Reader question… “I have been working hard to bring more simplicity into my life but in one area I am struggling big time. I am on countless committees, in groups and organizations. I’m always being asked to make or donate something for all the various events. I’m a stay at home mom so when my friends need a babysitter they just drop their kids off to *play* with mine and of course no one ever asks first. Past experiences show me that I’m making sacrifices that none of these people would make for me. When I try to refuse politely people get angry with me and I always end up doing what they wanted anyway. I’m overwhelmed with resentment every time I let someone take advantage of me. How do I change this?” –Katie T.

I don’t think anyone should ever reach the point where they do only what THEY want to do without considering other people’s feelings… but there is a huge middle ground between being too selfish and not putting enough value on yourself and your time.

Obviously the solution is in finding that balance of saying yes to the RIGHT things (for you)… and saying no to the rest… but for most of us that’s not an easy thing to do. No one likes to disappoint or hurt people… when someone asks us to do something, it can often be very difficult to say no.

I think he’s saying no…

I’m hoping that some of you who have young children and are in a similar situation will have some suggestions for Katie. The first step is to accept that you can’t… and shouldn’t… agree to do something just because someone has asked you to do it… but how do YOU handle that next step?

How do YOU say no?

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Tat C.

Well I’m well past the age of having young children, but I did have a similar situation going when my kids were young.
In particular I had a neighbor who felt that since I was home all the time, (and her mother-in-law wouldn’t do it) I should just keep her 4 kids so she could go to work with her husband. He worked as a surveyor for the county.
One day I lied to her that I had to take my mom to the dentist – mother was in her 40’s! and perfectly capable of getting wherever she wanted to go – and I got caught. The neighbor confronted me about it and I told her that I really didn’t need her 4 at my house, I had 4 of my own, and I didn’t want to take care of her kids! They were welcome to come and play – if invited. That was the end of the free babysitting!


I was a lesser version of Katie, and i have to say, learning to say no has been absolutely liberating. Probably the first step is deciding what’s really important to the person asking (are you covering for someone who is sick, for example) or is it they just want an hour kid-free to read a magazine? 2nd step is letting go of caring if people get mad. Again, depends on the circumstances. When we first moved to our house, the neighbors, who I had met exactly once, sent her kids here to “play”. I told the kids, sorry, maybe later, but we were on our way to the store. the 5 year old said, “that’s where my mom went, and why she told us to come over here!” That woman didn’t even know me– for all she knows, we’re child molesters or something! Which were not, but still. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “1st time, shame on you, 2nd time, shame on me.” and also something about teaching people how to treat you. Be kind, be generous when you can, and be firm when you can not. My 2 cents to get the ball rolling.:-)


I found myself in a similar situation when we moved to a new neighborhood. At first I was excited about the play dates that the other mothers kept setting up with my kids. After several weeks I realized that almost all of the play dates were at my house and I was basically babysitting for free. After several refusals when I tried to set up play dates at their houses I realized what was going on and dropped out of the group. Another new neighbor told me the same thing had happened to her and her children, and we sometimes swap child care, but the whole neighborhood experience was a downer. I’m not good at saying no but I must say I learned to say no fast after this happened.


I *seriously* don’t like to say no when someone asks me to do something but I am learning. The important thing is not to feel apologetic. I know some people say that everyone will understand but I have to be honest and say I have not found this to be true. Maybe it is the people I know but even after a tactful refusal I have had people get really mad at me.


Saying no is hard, maybe the hardest thing you will do on a regular basis. I always hoped it would get easier as time went on but it hasn’t. Still it has to be said. Just because someone asks me to do something doesn’t mean I have to do it, and I try to remember that when I am forced to say no. I think one of the problems is that a lot of us grew up thinking that our time wasn’t quite as valuable as everyone else’s and the feeling has stuck.


If you have been letting people take advantage of you, I would recommend the following approach: Let them know (in advance) that the rules have changed. When someone stops by and wants to drop their kids off to play with your kids, tell them (when they come back to pick up their kids) I always enjoy having your kids come to play but my kids would like to go to your house too sometime. How would Tuesday afternoon be for you? Or you could say: next time the kids want to come play could you please call me in advance to see if this is a do-able thing for me? I really had planned to go out but it was too difficult for me to say no.

