When I first came to work in a township in South Africa I wanted to do everything - solve every problem and remove all the pain. As you probably know if you read my blog I ended up helping to raise a pair of twins and, later, their baby brother when he entered the world, as their family need a helping hand. While baby boy is too young to spend the night with me, the twins spend most nights at my place. Normally they spend time with their family during the day, then come over to mine. On the odd occasion they want to spend a night with their family, but for the most part they choose to stay with me. So when I say I am going out at night and ask them to sleep at their family’s place they sulk and I feel terrible.
If I don’t go out, or say I need time alone once a week to relax and nourish my soul, I fall apart though. I need me time. I need time to see my friends. I need time to work. I need space. Otherwise I turn into grumpy mom and no one will enjoy themselves.
Sometimes when I’m out playing with the other kids I mentor, or simply saying hello to kids in the streets, they will ask me if they can’t stay with me? Some are joking, but some look like broken hearted urchins and it’s like someone punches me in my stomach. It hurts. It hurts to say no to them.
To some of these kids I’m special, like the kids I mentor, but to others I’m just a chance at love. They’ve heard about me, maybe seen me around, but I could be anyone. They don’t need me, they need love. And seeing their raw need for love pulls my heart strings. They deserve someone who pays attention to them.
The issue is, I’m not superhuman. I can’t look after everyone. If I said yes to everyone I would end up feeling a lot worse than when saying no, because I would have a mountain on my hands - a mountain that I would collapse under. I wouldn’t help the kids because there wouldn’t be enough of me to do so. Instead I’d feel guilty for letting them down. Just like I feel guilty if I get grumpy with the twins because I haven’t taken time out to look after myself.
To say no is vital for my wellbeing. To let go when I say no and not walk around with someone else’s heartbreak is vital for my wellbeing too. You cannot be swept up by the very problems you’re trying to solve. Nor can you take responsibility for more than you can handle.
If you find it hard to say no, remember that you should only say yes if you can do so without hurting your own wellbeing. Because if not, you’ll accidentally hurt others too. Not unlike a ship bringing on too much cargo you’ll either greatly reduce the speed of the ship, or sink it.
This blog was first published on EverydayKnow