I realized I had no idea what kind of mother I wanted to be. I thought I wanted to nurse—at three weeks, we switched to bottle feeding with formula. I thought I wanted to make my own baby food—by the time my daughter was born, my poor experiences with baby food had fully committed me to the path of baby-led weaning. I thought I would answer my child’s every beck and call at night—at four months old, we decided to sleep train.

I very quickly learned the wisdom in the saying, “Never say never.” Becoming a mother was definitely a learning process. As I floundered in new motherhood, many people came to the rescue. My mother and mother-in-law had both bottle fed, and I relied on their support when I made the switch myself. College friends had turned to baby-led weaning for their own children, and their experience introduced me to a whole new way of introducing food to babies. An acquaintance swore by sleep training, and after throwing my back out while rocking my son, she held my hand as my husband and I encouraged our son to self-soothe. There’s also wisdom in the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

I appreciated the advice and support; I really did. What I didn’t appreciate were the occasional attempts by other moms to mold me in their image. I needed to figure out what kind of mother I wanted to be. I didn’t need other people telling me what kind of mom they wanted me to be. I needed to say no to their attempts to change me, but I lacked the confidence. I was too uncertain. I didn’t think I was strong enough.

I didn’t say no enough. I let other moms shape me. We skipped naps and missed bedtime because other moms told me it was healthy. Even if it meant multiple wake-ups at night, early mornings, and a cranky baby for an entire week. I insisted on nursing even though I hated it because other moms told me I needed to do it for my son. He would be healthier if I nursed him. He’d be more attached to me. So I kept doing it. Even though I hated it. Even though I was depressed. Even though I was sleep-deprived and felt like I was falling apart on the inside.

I listened to the unsolicited advice. I said yes even when my gut told me the answer was no. I caved to the pressure, to the guilt, to the need to be like everyone else.

But I didn’t want to crack under the pressure. I didn’t want to feel guilty for trying to be happy. I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I wanted to be myself. So I started saying no.

Skip a nap to go to the park? No.

Nurse because “breast is best”? No.

Miss bedtime because there are fireworks tonight? No. (She’s only two after all.)

Use baby food because that’s what you and your mother did? No.

Make my son eat sugar because moderation in all things is paramount? No. (You wouldn’t say that to a diabetic, would you?)

Be anything other than the mother I want to be? No.

If I think it will make me too anxious, the answer is no.

If I think it’s not in my child’s best interest, the answer is no.

If I don’t want to do it, the answer is no.

If I think it’s a bad decision for my family, the answer is no.

I’m the mom, and if I say no, the answer is no.

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