February 13, 2023

Ep. 83b – Maggie Dent – Do Parents Unintentionally Promote People Pleasing?

‘People pleasing sounds like a positive pursuit,’ thought the parent who wrote in today’s question. It’s not! People-pleasing involves dishonoring yourself to honor someone else. Maggie Dent suggests generations of patriarchy have pushed women toward people pleasing.
She addresses this and more as she answers this great question about people pleasing and how parents unintentionally encourage their children to ‘make nice’.

Episode Guest

Maggie Dent

Maggie Dent is a passionate voice for children of all ages and genders, specializing in resilience training during the early years.

She’s a bestselling author of multiple books on parenting, including two on raising boys, and her newest book called girlhood. Maggie’s a syndicated host of ABC’s ‘Parental As Anything’ podcast (which was recently awarded best parenting podcast in Australia), and she’s internationally known as the Queen of Common Sense.

Alongside her degrees and years of study and practice, her work’s been rooted in the realities of raising her own four boys. Now, she has a wonderful flock of ‘grandies’ including 4 granddaughters who helped to inspire her newest book.

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Ep. 83b – Maggie Dent – Do Parents Unintentionally Promote People Pleasing?

RC – Maggie, thanks for being back for another question.

MD – Awesome

RC – I love how they’ve been coming in for you. This is very exciting. You’re clearly a trusted resource and we want to know your thoughts.

MD – Yeah, we just want clarity around the decisions we’re making. So if you can trust me that I’m going to give you something that’s based in common sense and a bit of science, let’s go for it.

RC – Okay. I’m just going to jump right into the question then. The person starts off with admiration for you. So I’m just going to read it because it’s important to hear affirmation.

They say, “Thanks for another Maggie episode and a chance to ask her questions. My sister lives in Australia and has heard her speak there and has sent me some of her books. I could not believe it when I saw you had her on Family 360.”

(I actually couldn’t believe it the first time either. So I know how this parent feels.)

She says, “It’s only in the last few years I’ve recognized being considered a people pleaser is not a compliment. Growing up and all through my twenties, I fully believed my mission in life was to please people. I don’t want to pass this down to my two daughters, now four and seven. Your conversation about ‘making nice’ and ‘not overselling kindness’ has me intrigued and concerned. I don’t want to inadvertently push them to be people pleasers, but I also want them to be thoughtful considerate human beings. What’s the line between the two?”

So I think she’s saying, “What’s the line between being a people pleaser and then being thoughtful and considerate?”

So that’s the first question. And I’ll come back to that in a second. And then the second question is, “What would a parent do or say that would prompt a child to ‘make nice’? And how would a parent unintentionally ‘oversell kindness’?

RC – Now, I don’t know if you have this, Maggie? One of the questions I’d love to ask you is, ‘What are signs that you are a people pleaser?’ And I pulled up ten signs that you are. Just in case some people don’t know what a people pleaser is. So do you have that at your fingertips or I can…

MD – No I don’t.

RC – OK! Does it make sense for me to start with that and then you take it from there?

MD – Yep. Go for it. Yep.

RC – Ok, so for those who are not clear on how to know if you are a people pleaser, here are ten signs I pulled up off the web. And as I read these, I think many of us are some of these things, but Maggie, you highlight the key ones you want to address. So, here they are.

You cannot say “no”.
You feel anxious about others’ opinions of you
You never have “you” time
You feel guilty setting boundaries
You apologize for things you don’t need to
You need constant approval
You generally don’t share your feelings with others
You have low self-esteem
You always agree in order to be liked
You fear being labeled selfish

Ok! So, take it away from there Maggie.

MD – Okay so, one of the key aspects of people pleasing is as a gender from the patriarchal background and system, we were the ones who did the caring.

RC – You’re talking women? You mean women? Okay.

MD – Women, were the carers, right?. So therefore girls model mostly on women, so therefore our job is to care. But when we care to the point that it can harm ourselves and we just cannot say no, even though our heart is going. “Oh,”

And we just aren’t brave enough to say, “This is something that doesn’t work for me.”

