My entire life, I have been a people pleaser. Sometimes it feels like everything I have ever done has been in service of making other people happy. When I was little, I would try to entertain and diffuse uncomfortable situations to make everyone more at ease. I’ve consistently pushed aside my concerns because I hate to have a negative impact on other people. You could cut me off on the freeway and I'd apologize to you because I was driving real slow. I’m not saying my stress regarding other people’s happiness yields excellent results; keep in mind that I’m continuously guessing at what will make them the most at ease. For all I know, I could be making other people’s lives more difficult with my attentiveness.
Worrying non-stop about whether the entire world is satisfied and in a good place is utterly exhausting. It has gotten even more fatiguing since having kids. Not only do I regularly worry about whether my kids are living as happily as possible, but I’m also overly concerned about their existence having as little of a negative impact on the general population as possible. Often, these two desires are at odds with each other. My kids feel the only way they can live their best lives is by being as loud, joyous, and boisterous as possible. Everyone else seems to want them to be abnormally quiet and considerate. Being a mom has made my people pleasing nearly impossible.
When we go to restaurants, I want my kids to sit calmly, eat their vegetables, and let the waiters and waitresses work. Instead, they fidget around, eat nothing, and try to engage the servers in in-depth conversations about the new toys they got at Christmas over two months ago. The servers try to be attentive as possible, but I can see their eyes glazing over as they run down their endless, ever-changing mental checklist. I usually intervene and distract the kids from their story. Sometimes, their volume makes me want to hide under the table out of embarrassment. I try so hard to keep them calm. This takes a herculean amount of effort, which is why I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed a meal out since 2010. On plane rides, I agonize for days over how to keep my kids out of the other passenger’s hair. I pack toys, snacks for days, and kindles. I hyperventilate the night before the flight as I think about all the ways my kids might make the other passengers' flight less than pleasant. After a successful trip, I then wonder how much my kids will hate me for all the stern “shhhh’s” and talking to’s I had to give them on the flight. I can’t win.
Never has this dichotomy felt more intense, though, than in my home. When we first looked at our current apartment, my biggest concern was that we couldn't be on the top floor lest our kids’ running destroy the lives of the people who live below us. Although the listing said there were four apartments, I only saw three. The ground floor apartment we were looking at and the two apartments above. I figured the listing had a typo in it.
On our move-in day, I walked around the side of the house for the first time. I froze halfway down the driveway when I saw a tiny hovel and a dingy red door. I looked up and saw, above the door, the bedroom that was intended to be the kids' room. That troll cave was the fourth apartment. All my dreams of having a relatively relaxing existence dissipated. Years of tense worry about my neighbors was sure to take over my life. To add to this, I found that our floors/ceilings were extremely thin, so my kids were at risk for pissing off the entire building.
When we moved in, it took a solid month for Darla to adjust and Jude, a newborn then, was waking up multiple times a night. Nightly tantrums, 2:00 am screaming, and early wake ups were our norm. This was now the norm for all my single, kid-less neighbors. I worried and yelled and tried to make our house a quieter space, but nothing worked. Not only was I making my family miserable, but the noise that had led me to feel overwhelmed with anxiety was also staying at the same volume. I have slowly eased up on my kids and have let them do kid things in the apartment.
For the most part, my neighbors haven’t complained, and I have learned to temper my anxiety. Although I continuously tell them to use their inside voices and to not run around the hallways until 9:00, I don’t go into a full-blown panic when their voices hit that decibel that makes my ears bleed.
There is one neighbor, the sweetest girl, however, who continually drops hints about how much she doesn’t like their early wake ups. Instead of falling over myself, apologizing, I just say, “Oh my god, I’m so not a morning person, either. I’ve tried for years to get them to stay in bed, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” If anything, my kids might inspire her to wait a little longer to have children of her own.
I still haven’t been able to temper my people pleasing, but I’m trying not to let it get in the way of me raising my kids. While, much to my husband Greg's chagrin, I did try to buy nice bottles of wine for all my neighbors before Darla’s birthday party last weekend, I resisted the urge and didn’t. I suffered in silence as I allowed nine kids to shriek, run, and dance across our wooden floors in such a way that shook our entire building. I didn’t hear a single complaint from our neighbors and Darla got to have the wildest party of her dreams that ended at a respectful 9:00 pm.