When my twins were five, our extended season of crisis came to a slow and terrible climax. I was working a side business like my life depended on it, weakly attempting to homeschool five kids, and struggling through several meltdowns per hour from my girls.
I was exhausted all the time and felt stuck and depressed. In was hard to get out of bed, and when I did, I would often doze off on the carpet mid morning. I felt unseen, and yet in that chaos I managed to have the biggest heart for others, or so I thought.
I had a friend I cared about dearly and we would check in with each other often. Though well meaning, she had no framework for comprehending the war zone happening in our home.
She expressed some marriage struggles and a desire to go on a marriage retreat but had no one to watch her kids. I offered to take her three small children for a long weekend, along with my five, several who would be triggered by the big change in routine.
It did not go well for me. The kids were all fine, of course, but my husband and I’s fragile stress reserves went below zero. It was one of our boy’s birthday, so we played it off as a fun extended birthday sleepover but inside it felt terrible. I kept asking myself, “what am I doing?!”
It was a tipping point for me. I found myself anxious, stressed, and so sad it was hard to move. I began hiding as much as possible in my room just writing in my journal and crying out to God.
I was trying to avoid my kids and keep them from my irritation which lay so close to the surface. I realized I was seeking purpose and community by bending over backwards for people to please them.
I can’t tell you how many times a similar scene repeated itself. I would show up to support or serve someone in need and arrive to realize their lives were swept and put together while mine was falling apart. I was the one who needed help. I was people pleasing to the detriment of myself and my family.
The problem with people pleasing, is it seems kind and altruistic on the surface, but at the core is manipulation. We change who we are, say yes when we don’t want to, and pander for the approval of others.
The first problem is we don’t actually have control over their thoughts and feelings towards us. The second is even if our tactics work and they approve of us, they are in a relationship with a person who isn’t real. We will resent them for our choices. Either way we lose.
Soon after the incident of taking on eight children for someone else’s marriage retreat when we didn’t even have the luxury of going out on dates because no sitter could handle our special needs kids, I decided I need to step back. I had lost perspective. I let my friend know that even though I loved her, I was going through a hard time and needed to focus less on my relationship with her and more on my family and self-care.
It was really hard to say no, and to let her down. She didn’t take it well and decided to cut off communication completely. I had led her to believe I was someone for her I truly was not, and showing up as my honest self, was a rude awakening.
Proverbs 29:25 tells us “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Snared in my own trap is exactly how I felt. At the root of people pleasing, it’s about where we find our value and worth.
Our value as human beings was established the moment our life began. Nothing we do, don’t do, other people’s opinions, or our insecurities can change that. Our children’s behavior, our failings or success, the amount in our bank account, our pant size, the car we drive, or whether we help the PTA can define our worth.
Nothing gets to mess with it because it already is. Just like the sky is blue regardless of how we feel, your worth is a fact.
It’s okay to say yes to a few things, but not everything. And make sure you like your reason and it has nothing to do with fear of how people will view you. Tell the truth to yourself and allow people to know the real you. What they get to think is on them.
As a foster or adoptive parent, I am certain you have been judged for your unique circumstances. You’ve gotten condescending glares while your prenatally exposed child had a sensory meltdown in the Target checkout. You’ve had girlfriends with biological kids say “me too” when you talk about your child’s struggles, knowing in your heart she has no concept of the level of your pain or thinks you’re overreacting to everything.
You’ve had a relative question why you would adopt a child from another race and make inappropriate comments. You’ve had someone say you have too many kids, took the easy way out, or ask who the “real mom” was.
People will do and say crazy things. No matter what they think or say, what insanity your kids are going through, or how many times you mess up, nothing can change the fact that you are the perfect parent for your child.
- If you start to look for reasons why, I know you will see that it’s true. Even when you go into angry toddler mode as a parent, it gives you another way to empathize with your child when they’ve had a meltdown. “It’s okay baby, me too.”
- If you had a crappy childhood, it prepared you to be the best parent for your child.
- If you have a health problem that keeps you from doing all the activities with them you want to, it’s exactly what you need to slow down and parent intentionally or empathize.
- If you work full time and feel endless guilt over not spending more time with your kids, it’s allowing a team of other adults to surround them with love and strengthening their character.
- If you came to adoption from infertility you are not broken. Your losses and journey have prepared you with everything you need to parent. You are whole.
- If you have a bunch of kids like I do and feel like there isn’t enough of you to go around, perhaps it’s creating a strength, resilience, and team work in your kids they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Have your own back and start thinking about all the ways you are exactly the parent in the perfect circumstances that your child needs. You get to be who you are and give everyone else permission to think whatever they would like. If you’re not letting someone down at some point, you’re probably not doing it right. God has already approved of what you do, and that’s all that matters.
I created 6 weeks of journal worksheets with verses and gratitude prompts to fit your intense season of parenthood. You can find the journals in my book, Parenting Through Valleys. It will be everything you need to put into practice in one place, helping you feel less shame, and more joy, in just twenty minutes a day.