Then if they come again without calling (which is unlikely if you gave them fair warning) tell them you have an appointment or you are expecting guests or whatever. I have found that people get mad/embarrassed when the rules have changed and they weren’t told. (When the thing they have been doing all along has suddenly become a no-no). Good luck.


Great illustrative photo! Certainly sets the mood for saying no.


I’m loving all these suggestions!!! Starting my senior year of high school I began to say “no” and have realized that true friends will respect boundaries…not that this post is about true friends, anyway. Just to say “no” is hard, but like most rules/boundaries, it actually brings great liberation.


You have to decide for yourself whether being a drop-in care provider bothers you or not. My personal choice would be to accept the opportunity for my child to have a playmate, because he’s an only child and desperate for companionship his own age. Having kids drop in (assuming I’m not planning on going anywhere) wouldn’t bother me at all.

As it sounds like this DOES bother you (and, you have every right to be bothered), I would have a chat with your friends and explain how you feel, and set clear boundaries. Having this chat while they are trying to drop off their kids won’t work – you need to do it at a time when they aren’t assuming you’re going to watch their kids. Perhaps, invite them to dinner, or out somewhere.

I know it’s difficult when you feel you’re being taken advantage of – I know that feeling well – but ultimately, you’ll have to decide what is most important, and then stick with it.


Put me in the crowd of having a hard time saying no. But I had to get past worrying of someone got mad at me over it. I finally decided that if they didn’t understand I needed to say no for whatever reason and they got mad, then they didn’t really value my friendship anyway. Since I have began to see it like it is, that I was being used up, it is easier now to say no to those people. The hard ones are still the ones I KNOW are my friends.


I had a hard time saying no until the day that one of the children that came over fractured her arm. When I took the child home, the parents were not there. Their car was gone! I called 911, which got the police involved. They called child welfare and the children were placed under protection. The parents were mad as hornets at me. It wasn’t my fault that they didn’t tell me that I was their free babysitting service while they went out and had a nice time.

So, I set boundaries. I wrote up the rules and gave them to every parent that had been dropping their child(ren) off. They had no excuse to say they didn’t know the rules had changed, that their child(ren) could no longer just waltz on into my yard and play. That put a halt to all the free babysitting.

Gone are the days when children went back and forth from one yard to another or played kickball or softball at the local playground. It is really sad, because those days were funfilled and exciting. Now, people take advantage of others in order to carve out some time for themselves. Except they don’t think that the other person needs a break once in a while. Very, very sad.

Judy T.

I have found the most effective way to say “no” is the way men do it; no maybe, no averted eyes, no excuses. You don’t have to sound whiney or apologetic.

If someone is rude enough to take you for an unpaid baby sitter, then you have every right to say “no, I have too much else going on right now and your kids deserve more attention than I can afford to give them’. This throws the ball back onto the court fairly neatly.

Look at it this way: if they were dropping off their dirty laundry for you to wash iron and fold, you’d have no problem refusing. Someone else’s kids fall under the same heading.


I read a few years back the very best line —- “that’s not going to work for me”… nothing more. It works! and once you get used to saying it, it rolls off your tongue really easy!


I think it can be helpful, here, to remember something I read recently: “You are exactly as important as everyone else.” Not more important, but not less important either. If a dear friend were telling you this story, what would you tell her? The next time someone tries to take advantage, remember that your time and priorities are as valuable as that of the person asking.

Take some time, too, to consider your priorities and values. It might be easier to refuse someone, for example, if you’re thinking “No, I really need that hour to sew those beautiful new curtains I’ve been thinking about” or “No, I’m working on writing my novel Thursday afternoon while the kids are at daycamp” or “Friday night is the only night of the week my spouse and I have set aside as a date night; I can’t be on a committee that meets then.” Good luck!


When my children were young, and long before cell phones, I struggled with saying no. One thing that helped was to post a sign near the telephone that read, “Just Say NO!” Whenever I was called to volunteer for something, I read that sign which gave me the courage to say no to those things I didn’t want to do.

There are a lot of great suggestions that others have posted. I think that valuing yourself, your time, your energy and the needs of your family is the key!


My Grandmother always told me that if you don’t want someone to step on you, stand up.


It’s always hard for caring people to say “no.” But it’s necessary because time and energy are so finite. The key is what do you want, who do you want in your life, how much time do you want to give, and are you well and rested enough to give to those that you want to give to. Even if others need you, you have the right to consider your wants and needs ahead of theirs. You may make mistakes, and you may appear (even to your own self) that you are being thoughtless and selfish. But you’ll learn from those mistakes. So consider your wants and needs, then consider your time and your energy. Never put your time and energy into something or someone you don’t like or you cannot benefit in any way from.