So when we put ourselves out for others. When we are exhausted. When we’re putting other people’s needs outside of our family before ourselves, it’s a complex little circle.

And I put my hand up is a classic example of the reformed people pleaser. And what happened to me was I burned out seriously, as a mother. Nobody put their hand up at the parents and friends association president meeting, so mine goes up because someone’s got to do the job. I can do the job.

“Yes, of course I’ll coach two more basketball teams because nobody’s put their hand up.”

“Yes, of course I’ll go and help those elderly age care people on that afternoon. It’s only an hour.”

But what I didn’t notice was how many hours in the entire week I was not taking care of myself. So I think it might be a culturally conditioned thing still, maybe because we are the ones who give birth, that your job is to put caring for others way up above caring for yourself, and underneath that, it’s needing to please people.

RC – Hmm. Okay. So that’s what a people pleaser is. And it’s interesting. This mum was saying she thought that that was a compliment.

MD – Yes. We do.

RC – I think we can equate it to being somebody who is kind to others.

MD – Yes.

RC – But what I’m hearing you’re saying is, and maybe this even is part of answering the question, if we’re doing it to please people, that’s different than doing it to be kind?

MD – And are we being kind to somebody who doesn’t deserve it, to avoid being rejected or not accepted? Does that make sense? So, sometimes this whole kindness thing, people say, “Just be kind to bullies and they’ll be kinder to you.”

No, they don’t deserve that. And that kindness can be absolutely a sell-off for women. Men aren’t told to be kind to avoid being not accepted. It’s like a female domain that the kinder you are the more you are being the version of girl or woman that we should be. And I’m not saying being kind is a bad thing, I’m just saying that we’ve got to be careful not to oversell it to our girls because they’ve got to be kind to themselves Rach.

Are you being kind to yourself? Is this something that will bring you joy? Is this something you could do for a little while to help somebody else? Because we know helping others helps us feel better about ourselves. We know that psychologically. However, when you help too many people, but not yourself, then you can be the one that ends up feeling resentful but won’t know why you’re feeling resentful.

RC – That’s such an important consideration for what might be behind a resentment isn’t it?

MD – Absolutely. I love that aspect of it. You can absolutely encourage kindness, thoughtfulness, and am I behaving fairly. But also, ‘Am I helping? Am I hindering or am I harming?’ And we do that towards others. But we have to turn the lens back to our self. Am I helping myself? Am I hindering myself? Or my harming myself by doing this? And have I just said yes to something that is going to take a very, very long time? Or yes to something that’s just going to happen today or tomorrow?

So every time we make that decision, we need to look at the consequences of making that choice, not just so that people will like me.

RC – Yeah. Do you feel, Maggie, that you’ve addressed the part about what’s the line between the two?

MD – I think so.

RC – So then when the mother says, “What would a parent do or say that would step into the realm of encouraging their child to make nice?” what would be some of the types of things that we do? Because I do think this happens without us meaning it to happen. I think as parents or as moms, we do promote people-pleasing and making-nice, even though we’re not meaning to. So what would be examples of how we do that?

MD – Yeah. Okay. So one of them is, there is a friend who, shall we say, ‘Uses her female friends far too much.’

So, she’s the one that will text like 10 minutes before the end of school time saying, “Can you pick up my children? You know, I’ve got an appointment.”

But she didn’t tell you at the beginning of the day, she tells you 10 minutes before assuming that you’re completely free and available to do it. Whereas, you might have something else on.

The assumption is she’s going to be a great friend and do it. It’s a bit different when it’s, “I’m running late.” But when it’s, “I have an appointment that was already booked in,” it’s quite a different thing. Does that make sense?

RC – So the the child’s just seeing the mom shifting everything that she’s got going on.

MD – And her face also shows it. Come on, let’s be honest.

RC – Yes, ok so the child can read in the mom’s face, and now how will she respond? That child is watching this.

MD – She’s watching that.

