10 Ways for Overcommitted Parents to Say No

Lately, I’m often reminded of something a friend of mine once said in a Christmas card note, just after she’d listed all the volunteer activities in which she was involved, like PTA and Girl Scouts: “It’s ironic that the things we do to benefit our children keep us from spending quality time with them.”  At the time, I’d barely started a family and couldn’t relate. 16 years later, with at least 13 of those years spent on various volunteer boards, I can. And now that my husband has gotten involved as an office-holder in “stuff” like PTA as well, we’re doubly aware.  This year, we’re officers or committee chairs in 10 organizations combined, and in one, we each hold both a board position and a committee chair. In addition to doing our regular jobs.  I keep a white board on the wall just to keep track of volunteer responsibilities.  What happened to my vow of cutting back? Obviously, it got lost in the shuffle.  The one thing that’s kept us positive about volunteering this year, kept us from totally drowning, is the shared decision that when several of our volunteer commitments end in May, we’re not taking on any new ones.  At least for a couple years. Maybe four.  Maybe 10.

In order to do that, we have to stop volunteering to volunteer, and we have to say no (and stick to it) when people ask us to volunteer.  That used to be hard for us to do (thus the reason for our current state of being)– but now that we’re burnt out, it’s not hard at all. 
Oh, yes—even though it’s only February, we’ve already been asked to do several things for the next year.  Will you be Treasurer for the Local Council of PTAs? No. Will you be on the board of the Junior High PTA? No.  Will you be President of our P.E.O. chapter again? No.  Well, then how about Recording Secretary again? No.  Each time we say it, it helps boost our confidence for the next time.  And I don’t feel guilty at all, because recently I had an “Ah-hah” moment involving simple math: Since I’ve held so many volunteer positions over the years, numerous ones within each organization, and there are far more members than there are officer and committee chair positions, that means there are a lot of members who have never held an office or chaired a committee.  Not once.  And there’s something wrong with that.  Yes, we overscheduled parents all know the sad refrain we hear a lot: it’s hard to get people to do those jobs.  But I now say, if not enough people can step up to the plate, then the organization shouldn’t exist, or it should merge with another so that it can. 10% of an organization’s members should not be constantly doing the work for the other 90%, and if they keep doing it, then nothing’s going to change.  And that 90% will never get the chance to hone their leadership skills.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to us.

That’s #1 on my list of how I am currently saying no.  But nothing is ever One Size Fits All, and sometimes there can be pushy people who won’t take no for an answer– and so I offer up to you even more ways to turn them down:

10 Ways for Overcommitted Parents to Say No:

  1. No, it’s time to share the load.  I want to give others a chance to get involved.

  2. No, I’m already doing too many other volunteer jobs and don’t have room for more (and if you don’t really have any other “official” volunteer work, remember, being a parent counts as a huge volunteer job!!).

  3. No, I need to spend my more time with my family.

  4. No, my health (or sleep, or whatever ailment) is suffering from being too over-committed, and I need a break

  5. No, if I accepted that position, I wouldn’t be able to devote the time needed to do the job well, and I care about this organization too much to do that.

  6. No, but I would be able to do that job next year (or fill in the year) if you would please ask me then.

  7. No, I’m not sure if I’m going to be a member of the organization next year.

  8. No, I promised my family I wouldn’t take on any more volunteer jobs and I can’t break my promise to them

  9. No, but I can give you five other names you might want to call.

  10. No. (or the nicer but still succinct “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.) (or you can always add, “Unless it includes free maid service, once a week for a year.”)

If you’re new at this, remember that people who are seeking volunteers ALWAYS, intentionally or unintentionally, play down the volunteer time that will be involved. It is always more time-consuming than you’re told it will be.  And, also remember this: the people asking you to get involved are not the parents of your children, you are.  They will not be the ones left standing around wondering, “Where has all the time gone? Why didn’t I spend more time with my kids? Or myself? Or my spouse? Or my house? Or my friends?”  Don’t get me wrong– volunteering in the school, church, and community is a good thing, and it’s good role modeling for your kids—but so is modeling the ability to bring balance to your life, and to say no.

One thought on “10 Ways for Overcommitted Parents to Say No”

  1. BRAVO! I too have fallen into the trap, and after 20 years of shouldering the load (and financially carrying it much of the time too) God gave me a way out: All that stress resulted in debilitating health problems.

    Good for you that you’re putting your foot down. As you say, if the organization is worthy, someone will step up. I marvel at the reports of how well my old group is doing without me.

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