Black women wear a multitude of hats. We do it all. It is a part of our culture, and let’s face it: It’s a necessity in many circumstances. We are the healers, the nurturers, the caretakers, the coordinators, the planners … the list goes on. This is the story of our lives, day in and day out, but at this time of year, the pressure to do it all and be it all can become overwhelming.
New York radio exec Randi Hatchel is the very definition of a modern woman. Her close-knit family lives in suburban Maryland, hours away from her Brooklyn, New York, home, and she often feels torn when juggling her many obligations. “My parents are older, I have two little nephews who live far away and I have so many responsibilities here in New York that I have to take care of,” she says. “I feel like I’m pulled in 10 different directions.”
During the holidays, the disease to please can become particularly pervasive, since in addition to the normal work and familial requirements, holiday traditions take center stage, whether you observe the particular holiday or not. “In my office, we acknowledge everything! Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, then New Year’s,” says Tia Debrick of Hartford, Connecticut. Which means that in addition to family rituals, which, include her young daughter, she also has to participate in Secret Santa activities at work, office parties, her daughter’s holiday parties and any last-minute festivities that may pop up with her large extended family. That doesn’t count shopping for gifts, meal preparation, decorating and everything else that gets everyone in the holiday spirit at the expense of Mama.
As women, it is in our nature to nurture. According to Diana B. Denholm, Ph.D., women are biologically programmed as nurturers. The good news is it comes naturally to a lot of us. The bad news is that because of this, the effort and work we put in to keep things running often goes unnoticed and unrecognized, which is when dissatisfaction and resentment can set in.
“As a stay-at-home mom, my family always asks me what I do all day,” says Atlanta’s Terri Jackson. Her husband’s medical career is quite demanding, and as a family they’ve decided her role at home is most important for their well-being.
Examples of the woman who does too much is the one who always volunteers and hosts before thinking about prior obligations or consulting with loved ones. In a familial situation, it is important to delegate, meaning, you don’t have to make the whole spread for Thanksgiving. It’s OK to get it catered, or make the main dish and ask family members to contribute. If there are no other adults around for support, decide what is really necessary. Do you have to take your children to every single festival during the holidays? Do you need to work triple overtime so Santa can bring every gift?
What are some things you can do to avoid the ”yes” syndrome during this time of year? Don’t wait until the New Year to implement these tactics; now is a great time to start.
1. Acknowledge that you can’t be everything to everybody. You are only human, and you are only one person.
2. Take steps to limit your accessibility. There is no need to have your cell phone in hand 24/7. People treat you the way you allow them to treat you. If they get used to rapid-fire responses from your iPhone for everyday minutiae, that’s what they will expect in the future.
3. Make a list of common requests and have a response at the ready. If your nickname is the Cake Lady, and you don’t want to spend your holiday season baking cakes (no matter what they’re paying), plan in advance what you are going to say to those who ask you to overextend yourself.
4. Accept being misunderstood. Some people will not like being told no, period. Accept this before it happens and perhaps you can take it less personally when it does.
These are just a few strategies you can use to say no when you need to, which may be more often than you think. Remember, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And if Mama ain’t healthy because she ain’t happy, that’s a recipe for disaster.
–Tamar Leak Suber
What are your strategies for saying no? Tell us in the comments section below.