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Now That She's Watching

Photograph by Getty Images

I am a born people pleaser, which has always made me slow to speak up in situations where I probably deserve to have a voice. I never complain about food in restaurants, or defend myself outright when someone else is being rude. And I don't always respect my own boundaries, because I am often too focused on being liked.

I've never been overly concerned about my people pleasing tendencies. Avoiding drama and keeping the peace has always seemed worth swallowing my own voice.

Until I had a daughter.

Now that she is watching, I find myself wanting to set a better example. I strive to find my own voice so one day she will know that she is allowed to find hers as well.

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It started on a plane, a flight to see family out of state when my daughter was just 6 weeks old. Despite my new mommy anxieties, we made it through security and to our seats without issue. When two sweet grandmotherly-type women were seated next to us, I let out a sigh of relief, thankful to be near passengers who would not be bothered by a baby. I was even happy to oblige as they began asking unending questions about my little girl, taking solace in their interest as the plane took off.

But then, one of them reached out and touched her face. My daughter has cheeks so heavenly, they practically send out a beacon begging to be caressed. I understand how enticing they can be, as I spend much of my days smothering them with kisses. In this instance, however, it was uncomfortable. This was a woman I didn't know, running her fingers across my newborn baby's face. When the other one reached out to do the same, I was paralyzed by my own discomfort. I am hardly a germophobe, but this seemed to be crossing a line.

I want her to know that it is acceptable to have a voice, and to assert herself in matters of personal space and boundaries.

Still, I remained silent, even as this act continued throughout the flight. Because they were sweet, and their intentions were pure, and it didn't seem right to hurt their feelings in order to express my own discomfort.

It wasn't until after the flight that I began to reflect on the message my silence might have sent my daughter were she old enough to understand—the message that we should sacrifice our own personal boundaries in order to make others happy. Shame washed over me as I realized what a dangerous lesson that was to teach any child, but especially to a little girl.

Obviously she was too young to understand, and several months later I can now tell you that no harm came about as a result of these strangers and their touching. But it has made me more aware of my own people pleasing tendencies and the times it may no longer be appropriate to keep my mouth shut.

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Now that she is watching, my daughter is learning from me and how I interact with the world. She is going to mirror my actions, and while I want her to always be polite and kind, I also want her to know that she can speak up when situations leave her uneasy. I want her to know that it is acceptable to have a voice, and to assert herself in matters of personal space and boundaries.

So I am working on finding my own voice, and relinquishing some of my people-pleasing ways. Because now that she is watching, being liked doesn't seem nearly as important as teaching her this.

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