Whole Parenting Family

Why people with kids say no

I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it at all before I had kids. Why my friends in law school would cancel. Why they would show up late, not dressed for the occasion, why they would leave early, why they would say no.

No, I can’t come for brunch. No, I can’t come for late studying. No, I can’t come back to work on that binder review.

I mean, I thought I got it. I babysat for a number of them. They had kids so that meant they were busy and had to worry about things like pediatric dentistry and kindergarten round up or maybe diaper rash.

But I didn’t reallyΒ get it. I didn’t know what it looked like to have a minivan full of small children after a long day of classes and the forecast of all night homework. And their husband was working evening shifts. And they missed a meeting we had scheduled.

I didn’t get that when their wife just had a baby, maybe her infection would mean trips back to the hospital and no sleep and crying parents + baby. And therefore law review work wasn’t done.

I didn’t get that enthusiasm for community events would be stamped out when their wailing shrieking no-napped toddlers has slammed their fingers in the coolers two too many times and I would be left to cleanup without some of the crew.

I thought that they chose to have a family and make commitments to me, their studies, their whatever and therefore they just needed to do it all. I stayed up late all the time in law school, doing my version of it all. I thought some people (not you!) were just unreliable and flakey and parenting was a cover up for that. How awful was I?

Fast forward to when I actually started having kids. I had no clue that when this happened and I tried to still interact with friends and family without kids as though I were a normal adult, I would appear to be just as flakey.

Canceling because I’ve had a day of throwing up as a pregnant mom of two and my husband is coming home after dinner time and I can’t pull it all together.

Canceling because I have a new baby and can’t leave him because he needs to nurse but he also screams in the car so leaving the house in the evening feels impossible.

Canceling because my postpartum healing is taking longer than I thought and I need to just lay down and not go anywhere.

Canceling because I’ve been traveling and my older kids haven’t seen me in a week and we need to gather the wagons and just reconnect.

The constant fluidity of the life of parents of young children is humbling. I seemed to have a decent handle on it with two kids, but since almost two years ago now, being pregnant with my third, I’ve had to grit my teeth and turn down plans, fantastic trips, spending time with people I would love to see, projects I would die to do, and put my health and my family’s first.

I hate saying “no” and I hate canceling. But I really truly get it now. And I apologize to the universe for not getting it before. And to anyone I was impatient with before I had my own brood.


  1. Celia on March 15, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Oh, yes. I turned into the a totally flaky person after I had my first baby (without meaning to). Don’t feel badly about not really “knowing” before you had kids. I didn’t understand at the time why I wouldn’t be able to do everything I used to do either. Now I have an 8-year-old, an almost-6-year-old, and am 38 weeks pregnant with #3. Sometimes I’m flaky with homeschooling because I’m too exhausted to move, and I frequently say no to going out for social occasions–not because I don’t enjoy going, but because I just can’t handle that one extra thing. It happens. I’m already anticipating being a complete wreck for the next months. There are just some things you don’t “get” until you experience them firsthand. That’s one reason I’m SO glad I’m in my 30s now and not my 20s. I think I’m not quite as much of a jerk because I understand more about what people go through. Hopefully that trend continues. πŸ™‚

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 9:55 am

      I am so much less rigid but also require others in my life (non kid people) to be so flexible with me. Hard to ask it of them when I know how bad I was at it!

  2. Laura @ Mothering Spirit on March 16, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Yes, yes, 700 times yes. I hate feeling like a flake when we have to cancel, or like a broken record. But these kiddos come first, they have to. I am always relearning this lesson, putting best-made plans astray. It’s a good thing in the long run. (And the short, too.) So grateful when people understand. My in-laws are awesome about this, when we cancel b/c kids are sick. They always tell me, “don’t worry! we did it too! and we hated when people brought sick kids somewhere!” πŸ˜‰

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 9:55 am

      I have to relearn it constantly. And it’s hard!

  3. Amanda on March 16, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Haha. So timely. Reading this after canceling plans with friends yesterday and now today because fever and because vomit. Canceling or saying no has been one of the hardest things because it normally means canceling or saying no to something my mama heart would love (friend gathering, coffee shop chats with friends, dinner with friend, playdate with a friend I haven’t seen in forever etc.). So don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here messaging friends and telling others no today. Great pots, Nell!

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 9:57 am

      We missed a wonderful friends wedding last fall, I’ve missed countless evenings out, and date night with AA has been seriously modified to fit having small kids. And a nursling. I get so disappointed in myself and have to accept this IS life with kids. It’s not a failing on our part. It IS our part! So sorry about your canceled plans πŸ™

  4. Laurel on March 16, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Having just gone through a series of weeks of having to cancel and rearrange plans, this is very good to hear. I feel the guilt all the time, like I’ve let people down. And maybe I have. But, yes, family does come first. My husband and children will always take priority. They are my life. They are my vocation.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Ugh. YES. Great reminder!!

  5. Sascha @ This Family Anderson on March 16, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Yes, this! But I also often wonder if the biggest change after parenthood was a perspective shift rather than just a change in the amount of emotional labor/time commitments/priorities. I think that we require so much from people–parents and non– because we see “busy” and “overwhelmed” as positive, default states. I wonder what I would have said before kids if a childfree friend had said, I’m sorry, I can’t fulfill this commitment because I’m emotionally taxed out from trying to figure out my place in this world. I think I would still have a negative gut reaction! But the truth is that people need different things at different times from different people and places, and we can be really rigid in our requirements from ourselves and others. I’m hopeful that conversations about work-life balance will move beyond the precarious balance of motherhood into other areas of our lives, as well– how we grow in our faith communities, what it means to be a good citizen, where we all fit into our own families, and how each of these communities can both support us and benefit from our support.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      I agree being rigid in our requirements and relationships is never healthy. I think the reason for me this has stayed limited to the motherhood balance is because these kids throw more wrenches in my plans than the outside world or even my own emotional state ever could, pre-baby. I’ve missed things I WANTED to go to, which, before kids, wouldn’t have been missed because I had only myself to consider. Does that make sense?

