When I was eighteen and left home, I did not equate moving from Nebraska to Idaho as a courageous act. But, looking back at my decision, I understand now that it was more than just leaving home. Instead, it was my first of many steps, away from the well worn pattern of pleasing people.
As a kid, it wasn’t difficult to figure out how to please others. All I had to do was to be sweet, mild mannered, polite, and quiet. I didn’t ask any questions, and did whatever I was told to do. All of that compliance, with holding my comments and opinions accumulated inside of me. By the time I turned eighteen, I was driven to leave home.
Even without a clear plan, I was eager to move away from my past and carve out a life for myself. I settled into a small community, got a job and shared a house with four other people.
At the time, my mother was an operator at a large manufacturing company and she would often call me from her place of work free of charge. Conversations with her were awkward at best. In the middle of asking me how I was doing, she’d also ask me to hold while she directed an incoming call. I often thought of cutting that phone cord. Even though we’d never had a close relationship, suddenly she now missed me and wanted to converse. In reality, I’d moved away, but she still wanted to keep me within her grasp.
I, on the other hand, relished my independence. I gained a sense of who I was, separate from my mother and distinct from my siblings. It was the first time I’d ever experienced freedom from the spoken and unspoken expectations of my family. But it wasn’t always easy.
Though I was independent, I still hoped to make a connection with my mother; adult to adult. She made an appearance at my college graduation, but we did not connect on the emotional level. A few years later, I invited her to my wedding, but she did not come. I traveled back to Nebraska more than a few times to visit her, but still it seemed I was somehow missing the mark with her.
I distinctly remember the day when I finally realized that I would never please my mother. It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon call to her, just checking in. I was in my early thirties, content with the ups and downs in my life that included marriage and raising children. It dawned on me while talking with her, that Mom considered a good relationship as one that included making her happy and I’d not done that since I’d left home.
It was a sad and yet, at the same time liberating moment for me. I was not at her beckoning any longer and when I had been, I’d not been happy, I’d simply been compliant.
Why bother being courageous? It takes courageous action to take the necessary action to end our habit of being a people pleaser.