Welcome Jen Lopez to our MotherBoard blog team! Jen is a corporate leader and mom of five who has taught us some great ways to reframe the chaos of working parenthood using her unique approach of celebrating the chaos that is often around us and reconsidering our own approach to the challenges that find their way into the lives of busy parents. We can’t recommend her lovely, inspiring Instagram page enough – follow her at @lovehowsheleads.
“You have to learn to say no more, Jen.” These words weigh heavy on me as I look around my life—overworked, frustrated, pulled in a million directions, things falling apart everywhere, but somehow trying to keep it together.
That was over six years ago. And I was telling myself I had to say no more. Because I had two babies, three school age children, a husband, and a career, I knew I needed some really good boundaries in place. At the time, maybe from reading a book or feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood, I thought the sum of setting boundaries was only learning the art of saying no. As I began to repeat it to myself over an over—“learn to say no, Jen,” it wasn’t resonating anymore. I knew what was important to me, and I knew what I had to do to move myself forward. Sometimes that required sacrifice and determination. I also couldn’t keep moving forward the way things were. I needed to allow myself room to breathe and see the bigger picture.
I assessed all the things in my life at the time, and started to speak up more on what I was willing and not willing to do. I tried to reduce my task list and see where others could help. But it didn’t feel like enough.
I am naturally wired to love, care and serve. Even though I was getting a little better about setting clear boundaries in my life, constantly reinforcing the no wasn’t working. It was exhausting to worry about saying no, how to say no, and all that comes along with it.
It was time to reframe it. I wanted to be in touch with my natural wiring. So, through trial and error, I found the strategic yes—shifting my focus on the things that really matter.
The strategic yes is in alignment with the now, and it’s evolving constantly as I review my plans, dreams, and goals. It just felt right to think in terms of yes instead of only in terms of no—more powerful to be aligned with my inner knowing, the things I deeply care about, and the parts of myself that resonate.
Before, I would impose a structure or system that seemed ideal, but really wasn’t working. I saw it somewhere, read it somewhere, got stuck in comparing myself to examples that were going to make me a better mom, better leader, better person.
I started each day in a deficit and ended it with nothing to give. Until I realized this was about my life, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to feel living it out.
So, I started out as simple as saying the strategic yes for the day. My mornings had to change. We have a large family (five kids), and we all have to get ready and get off to school and work at the same time. The way we were doing it was crazy–everyone was tired, rushed and frustrated. It would set the tone for the whole day. We kept this up for years, based on some idea that we should fight our way through it, thinking it was the right thing to do. Until one day, I’m sure after a frazzled and exasperating morning, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “This has to change. Who told us how we should run our lives? We’re in charge here! And this isn’t working!”
We took stock of what needed to change and we changed it. We’ve made decisions to support our best selves as much as possible. I work and my husband stays home with our kids. We homeschool our two youngest children instead of forcing them to get ready and rush off to school. We have an entire morning routine that allows space and time for everyone to get where they need to go. Our overall weekly schedules work around family dinner time, because it’s important to us. We let our children get involved in things, but we limit it based on what’s doable and still allows us plenty of down time. We volunteer for things that matter to us. We prioritize our emails, phone calls and our workloads to fit our schedules. And we keep just enough flexibility that we can fit something in spontaneously without it throwing the whole world out of whack. And we love grace. When something doesn’t work out as planned, we acknowledge it, ask ourselves if something needs to change or it’s a one-time issue, note it for next time, and move on.
We limit our frustrations and have more time to enjoy things. We create structures in response to what works, what’s relevant, and what’s really happening, instead of battling all the “shoulds.”
Things have shifted so much that my husband and I have more time to serve our community. We do special music for church and social events. I serve with the Children’s Museum of Cleveland. My husband coaches the kids’ softball team. Somehow it all fits in. And it’s not out of guilt, obligation, or fear of not doing enough.
Living in the strategic yes is about taking power back. I serve freely, with my whole heart, because I know I said yes to something that resonates in the now. It is so much more fluid. Something that is yes today is not yes forever. I’m free from thinking in permanent terms on everything and I have more time to do things I love.
Follow Jen at instagram.com/lovehowsheleads.