Things Fall Apart: The power of saying no during back-to-school month

In the last year, Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.


The summer is over and it’s the first week back at school; life is all about drawing up to-do lists, sharpening pencils (imaginary ones surely, because who really has pencils these days?), getting back at it, whatever it is, spring cleaning because September is the real start of a new year, setting goals, making plans, cleaning up houses, and sewing on labels.

Except, is it?  Is this really the week to take on more than is absolutely necessary to get to Friday afternoon?

In fact, this week, as Herself went back to playschool and the work-school-everything-else schedule kicked back in, I decided I would adopt an 'aim low' policy. Do as little as possible. Just the necessary to get through the week. Do our best, rather than make a list and try to check it all off.

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Back in the arena of calm-but-busy mixed with the occasional frantic panic that is working and having children; this first week, with deadlines flying, the morning bed-to-car-to-school rush back in our life, the dinner-bath-bedtime routine framing our evenings, we would aim low.

We are back in that place where, if one apple falls off the cart (a child refuses to countenance SOCKS in the morning as you try to get out the door, never mind gets sick; a person doesn’t answer the phone for a prearranged work call at a specific time) everything is two steps from crashing down around you.

So I decided to just do the necessary. Because it is not nothing when you are balancing work, a child, and life.

It is similar to when you are in the midst of a life crisis. I never really understood when people talked about having boundaries. And then things fall apart, and the universe gifts you the ability to have boundaries (and then some). Because when holding things together is taking everything you have got, then you do not give a moment’s thought to saying no. That is too much, I can't take that on/tolerate that behaviour/accomplish that task. Whereas before, you might have said 'yes, give me that plate to spin and I’ll just throw it up there with the other twenty I’m currently keeping balanced.'

Because that is what women do. We see it as a failure of some sort to throw the toys out of the pram; to say no, I can’t cope with more, I can’t manage that, I’m not your girl for that one.

Having boundaries is one of the good things a life crisis gives you

When all your stamina is being spent on managing; then saying 'no, this is my limit', takes nothing out of you. Your mental energy is otherwise engaged, and so you simply don’t have the time to agonise over how you will carefully phrase a response, whether someone might be annoyed if you don’t take something on, what might be the consequences.

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A catastrophic life event is similar to having a baby, in its own way; obviously a delightful one, but one which acts as a sort of atomic bomb on life as you knew it.

For the first few months, for possibly the first time in your life, you exist in a bubble; life gets put on hold, without thought, as you desperately try to keep on top of things. I turned my phone on silent for the entirety of my maternity leave. This never ever happens.

In those first few months, I realised that Herself could do one day out and about, but after that, we needed a day at home for chilling, quiet time, and proper naps. Otherwise, there were meltdowns all-round. This week, we have factored in the same need for 'doing nothing' time, aiming low with what we got up to.

Grace Timothy, @mumfacegrace wrote in The Telegraph this week about drawbridge parenting; the notion of pulling up the drawbridge and spending time just as a family, to help everyone cope with the exhaustion and heightened stress levels of being back to school. Blocking off time to cancel plans, sit at home, turn off screens unless it is a planned movie to watch together, chilling.

So this week we have had pockets of couch time, where we watched a movie or Herself played with her Lego whilst I read. We set the alarm early and breakfasted in bed reading stories, rather than having to leap from the bed and immediately begin the frantic rush to the car.

This weekend, whilst it’s tempting to plan stuff, our aim is the park. A trip to the park. And if we don’t even make that? Meh. We are aiming low, with zero expectations on ourselves to even make that. The drawbridge may stay up.

Photo: Pexels

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