Why I JUST SAY NO to Red Ribbon Week Overwhelming Me


When the papers start coming home from school about all the Red Ribbon Week daily dress-up activities, I used to die a little inside with dread. I’d think, “How can I add one more thing when I already feel maxed out?!” A few years go, I let go of all that.

After my 4th kid was born, I had a pretty terrible time with postpartum depression. During my recovery, I went to see a very good therapist to talk through some of my concerns. I remember discussing with her how overwhelming it felt to try to be a good mom and take care of EVERYTHING – there were simply not enough hours in the day. I was still trying to be the perfect mom and do it all, while also running my business and dealing with my other responsibilities. She guided me to make a life-changing and freeing realization: I couldn’t do it all. I needed to actually put my priorities first.

I know that sounds so obvious and most already know that, but knowing and doing are two very different things! How many times have you made decisions based on your priorities, but then feel obligated to add in other things because of peer pressure or guilt? And then your life is so crowded by the other stuff, it becomes difficult to really take care of the priorities.

The conversation with my therapist went something like this:

Therapist: “So you’re realizing that you can’t do it all and trying to do it all is overwhelming. What are the most important hours you spend with your kids if you had to choose a specific time of day?”

Me: “After school until dinner time because my husband is usually home in the evenings. During those hours between school and dinner, I have some solid hours with my kids where I can really be with them, bond with them, help them, and teach them. Many days, though, I’m so exhausted by 3pm that I feel impatient and cranky. I know I’m not giving them my best during this time.”

Therapist: “What if your focus everyday was doing what you needed to do to be at your best after school? What changes would you need to make to your day? What would you let go in order to make those hours better?”

After she asked me that, we discussed the very real demands on my time during the day and I figured out what my priorities were. I realized that some things I was doing or expecting from myself were sabotaging my afternoons. I would have to become more selective in how I used my time.

What I Won’t Do

One of my realizations that day was that I didn’t have time to volunteer regularly at school. I still look at the requests for help from the school and it occasionally works for me to be there – and I’m always willing to give money to the room moms putting the parties together. (I’ve been a room mom, put on parties, and I know it is a lot of work!) But, showing up at the school to spend hours in the workroom laminating, cutting things out, making copies… my kids didn’t even realize I was there and I was making my life crazy dragging a baby/toddler to that, not to mention pushing aside other important things that I still needed to do. I still take the time to show up for awards assemblies and class parties and the times it’s most meaningful for my kids, but I’m no longer spending endless hours spinning my wheels in a workroom. Now I can get other things done during that time and be more available to my kids after school.

That is just one example of the changes I made to prioritize after-school time with my kids. There were several other changes I made to simplify things and focus. Some days it means taking a nap when my little boy naps, instead of doing something else. Some days it means grocery shopping instead of doing something else less necessary that tempts me, so that I can be there to help my kids with a school project instead of running to the store.

I make decisions based on staying true to my priorities, and now I feel free to make each decision as “things to do” pop up on my radar. Just doing everything expected of me, without consideration, is no longer okay.

{If you can’t imagine just rolling along, doing what everyone else expects you and wants you to do – congratulations! Certain personalities are more assertive about this stuff and the rest of us have to train ourselves.}

Once it finally clicked for me, that I needed to really live my priorities, life became better! And when my kids bring home the papers for Red Ribbon Week’s dress-up days, I no longer panic at the idea of one more thing being added.

How I Handle Dress Up Weeks At School

When I see the paper brought home from school, I write down the daily dress-up themes in my calendar for reference (not as an expectation). If my kids show interest in dressing up, I discuss the possibilities and brainstorm if they want my help. Some days they get confused about what the theme for the day is, so I look in my calendar to help remind them. In the morning, if they ask me to do their hair a certain way, I do… just like I would help them with their hair every morning if they asked me to. If their request would take too much time and make us late for school, I let them know they’ll have to choose something else.

I provide myself to my children as moral support, not tactical support. They need to manage it themselves. There are so many important things I help them manage, but dressing up in an optional activity doesn’t make the cut. They have the opportunity to develop self-management skills if I don’t do everything for them.

Just Say NO Sometimes

It really does take determination to stay focused on what matters most because there are so many things pulling for our valuable attention. My mom, who was very devoted to raising her kids, comments to me how there are so many more things that moms today have to do then when she was raising her kids. There are so many pulls on our time and so many expectations! It’s up to us to take charge of our lives and JUST SAY NO to some of it.

I like Spirit Weeks and community-building activities at school. I buy my kids school t-shirts they can wear and I’ll put a colorful ribbon in their hair so they feel a little more festive.

I know Red Ribbon Week has some valuable components. I like the ideas of teachers and school leaders echoing what my kids hear at home and church: don’t do drugs. I have nothing against dressing up and I let my kids do what they want with it if they are interested. I also don’t expect school to be the only place my children learn about drug abuse – those meaningful conversations are happening here.

In my opinion, a mom who models happiness, who makes tough choices to keep her sanity and makes the tough decisions that prioritize peace in her home… this mom is an invaluable part in protecting children from drugs, and that’s more valuable than a dress-up week.

If you’re into the dress-up weeks, keep sharing your photos in my Facebook Newsfeed. I enjoy seeing the fun you have with your kids. I don’t think you getting into it means you judge me when I don’t get into it. And when I post about the art lessons I do regularly with my kids or the baking we like to do together, or whatever else, you know that I’m not saying “you should also do this to be a good mom”. We’re smart adults and can separate things and make distinctions like that. We can be happy to see each other being happy! But, if you were my friend, and I knew you were overwhelmed, I might encourage you to let go of something unnecessary that you were doing out of obligation.

I am grateful to every parent that helps in my kids’ classrooms. I have friends that LOVE to do it and I love that about them. I think service is important and is part of any happy life, but choosing ways to serve is another personal decision. Let’s also agree not to judge each other about this, and let’s give our friends the benefit of the doubt that they might be serving in ways we’ll never know.

Making the decision to live my priorities is why Red Ribbon Week or Spirit Week or any dress-up week at school no longer overwhelms me!

I’m not telling anyone what priorities to have or what choices to make – those are for you to decide. I’m just saying that when I finally had the courage to live mine, everything changed for the better.

Let me ask you, What are the most important hours you spend with your kids each day? What changes do you need to make to be at your best for them?


Happy Living,


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8 thoughts on “Why I JUST SAY NO to Red Ribbon Week Overwhelming Me

  1. Hi Mary! I love your blog and have been a reader for quite awhile. We are empty nesters with two dogs, we both work full time, and sometimes I still have trouble keeping up with everything, but overall am happy with my organized home. I have been into living clutter free and organized since our kids were little. I have a lot of young friends with kids who are drowning and overwhelmed, and when they come over ask “is your house always this clean? oh yeah, you don’t have kids”. Thank you for having a system that I can point them to – it sounds better coming from someone who’s living it with kids instead of me!! And thank you for this article, I will definitely share it with my SAHM friend with four kids, ages 2-13 who is feeling overwhelmed and trying to do it all!

  2. Great article. I always HATE spirit week for this very reason. I have 3 kids and work full time. I need to allow my kids to use their own creativity to come up with their own spirit week outfits and not feel so much obligation to do it for them. Thanks for sharing…I always feel like I am the only mom who dreads spirit week.

  3. Excellent post, Mary! As a mother of 11, I also have had to learn (and relearn) that it’s not only OK to say NO sometimes, it is essential for sanity!

  4. Thank you Mary!!!! I really needed to hear this. I have been feeling the same way! Great blog!I will be doing the same thing as you.

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