Sorry Honey, That’s Not My Table (How to Say No and Mean It)

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (more parenting articles are available)


You only have so much time and energy to spend every day. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you spend your precious time on things that truly aren’t your highest priorities or taking on tasks that should be someone else’s responsibility, you will become depleted and discouraged.

When You Take On Too Much

This concept was demonstrated well in a story told about a waitress named Mary. When she was first starting out as a waitress, Mary tried to help whichever customers requested her assistance even if they weren’t sitting at one of her assigned tables. If a customer from another server’s table requested more rolls and butter, Mary ran to the kitchen to get them.

Everyone loved the way Mary jumped in to help except for the customers seated in Mary’s section. They resented having to wait longer as Mary served customers in other sections. Soon Mary found herself exhausted. She also found her customers starting to complain about her slow service. These complaints caught Mary’s attention as well as her boss’ attention.

Mary knew she needed focus on her own tables to keep her customers happy. She learned to handle requests from customers outside her assigned tables by responding “Sorry honey, that’s not my table. I’ll send your server right over.”

Where Are You Taking On Too Much?

As a parent, can you relate to Mary’s wanting to help everyone and then feeling overextended and underappreciated? From your kids asking for your assistance on things they could handle themselves to the multiple volunteer requests from school or church, it’s easy to agree to doing too much.

Your feelings can provide a wonderful indication of where you might be overcommitting. Are there things you are doing that leave you feeling resentful? Do you feel annoyed that you’re doing more than your fair share? When you focus on your feelings, you discover where things need to change.

Once you identify where you’d like to cut back, you need to be able to do this. A beginning step is to start saying “no” to any additional requests that don’t fit your priorities and responsibilities.

Nine Creative Ways to Say No

If you’re like many people, you struggle to say “no” to requests. The good news is that the more you practice, the better you will become!

Thanks to Renee Peterson Trudeau, life balance teacher/speaker and author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life for giving permission to include these nine different ways to say no from her book:

  1. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
  2. The Gracious No: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
  3. The “I’m Sorry” No: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
  4. The “It’s Someone Else’s Decision” No: “I promised my coach (therapist, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
  5. The “My Family is the Reason” No: “Thanks so much for the invite, but that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
  6. The “I Know Someone Else” No: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
  7. The “I’m Already Booked” No: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
  8. The “Setting Boundaries” No: “Let me tell you what I can do …” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
  9. The “Not No, But Not Yes” No: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
These ideas can work with your kids and other adults. The last phrase, “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.” is especially powerful when your kids make a request that you’re not quite comfortable with granting. It’s far better to give yourself time to think than to agree to something you later regret.

By focusing on your priorities and declining requests that ultimately conflict with them, you’ll be on your way to feeling less exhausted and more in control. Improve your life by getting comfortable saying a form of “Sorry honey, that’s not my table!”

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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