Survivor Voices: The Importance of Saying No


This week’s post is a guest post from Survivor M, a member of our Survivor Speakers Bureau.

As a mom, one of my prouder moments is when someone tells me how polite my kids are. I am polite and like to think they learned from my example. My parents raised me to be polite and agreeable. They were Irish immigrants. They worked a lot and were always busy. I was always asked to do a lot around the house – babysitting my younger brothers or house work. When I did what was asked of me, I was always praised for being a “good girl.” 

As I grew up, I always valued being nice and polite to everyone. I went into nursing – a field where being agreeable and giving was valued. I married someone who would turn out to be abusive. I have sometimes wondered if my upbringing made me more tolerant and accepting of someone being demanding or telling me what to do.

I am proud I was able to end my marriage. I got my kids out of a toxic environment. I didn’t want my marriage to be their model for love. I have contact with my ex when it comes to making decisions for our kids. Slowly over the years, I learned to say no to him. No is a word I have always been uncomfortable with. I always prided myself on being nice or sweet. But I have grown up. I have realized sometimes being nice or sweet to myself means saying no to someone else. I started practicing saying no to people I felt safe with, for example people at REACH. I have moved on to harder situations to assert myself – such as my ex. And I feel great about it. It has made me pause and look at my kids – teenagers – and question how I raise them. Have I taught them it’s ok to say no? I’m not sure.

So recently I have started to tell them it’s absolutely ok to say no.  After a few times, they may roll their eyes and groan, but it’s important to me that they get this message, so I keep saying it. That it is a good thing. It doesn’t make them bad or difficult to say no. It is something important that I want my kids to know. No one ever told me that it is ok to say no, to not be agreeable or easy. I had great parents. I don’t blame them for my marriage. I just have knowledge of how people can be taken advantage of and I want to protect my kids from that. So I tell them to say no when they don’t want to do something and I praise them for taking a stand. They will be headed for college soon and I want them to have heard it’s ok to say no. Sometimes it is the right answer.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. REACH has resources for how to talk to your kids about healthy relationships. See our blog posts from last summer on talking to kids ages 11-14 and 15-18 or visit the “For Teens” page of our website to learn more about our work with young people.