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People Pleaser

Searching For a Mother's Approval

By Matthew EylerPublished 7 years ago 5 min read

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" said my teacher.

That was an easy question for me. I had known the answer since preschool, the early age when you first begin to understand that people have jobs. I may not have understood the complexities of a career, but I knew that people spent a lot of time there, so if I was going to pick something to do with the rest of my life it was going to be something that made me happy.

Fast forward twenty years... I was miserable.

I had become an educator. When people asked me if I liked my job and I expressed my dissatisfaction, it was easy to blame it on Common Core and the politics of the school system. You could easily blame it on the difficulties of students in the present age, or the problems that stem from bad parenting. But deep down in my heart, the reason I hated my job wasn't for any of those reasons. I hated my job because I had chosen it in order to make someone else happy, not myself.

My mom had been a teacher before I was born. She had taught elementary school for several years before becoming a stay at home mom to take care of me, her firstborn. My mother was not a genuinely happy person, in fact she was miserable and silent most of the time, but when she talked about having a career, about her years spent in the classroom shaping young minds, she lit up. When I was in elementary school, my mom would volunteer in my classroom as a "room mom." It was here that she appeared happier than she ever did at home. When I got older, Mom went back to work, this time as a preschool teacher. As a teenager, I had opportunities to go into the classroom with her and help out and she was the most pleasant there that I have ever seen her. Working with children, or maybe it was just working in general, brought something out of my mom that I rarely saw on other occasions. And even though she could be cold and callous with her own children, with those of other people, she was gifted.

I so badly wanted my mom to light up that way with me. Now that I am an adult I know my mom loves me and on some level, and in her own way, I believe she is proud of me. But feeling those emotions and expressing them are two very different things, and as a little kid, I was dying to get my mom's stamp of approval. So I went off to college to become a teacher, something that I had said I would do since I was drawing pictures of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" in preschool.

On graduation day, my parents asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told them I just wanted to go out to dinner with them and my fiancé. We went off to the ceremony, I got my diploma, and we celebrated and took pictures. But that wasn't enough for me.

"Are you proud of me, mom?" I asked. She replied that she was, but it felt forced. I shouldn't have had to ask.

At dinner, I repeated the question. "Are you proud of me mom?" I asked for a second time, and she repeated the same thing, but it didn't fill the empty hole in my heart that had been dug out by years of indifferent parenting.

Later that summer, I got offered my first teaching job. I ran downstairs to tell my parents, specifically my mother. This was it. She would hug me and tell me she was proud of me. All my hard work would pay off. But when I gave her the news, she let out a weak smile and said, "That's really great."

That's close enough right?

It wasn't. And so in the following September the school year began and so did the first year where I realized teaching was not what I thought it would be. Yes, I thought it would make me happy, but it didn't. I had become a teacher for my mom's approval and now I was left without her approval and with a career that I seldom enjoyed.

I tried to find her approval in other life events too. I got engaged, but my mom looked at me like I was making a very stupid mistake. When I got married, my mother and I fought nearly everyday leading up to the wedding. When I had my first child, she was overjoyed and I thought we had a breakthrough. This child was going to help be the thing that brought our family together. However the excitement quickly passed and my mother went back to being her cold and irritable self, even when my daughter was around.

I began to seek out the approval of other people. I tried to bond with leaders in my church by being the most knowledgable and zealous young person. I tried to please my instructor at karate class by working hard and being a perfect example. I strived at work to be the type of teacher that my boss would call out as exemplary, but none of these things, whether they were successful or utter failures, brought me much joy. Instead they just created a storm of anxiety in my chest and left me wondering if anyone even liked me at all. If my mother wouldn't express her pride with me, then the satisfaction of other people must not be there, and if it was present in any little shape or form, it was a lie, a half truth.

I ended up cutting my parents out of my life for awhile. Trying to gain my mother's approval and lead a balanced, successful life just became too toxic and hard, but I am still a people pleaser. Saying "yes" to people gives me hope that I am making them happy and bringing them some sort of joy that I rarely, if ever, saw in my mother's eyes. And I am making sure that my own kids know undoubtedly how much I love them. I will hug them, kiss them, and tell them how proud of them I am until I am blue in the face. I'd rather they be over confident in themselves than be riddled with the grief and anxiety that has plagued me.

And it's this quality of relationship with my own children that finally makes me proud of myself. I am a people pleaser, but the last person I learned how to make happy, was me.

immediate family

About the Creator

Matthew Eyler

I am a 27 year old guy from upstate New York. Jesus follower, Husband, Father, Teacher, and Martial Artist, in that order.

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    Matthew EylerWritten by Matthew Eyler

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