For years, I considered this a virtue.
Or at the very least, not a problem. I was the peacemaker. Rarely rocked the boat. Gave in rather than cause a fuss.
I was a nice Christian girl. Good Christian girls don’t make waves. Making other people happy was the right thing to do.
I thought I was noble.
And then I had children.
Two beautiful, amazing, extremely strong-willed, quite vocal, opinionated children.
My “noble” people-pleasing tendencies had hit a crossroads. The only way that I could avoid conflict and make my kids “happy” was to give in to them.
However, the more I tried to appease them, the more unhappy and demanding they seemed to become.
And I became more angry and resentful. It made me so mad that they kept putting me in this uncomfortable place. Why couldn’t they just obey?
My parenting approach during their younger years was truly the definition of insanity. You know, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
I gave way too many second chances. “No” didn’t really mean “no.” It was just the starting point of negotiations with Mom.
I required far too little responsibility of them because it would often cause full-blown drama.
The quest for all this “happiness” (cough) came into ironic full bloom in the middle school years. All those “yeses” that should have been “no’s” resulted in a lack of respect. The responsibility that wasn’t given gave way to an air of entitlement.
Not much bliss going on in my house.
I had to make a crushing acknowledgement: I wanted my children to be happy. However, my overriding desire was for my own happiness. That was at the root of my people pleasing. Their approval, their happiness was really about filling a void within myself.
A void that only God can fill.
Gradually, this approval-addicted mama came to her senses. God slowly showed me how to quit looking to my kids for my worth. It has been a long, painful — and incredibly freeing — process.
The road to a healthy, respect-filled relationship with my kids hasn’t progressed in a straight line. Sometimes I still fall back into old patterns. But not nearly as often as I used to.
When I’m unsure about whether to say “yes” to one of my kids’ requests, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself a few questions:
Is this about my comfort? I ask myself if I’m saying “yes” — or letting something slide — because I don’t want the conflict. Is my decision in their best interest — or mine?
Will saying “yes” to this bring my kids closer to being an adult that is responsible, giving and loving? Letting our kids have what they want feels good — for the moment. I’ve had to train myself to take a long-term view in my decision-making. I’ve learned the hard way that the self-serving decisions I make today have a negative long-term effect on my kids.
Is this an area where I can give grace or do I need to stand firm? Knowing when to give grace or stand firm often depends on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the child. If a child is generally very responsible in an area, but makes a mistake, perhaps you can give grace. However, if it’s an area of weakness and/or one where they are consistently pushing boundaries, it’s important to stand firm. No matter how loudly our people-pleasing nature is screaming. The bottom line is that answering this question really requires asking for Divine wisdom daily — sometimes moment by moment!
Setting new boundaries — and enduring the resulting pushback — has been hard for me and my kids. But we are all better for it.
And while I still hate conflict, this “nice Christian girl” has learned to fight.
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