Advice from an older Mom and Mimi: Choose wisely who you spend your time with and whose children you are ok having them in your care. Saying No is really saying Yes to who you Choose to spend time with. Ask your kids whom they Really enjoy playing with and choose from there. It is OK not to be the most popular drop off destination in the neighborhood. It is OK if people choose to get mad at you for making changes in what is and is not acceptable for your family. It is all about choices. Children learn what they live so I suggest you set the best examples by the friends you choose to be with and the friends you choose for the kids to be with. Mom’s remember WE set the tone for the day and the tone our family follows. It is OK to be the Mom in charge in all areas of the family’s life.


It also helps to consider what someone else is asking of you; are they dumping on you just because you’re there, and handy, is this a critical moment in their lives, if you were to ask for help from them, what would their response be?
I think in many instances help or aid or assistance should be offered, not demanded. At least not repeatedly. Yes, I can take you shopping, but I have limited access to a car-or Ill be glad to look after the kids today, but the rest of the week is pretty filled. Period. No explanations needed.


Unfortunately, the people who take advantage of someone are also the people who get mad if you say no. That is their plan. They bully you. They count on you not being able to say “no”.

It is a matter of choosing healthy relationships. Someone who constantly puts you in an uncomfortable situation is not someone that you should be around.


I had a similar situation to this when my former neighbor had twin boys. I had agreed to babysit for her for a few weeks, but it quickly soured when she became a very neglectful mother. She stopped breast feeding cold turkey and would disappear for most of the day. She wasn’t giving the boys their breathing treatments for RSV and she wouldn’t come home when one of the twins had horrible diarrhea for hours. The last straw was when the three older children stayed home from school and she wouldn’t help me out with any of them, instead staying upstairs all by herself all day. Then she had the nerve to come downstairs 5 minutes before it was time for me to come home and ask me why one of the twins had been crying so much. Maybe because I didn’t have enough time to properly tend to him because I was too busy taking care of 4 more kids alone.

Because of her, I do not have a relationship with the other mother who moved into the house because she has a very small child and I do not ever want to be asked to babysit. Yes, saying No is very liberating. No one has the right to take up your free time so they can have free time of their own.


I’m a SAHM to a toddler boy who recently had a similar situation; my response was simply to say “I’ve got too much going on,” and not open it up for discussion.

I had begun babysitting my neighbour’s kids a few months prior, when she desperately needed someone for a few hours and had emailed saying that it would just be easiest to pay me (instead of a sitter). I reluctantly agreed, and watched the kids roughly 5 times. Each time, she would do something to let me know that *she* was in charge – bringing the kid over 30 minutes early and disrupting my kid’s nap schedule, texting me on vacation to let me know that she had an emergency and would need me to watch her kid the morning I got back from vacation, dropping them off late and then informing me that her kids would be staying late (to compensate for her late drop-off) as well.

The kicker was when she stopped paying me and instead pushed me to do a childcare swap with her. I have a trusted babysitter and wasn’t interested; at that point, I asked for a concrete rate that was lower than going sitter rates. She paid me half of what she owed, and fought me tooth and nail to pay the rest. I felt like I had become her slave, frankly. I politely declined future attempts to force childcare out of me, and she promptly unfriended my husband and me on Facebook. She’s our next-door neighbour, so it’s made for some fun times.

I’m a placater by nature, but I now keep in mind that someone else’s childcare issues don’t have to be my responsibility. I’m sorry they’re having problems, but they ultimately aren’t my problems to resolve. They’re only my problems if I willingly choose them to be…and why on earth would I do that?


I’m constantly experiencing something similar. I’m in my 30’s and physically disabled (no kids, barren). Since I’m home all the time my sisters and my friends with kids are ALWAYS asking me to watch their kids. I always have to say no. Because of my disability, I can’t lift over 20 pounds and sometimes I can’t walk. They know this, still they ask. And every time, “No. I physically can’t.” I really identify with the frustration from lack of respect. Especially when they don’t call me at any other time than when they need something from me. My advice? Say no, say why you can’t, then if it keeps happening, stop associating with these selfish people because they have no respect for you or your time.