Due to some sort of weird deficiency I have in my DNA, I cannot say no. Because of said deficiency, I have this overwhelming need to make people happy – and how on earth can someone be happy if they’ve been told no? I believe in loyalty, and would, of course, want someone to be there for me if I ever asked. So in the event that karma is watching, I just – can’t – say – no.

Sigh. Often at great expense to me, my bank account, wants, needs, or even my own schedule, I will put whatever I am doing aside in order to fulfill whatever request was bestowed upon me.

The boys, having recently returned from their summer vacation with their dad, sadly coincided with a week that my office has now come to think of as “the week from hell”. This meant a skeleton staff, long days, lots of work, and no spare time. In fact, at one point, the boys gave up on seeing me at all and each decided to go their separate ways and spend their return home with other friends and family while I waded my way through multiple trips into downtown Phoenix, early morning projects, and multitasking at its worst.

One particular day there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t just the summer desert sun. I had caught a break, my calendar cleared, and I vowed that the boys and I would have dinner, together, the first time since their return. As can only happen in the B movie that is my life, there was an emergency and my overly high work ethic kicked into overdrive. I cancelled dinner with the boys, made the deliveries, drafted the documents, and met with the client. There was no doubt I would sleep well, not just from exhaustion, but from knowing I had done the best job I could do that day and with the Mighty Mouse theme playing in the background.

The cost though was a not so little ding to my patience, my temper, and my normally monumental ability to be civil to innocent bystanders. My passive-aggressive nature forced the “nothing is wrong” response when asked why I sat, in my office, lights out, tears streaming, and curses flowing. With enough prodding and pushing (or, maybe she just asked nicely), my friend sat me down, shoved a glass of wine in my hand (did I mention she’s a really good friend?) and said something that will now stay with me for a long time to come:

“No one else will respect my time, if I don’t respect it myself.”

Seems simple enough and I even nodded my agreement to it, but didn’t actually accept the meaning and reality of that statement until a few days later when I walked through the front door, hours BEFORE the sun set, much to the boys’ surprise, and not just because they had been caught watching TV amongst an array of frozen burrito wrappers, dirty plates, and empty popcorn containers.

There is nothing more humbling than when your 12 year old looks at you with wide innocent eyes and says, “You’re home early? Just like you said you would be.”

It was a little more predictable that the 16 year old said, “You’re home early? Maaan.  See, I meant to empty the dishwasher. Really, but then this show came on, and….”

I have since learned to accept that my employer knows me, and respects that while in the office, will do everything I can to help make the firm the best it can be. I have also learned that no one thinks poorly of me when I decide to make a plan – and stick to it. The harder lesson was that every victimless crime does indeed have a victim. Sometimes it’s the boys; other times it’s me. The boys had a great time with their friends, but I was the one that had missed them, and I was the one that had wanted to spend time with them. (It’s a curse being one of those parents that actually likes their kids.)

Since then, I have respected myself, my time, and my wishes which was a lot harder lesson to learn than I thought it would be. I’m often accused of trying to save the world – and I will still try (old habits die hard) – but sometimes, it’s not such a bad thing when the world I try to save is my own.

More from GEM:

The GEM Debate: Would You Let Your Mate “Fix” This (Or Any) Part of You?

Our Story Begins: Gender Jujutsu: Playing the Role of Mom and Dad

Ask The Good Enough Guy: Where is the Line Between Sexy and Skanky?

 Wendy Syler Woodward has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 12 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and this year returned to college for her B.A.  Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler