You know the expression “living through someone else’s eyes?” Or the idea of having someone live their life through you? Well, until recently, that’s something that I’ve always allowed. All my life, especially as a kid, I thought that one of my most important responsibilities, other than doing exceptionally well academically in school, was to please my mom.
How A Middle Child Thinks And Behaves
As the middle child of three, I always felt as though I had something to prove because it was the only way someone was going to notice me. The oldest sibling in the family is the first to do, and to accomplish something and they are praised consistently. The youngest sibling is always in the limelight because they are often times demonstrating an ability or skill for their first time. Naturally they are praised and encouraged to “do it again.” And aren’t they just the cutest, the most darling at everything they do? Of course parents and older siblings are fawning all over them. But as the middle child, I missed out on this attention. So if I could make my mother happy by doing everything she wanted me to do, that is how I could get positive attention from my mom, who was the parent I spent most of my time with.
My Mother’s Happiness Must Be My Responsibility
I remember my mother working all of the time. She was rarely home and when she was home she was exhausted and unhappy. I felt sad for her and I knew she was working to take care of us. At an early age I remember thinking, if I could make my mother happy, then everything would be okay. I would do everything to reverse her unhappiness. If she was unhappy with the outfit I was wearing, I’d immediately change it. If she complained about my hairstyle, I’d redo it. If she didn’t approve of my friends I’d change them. I did these things and other things without question or discussion. I never came home with a grade lower than a B+ which put tremendous emotional strain on me in coursework that did not come easy.
During my elementary school years, I wanted to play an instrument, but I thought my mother would like to see my in the pretty dresses so I took ballet. I changed my opinion on things if it seemed to draw the slightest amount of disapproval from my mother. Whether I was planning to attend a birthday party, carry out plans with friends, or share my intentions to visit my father’s side of our family, the slightest hint of disapproval from my mother would result in me cancelling my plans. The older I became, the unhappier I felt with my life.
My biggest fear was never about receiving physical punishment or losing a privilege. My fear was seeing my mother’s disapproval. I needed her approval desperately. I could not separate my needs from what my mother needed of me to be happy or content or show me positive emotions.
For the longest time, I never really understood my mother. She appeared to want me to do well and be successful. She would say things such as, “Do your best in school, and don’t get into trouble.” I interpreted my mother’s statements to me as I must be the best in school, and never get in trouble. And to make my mother happy that is exactly what I did.
The Cost Of Pleasing A Parent
As I got older I realized there is a huge cost to individuals like me when we become so committed to living a life that someone else wants us to live. Or when we become obsessed with living in a way to make someone else happy.
As an adolescent I was unsure of who I was, where I was going or who I wanted to be. My parents were in custody battles over my sister and me. It was a very dark time and continuously grew darker. I became increasingly sad. Yet I was unable to share the depth of my depression with anyone including my mother. To share my feelings was to break my mother’s, as she referred to them, ‘life rules.’
- Do not cry because nobody in the world cares about your feelings.
- In my household it is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship –what I say as your mother is what goes.
- Do as I say not as I do
- I am always right even if I’m wrong. I am right.
These were the rules I believed in and these are the rules I conformed to. I adjusted my feelings, my opinions, my wants, my needs, my goals, my values, and my beliefs.
My mental & emotional state became so damaged that I had to go to therapy. Over a seven year time span I went to group therapy, family therapy, and one on one therapy four days a week while in college. These became the most difficult years of my life. I know that therapy works for many people and I certainly do not want to undermine the power of therapy.
I received excellent guidance and direction which saved my life later. For example, the importance of having a support system, gave me permission to build some support for myself, and gain some trusted friends.
Unfortunately, the therapy I had did not use a developmental lens to view my problems. Perhaps I hadn’t shared enough of my feelings in an effort to protect my mother. Nevertheless, it would not be until years later that I did.
The Critical Development Years
I learned it is critical during the teenage years for teens to start to decide who they want to be, and what they want to stand for separate from their parent’s values, beliefs, and virtues. Adolescence is a vital developmental time in which children are transforming into adults. The typical teen takes on some of their parent’s values and beliefs, sheds other, and picks up their own. It is during this time that teens are discovering their own talents, interests, and creativity. Together these values, beliefs, talents, interests and creativity move them into career choices that are a good fit for them. Or volunteer work that helps them discover where they fit in the world. Through these actions we ultimately build within us a sense of significance and self-worth. But, like I stated earlier, I wouldn’t discover this critical information until many more years passed.
In part 2, you’ll read how I discovered my way and grew into more happiness. I share how Dr. Kim Metcalfe has played an important role in increasing my development and inspiring me to grow to be a more confident young woman.
About The Author
Naomi Galloway is a student pursuing an English degree at Cerritos College and is looking to transfer to an HBCU or San Francisco State University. She has decided to use 1. Courage, 2. Perseverance, and 3. Authenticity to live life of her choosing because trying to live according to the expectations of others has brought her too much sadness. She has decided to share her journey with the hopes of inspiring others to be who they want to be and walk in their own path which would lead to discover the joys in life.