We spent a week away during December, on a small game farm with my husband’s family. It was wonderful, hot, and beautiful, out there in the bush.
On around Day 5 of the holiday, our toddler started acting up. I don’t know what it was, perhaps she was just homesick, but she became a monster-child, screaming at everyone, emotional about everything, and just plain bratty.
I was suddenly faced with the dilemma on how to deal with her. We applied some of our usual tactics, to which some gentle elderly folk commented that we were being cruel. We softened and tried to work things out reasonably… have you ever tried to reason with a two-year-old? Yeah, exactly. So she played up even more and other comments were made to suggest that we are too soft on our raging toddler.
By Day 6, we were reeling. We had scheduled an outing with the entire family and so off we went to a nearby crocodile farm. The disaster that followed shall be marked as one of my worst parenting days yet. And it’s not because my kid was a monster, which she most definitely was. But it’s because I became the monster. In public. A Psycho-Mom storming around, I finally insisted that my husband take us back to the game lodge, before we could finish lunch.
I completely lost it altogether, and spent most of the day in tears, feeling judged, and worse, knowing that my behaviour probably deserved the judgment. And so while my poor little monster napped, I broke away from all those silent stares, and found a shady spot nearby, and had a good, pathetic cry.
I reflected morosely on the day and realized with horror and self-reproach that I had chosen to make others happy, instead of choosing to keep our family unit stable. In bending our own rules to keep other people happy, I had smudged those precious boundaries that keep my child’s security intact, and she fell apart as a result.
Unfortunately, the damage was done, and it proved difficult to restore the peace to our holiday. Upon our return home we immediately re-implemented our family boundaries, and our child has mercifully recovered to her former delightful self.
Why am I telling you this? Well, firstly to share with other parents: I hope you will learn from my mistakes. You’ve probably already heard it, but so had I: create boundaries, and keep them. Your kid feels safe within those boundaries and moving them around because of the company that you’re in leaves her feeling vulnerable and insecure. Its not fair on anyone, least of all your child.
And secondly, as a human being, I learned a nasty little truth about myself: I am a chronic people-pleaser. It’s a horrid, destructive trait, and I am finally realizing (after 31 years) that I will never make everyone happy. I find that a hard and bitter pill to swallow, so desperate am I for the approval of people around me, especially those I care for.
What I learned is this (and I am sharing in hopes that you will also examine your own life): When I am pleasing others with my parenting, I fail as a mother. When I am pleasing others at work, I am a poor employee. When I am pleasing others at church, I fail as a worshiper.
You never reach your own full potential – in anything – when you are trying to please other people.
You get it: the irony is that as you are trying so hard to impress and please, you become so busy seeking the feeling of approval that you fail at the essential task at hand, whether it be mothering, working, doing a hobby, pursuing higher understanding or relationship with God.
The difference between seeking guidance and people-pleasing is this:
True guidance will add to your situation, build you up, and enforce what you are setting out to do. True guidance will bring you peace and empower you to better achieve what you have set out to do.
People-pleasing will detract from your situation, will distract you from what you need to do. It will crush you under a burden of guilt, feelings of judgment and ultimately, failure.
Learn these things and you will free yourself to live within a world fraught with opinions, without laying waste to your own potential.