I just discovered this deftly written New York Times article, and it made me squirm. Especially this line:
She is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.
This is me.
Not the “sure and determined” one. But the other one who wants to be liked by every single person I encounter.
I struggle with this often, especially since becoming a mother.
This evening, for example, when the drive-through attendant scowled at me as I handed over cash for the girls’ ice cream, I smiled and thanked her. Then I thanked her again when she gave me my change. And again — bigger smile, please like me, I’m really a nice customer — when she finally handed me the ice cream.
Even when people say or do things that make me uncomfortable, I continue to find myself smiling, agreeing, ingratiating myself to complete strangers in front of my daughters. I mostly want the encounters to end quickly, but instead of walking away, I engage.
I’m not sure why I continue to make that choice. To avoid causing an awkward situation? To save a stranger’s feelings?
It’s ridiculous, really. But I can’t seem to quit.
We’ll be at the grocery store when someone stops me to say how beautiful Sophie is, or in line at Target when someone comments on Lily’s outfit of the day. The girls don’t usually make eye contact with strangers (good) or acknowledge their remarks (even better), but I can’t not do it.
“Oh thank you. She has her own mind when it comes to fashion,” I say with a wink. Then I look down at Lily with a warped expectation that she follow my lead. When really, most of these exchanges could be short and sweet and — preferably — go unnoticed by my girls.
A cursory nod or quick smile would do the trick. Or maybe (gasp) no acknowledgement at all.
I don’t have to respond.
But I keep doing it. Then scolding myself.
So I raced through the article hoping the author would share a strategy, a solution. How do we resist the impulse to be a people-pleaser in these situations? Better yet, how do we shut it down for good?
Being kind is important to me. But indulging others — especially strangers — in unnecessary ways is a lesson I don’t want to pass on to my girls.
Awareness is a good first step, right? And I’m lucky that my girls are still little enough not to be very attuned to social cues (and usually too distracted to pay attention to these encounters when we’re out in public). So I haven’t entirely blown it.
But what better reason to make a positive change than for the benefit of my children?
This is what drives me to keep trying. To be more confident and protective of my kids and myself.
To be less ‘nice.’