"So how do you do it?" she asked. "Do what?" I replied. "How do you say NO?" she questioned. "I just say no," I answered. "No, I don't mean like that. Do you say no and offer an excuse or do you just say no? I feel so guilty when I say no." Thus began a recent conversation with a mom who called and asked how we keep our balance between volunteer activities and family responsibilities.

As mothers at home it is not work and family we need to keep in balance. For many of us it is balancing volunteer positions (church, community, and school) with our family responsibilities. Some of us figure a home business or part-time job into our schedule, too. We can easily put ourselves back in the position of working full-time outside-the-home hours without bringing home the pay. We must learn the "N" word and how to use it effectively.

Here are some guidelines for finding and keeping balance in your home:

1. Remember that you are going to be asked more often, simply because you perceived to be more available. With many mothers working outside the home, there are less school, church, and community volunteers available during the day. Keep this in mind and remember that you alone know what is best for your family.

2. Never say "Yes" on the spot. Always tell them you will call them back after you've had time to pray and think about it. This keeps you from regretting a quick on-the-spot decision you may regret later. You can say "No" on the spot if you know immediately that it will not work for you.

3. When figuring a time commitment, make sure you figure in preparation time. Most of us underestimate the time it takes to really do a job. If they are asking you to bake 5 dozen cookies, look at the calendar and determine whether you truly have that much free time available before the cookies need to be delivered. If it looks too busy, tell them "no".

4. When considering long-term commitments, make sure you figure all your household responsibilities into your time frame. It may seem that becoming the president of an organization you really believe in will not take too much time. But after a few months, the phone calls, meetings, and errands have begun to take up the time you previously used for laundry, housecleaning, or paying the bills. These are big jobs that need to be figured into your weekly and daily responsibilities. Don't allow your family responsibilities to be sacrificed for your volunteer responsibilities.

5. Remember to figure in the "brain space" this responsibility will require. Have you ever been listening to your children, but really thinking about a new project or the hundreds of things you need to do? When your mind is cluttered, you are not mentally available to your family.

6. It is important to remember that every minute of your day does not have to be scheduled. If you have a "doer" mentality, you will think of a spare hour or two as a way to fit in one more "yes". In reality, we need some time to do nothing. If you need to, schedule in "down time" each day. Write it on your calendar and say "No" to anything that would jeopardize that time.

7. Set a limit to the number of long-term commitments you will carry. For instance, I have chosen to keep one large and one small long-term volunteer commitment. If I were to take on another long-term commitment, I would have to give up one of my previous commitments. By limiting your long-term commitments, it does allow for more time to help out in short-term service projects. You will be more likely to have the time to bake brownies for your child's classroom, or be a teacher's assistant during Vacation Bible School if you follow a similar approach.

8. Ask for accountability. Ask your husband, a close friend, or your Bible Study group to hold you accountable for the number of commitments you will carry. Be open to their insight. If you have trouble saying "no" ask them to help you during the first few months while you will be getting things back in balance. When you tell someone you will call them back, check with your accountability partner first before providing an answer to that most recent request. Sort through your schedule with them. Eventually you won't need their help, but it can help you get on your feet as you are learning to say "no".

9. When saying "no" don't feel that you need to give a long list of excuses. You know what is best for your family and for yourself. If you feel you need to give an excuse, simply say that it would not fit into your schedule at this time.

10. Keep in mind that you do not have to say "yes" simply because you are capable. You may have strong leadership skills and will most likely to be asked to lead most anything you will be involved in. That doesn't mean you have to say "yes" to those responsibilities. You say "yes" only after considering your passion for this organization, your time availability, other volunteer responsibilities, your family commitments, and what you might need to give up to properly do this job.

11. If you have too much on your plate now, begin by evaluating your priorities. Determine what responsibilities you need to let go of. Give a one month notice to organizations you will not be able to serve any longer. Although it may be difficult to give up a responsibility, you are not doing the organization or your family any good when you cannot fully commit to the job. As soon as you let go of the responsibilities you were carrying, instill new boundaries into your time. Don't let yourself become overcommitted again.

12. Saying "no" allows others the opportunity to say "yes". Don't take service opportunities away from others.

Don't forget to figure in time to have a friend over, take your kids to the park, write a letter, or go on a date with your husband. We don't usually schedule these activities in, but they are the first to go when we are overcommitted.

Remember that saying "yes" to some activities outside the home will be important to your sanity. Moms of young children especially need to get out of the house to socialize and think about something other than diapers, bottles, and coupons. Contrary to popular belief, your brain will not turn to mush, it will just feel like it at times. We need to choose carefully, though, those things we will be involved in so our time will be used wisely. You will be amazed at the patience you will have with your family when you find balance in your activity schedule.

Jill Savage lives with her husband and four children in Normal, Illinois. She is the founder and director of Hearts at Home, an organization designed to encourage, educate, and equip mothers at home. Jill is also the author of Professionalizing Motherhood. To get more information about Hearts at Home call 309-888-MOMS or visit the website at www.hearts-at-home.org.



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Copyright 2001 Hearts at Home. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.