  6. Nancy on March 16, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Amen! And just a word of (unsolicited) advice: the more children you have, the more things change, but in a good way. You just keep getting “pruned”, but you also start to focus on what is truely important. You find new ways of doing things, follow the crowd less (things just look different when you have more children), do what works for you, and the best part, you become ok with this. It’s great!

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 16, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Love the insight!

  7. Beth Anne on March 17, 2015 at 12:27 am

    I’m totally that mean non-kid friend that gets upset when others cancel :(. It doesn’t help that I’m also single and lonely and dying for companionship of any kind. I probably still won’t get it until I get married and have kids of my own. I get it but I don’t at the same time…alas life. I hate being an adult can we just go back to kindergarten? LOL

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 17, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      hahaha I know–it’s so hard to know until you’re there! You’re not mean, just not there.

  8. Molly on March 17, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I can definitely relate – especially being in a place where half of my friends have kids and half don’t. We have the only grand kid so far and I have to remind myself to not sigh too loudly when in-laws suggest any get together plans after 6pm. It’s hard to remember a time when dinner plans sounded fun, unless we have a babysitter.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Ugh! Yup. So there. And eating out? Not fun with three kids under 5 πŸ™‚

  9. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany on March 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    There are so many things that I thought before I had kids that I now shake my head about. I was so, so clueless!

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 17, 2015 at 9:47 pm

      Ohmygash. YES.

  10. Heather @ Real Catholic Mom on March 18, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Amen x 1 million! And, add to the mix friends and family who are “done” having children and don’t have anyone in diapers/preschool/special needs and they develop amnesia about the inherent flakiness of young parenthood and no longer really understand the inability to talk on the phone coherently/uninterrupted or about relatively consistent personal hygiene failures. Or maybe that’s just my experience. πŸ˜‰

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 19, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Ai! I hadn’t even thought about what happens when I’m older and (probably) still having babies. Hygiene? What’s that?

  11. Lisa Schmidt on March 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Ditto, girl, ditto! Reading this reminded me of something I used to say pre-kid that I now know was so completely naive. I used to be “fake-disgusted” at how my family or friends would allow their kids to eat carte blanche in the backseat of the car. Oh, I’ll never allow that, said silly Lisa in her early 30s! Spilled milk, spoiled milk, goldfish crumb, donut sprinkles … yeah, they all occupy a permanent place in the backseats of my Honda Pilot said Real Mom nearing 40! πŸ™‚

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Oh my goodness! Yes yes. When my third is eating the food he just threw on the floor I think, great! Pre-kid Nell would have been horrified!

  12. Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen on March 19, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    I love your sweet humility. It’s so hard to look back and apologize for the person you were, for not being gracious and assuming the best of others. But it’s so important to own that part of our past, and I think that sharing things like this makes it possible for others to claim theirs, not to mention maybe help them avoid even being that person in the first place. Good for you, for knowing what you need and prioritizing your self and your family.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 23, 2015 at 7:51 am

      It’s hard to be self-reflective and even remember pre-baby days!! πŸ™‚

  13. Julie Baldwin on June 20, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I went to my first child-free wedding two weekends ago. It made me really sad, especially to leave my 3 month behind! (Then again, it was also a hot outside wedding in a garden, so for the best.) My excuses usually revolve around Will’s schedule or Grace’s therapy; once, when I was feeling down about it, Will said, “If it’s not X, it would be Y. It’s okay! This is where we are. What would you change?”

    Nothing. πŸ™‚

    • Natural Mama Nell on June 23, 2015 at 12:05 am

      What a great way to reflect on it–what would you change!

  14. Angie on June 22, 2015 at 7:44 am

    I’m telling you, you just have to suck it up and go. We had three kids under four; now we have four kids we eat out. We go to parties; the kids go along. We don’t leave early for naptime or bedtime. The kids sleep where they are – in arms, on a couch, etc. I drove six hours last Wednesday with three kids including an infant by myself. I’ve driven cross country with my kids by myself. I do get it – it is easy to get in a pattern of just waiting for the spouse to come home to run to the store. Easy to get in the pattern of thinking it will be too hard so I’ll just stay home. But we have found it very rewarding to teach our children from infancy to travel well, to behave out in public… Now if a friend wants us to ditch the kids, it’s probably not going to happen. We don’t have friends like that though. πŸ™‚ Late? Yes, that is an issue. What do you do when you go to scoop the last kid up and they have a blow out? Or you older kid announces two miles down the road that she forgot to put on her shoes? (True story)

    • Natural Mama Nell on June 23, 2015 at 12:04 am

      I think many parents do bring their kids places they want to and need to go–late & blow outs! Always an issue–and shoes–oh, the shoes! I was speaking more about how families take precedence over certain other obligations, and in particular, my lack of understanding of this a decade ago when I was in law school. I’ve certainly learned a lot about how to maneuver my own family and be understanding of other people’s similar life/family/work balances! πŸ™‚