I have to say I’ve always been a people pleaser. Perhaps it was growing up as one of seven kids and my parents drilling into us “if you can’t play together, you’ll work together”. So, in an effort to avoid weeding the garden, I always made that extra effort to get along with my siblings. But whether you were brought up that way or not, becoming a people pleaser just comes with the territory when you become a mother. You get so used to feeding someone else, bathing them, changing them, walking them up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, just to get them to stop crying. Do that for a couple of years, combined with what’s probably in a woman’s DNA, and you get used to wanting to help others, wanting to make others happy. However, there are pitfalls to being too much of a people pleaser. I know at times, I’m guilty of pushing it to the extreme and that’s when it can become a bit of a problem.
I’ve always been the type of person who wants to come across as a very engaged listener. People like to be heard. People like to be agreed with. It pleases them. If the discussion is about a topic that requires an opinion, and I have a strong one, then I will usually voice my side whether it makes the other person happy or not. But, if the discussion is just about day to day things, then I become a head nodder. I just like to agree. Cold out? Sure. Getting late? You bet. As a people pleaser, I like to head nod even when I don’t really hear what the person has said which can lead to a classic pitfall.
I ran into an acquaintance at the gym about a year ago. It was a little noisy, she was talking about something, I was nodding. Then she asked me, “You’re ___ like me, right?” I couldn’t make out one of the words she said, but I went along with it and said, “Yup. Yeah, I am.” But then, you know when you walk away from a conversation and that’s when it comes to you, you’re able to fill in the blank. Well, as I walked out of the gym, I thought to myself, “I think I just agreed that I was Jewish.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m not an overly religious person either way, but if you’ve seen my post on how I decorate for the holidays, you would see that I am Catholic. I didn’t think much of it, I don’t run into this woman all that much anyway. But shortly thereafter, I saw her in a department store, and it happened to be the day before a Jewish holiday. I can barely keep my own holy days straight, so I wasn’t sure what this particular day represented in the Jewish faith. I panicked. I tried to skip the aisles she was in, avoid eye contact at all costs, make her think I didn’t see her. Because it just would have been an awkward conversation, ” No, I’m actually not going to temple tomorrow because even though when you asked me if I was Jewish and I said I was, I’m really not.” If I had only asked her to repeat herself when we first had the conversation, she wouldn’t have cared one way or the other what my response was, but now to fix the situation it would just be messy all the way around.
I successfully avoided her that time, but then a few months later, I ran into her again, in December of all months. Turned a corner, face to face, no chance of avoidance. The store, dripping with holiday decor, pretty much insured that there would be no way something wasn’t going to be mentioned. And sure enough… She talked about how she had just moved a town away and how over-the-top the Christmas decorations on everyone’s lawns were and how it was just annoying – she said, “You know how annoying it can be.” So, here’s my chance to set the record straight. Clear up the miscommunication once and for all. Secretly knowing, I myself had a giant blow-up Santa on my front porch, complete with eight, tiny reindeer. But, once again, I found myself nodding in agreement. We wished each other a Happy Chanukah and went on our way.
So, though it’s a nice attribute to want to make others happy or comfortable, there has to be limits. There has to be limits with our kids and there has to be limits with our peers. I have essentially converted religions for a mere acquaintance, albeit, it’s just for a fleeting few moments when I run into her a couple times a year, but still. Now, I try to be less quick with my head nods and ask people to repeat themselves before I respond if I’ve missed something that they said. It’s much better if you try to be true to yourself and not worry so much about pleasing others because you just end up digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. We’ve all had those moments where we are over-scheduled but someone asks you for a favor so you automatically say yes, without thinking about whether you’ll be able to get your own stuff done. I’m not saying don’t be helpful, we all want to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, but you just have to make sure you don’t do it to a fault. Your friend will understand if you have to pass every once in awhile. As mothers, in order to avoid those people pleaser pitfalls, we just need to take a step back from automatically saying yes all the time, and actually think before answering. If we can do that, we can still please people, while hopefully staying true to ourselves.
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