RC- Yes. This is good Maggie. So, can you give more examples because I do think we stumble into this unknowingly. So examples are helpful.

MD – Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So let’s start with; maybe there is a function happening at the school and everyone is encouraged to bring something along. And you’re watching your mom bring four dishes along instead of one.

And secondly, we have sport after school and often in Australia during a game we cut up oranges for whatever. The mum that turns up with the oranges and whole bag full of lollies for the end of the game, is trying almost too hard in order for people to really like her because she’s so generous. Just tiny little examples like that.

The other one is Mother-in-law rings up and just wants to check in if she could catch up for dinner one night this week. And you have not got a free night. And you go, “Absolutely sure. How about Wednesday?”

Get off the phone and go, “Oh, now I have to cancel what I have on Wednesday and I’ve got to move everything around.”

And your daughter’s hearing you instead of saying “This week isn’t good, how about we look for next week?”

So the respect of our own boundaries. And I think people pleasers, I’m afraid their boundaries are just mush, because they’re not keeping their boundaries for themselves. And one of the things as a people pleaser for me, I had to practice standing in front of a mirror and saying, “No, that doesn’t work for me. No.”

And not apologize for saying no. That was the other side to it.

RC – Or making an excuse.

MD – And make excuses. No. It’s not okay. It just does not work for me, doesn’t feel right for me. And I had to practice it in order for it to become comfortable for me, even though inside my heart it was definitely a ‘no’ that was what I wanted. But I also noticed the more tired we are, the more we say yes.

RC – Why?

RC – It takes energy to stand up for yourself and hold your boundaries. You know, it’s the same as, we become a screaming, shouty mum when we’re exhausted. We’re often a grounded, caring, loving, firm parent when we’re not. So again, the more exhausted we are, the more we aren’t the parent we want to be in the best of times. But your girls are watching your facial expressions. And, I think I put up a meme not long ago that said, “Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry. I actually let my true expressions appear on my face. I shouted with my facial expression.”

Every woman knows that. There’s this look. And your daughter picks that up every time they go, “Oh, of course I’d love to come.”

Oh, and that face looks like that. She’s picking that up. That she’s just said, ‘Yep’ when she really meant ‘No’.

I’d love it if our daughters could say, “Mummy, did you really want to say no? Can you talk to me about that?”

So she’s able to have conversations that there will be times that we can’t all get it perfect. Let’s be honest. But we need to know that there will be times you’ll say yes to something because it’s very important and it might put you under a bit of pressure but it feels in alignment with the values of you as a core human being.

So my core human beings is, I definitely wanted to volunteer in my community, to be a person that helps those more vulnerable. And there were times the boys would say, “Why can’t you come and watch me basketball tonight?”

And I said, “Because I’m actually down doing Meals on Wheels. I’ll be there next week.”

Does that make sense?

RC – Well, yes, it does. It’s actually helping me understand things better, too, because I think that when you are going to help with Meals on Wheels, in what you’re describing right now, it’s because you really care about that cause, as opposed to bringing twenty beautifully decorated cupcakes because you want people to like you.

MD – Yes.

RC – That’s the difference, isn’t it? It’s the why behind what you’re doing. Is it to be liked? Or is it because you’re so passionate about what you’re doing and you truly want to do it?

MD – Yes, but sometimes our helpers can help too much.

RC – Okay. So it’s not as simple as I was saying. Okay.

MD – No, it is. You’re absolutely right. Because the motivation is different. But in helping and helping and helping, because it’s the only way you think people were like you, you can often over-commit. You’re helping absolutely every community around you. Which is great if you don’t have children at home and that’s what floats your boat, go for it. However, when you have children and you are raising them, they’re watching how you be the parent to them in order to make sense of the choices you make. It’s common sense underneath. But I had to really do some personal growth work around my people-pleasing because I had no idea that it was a problem. Which is exactly what that mum said. “I thought that was to be celebrated.”

And then I realized darkly underneath that, that was because I didn’t value myself and my own self-worth was dependent on my behavior so that people would like me and not dislike me because I couldn’t handle any more of that.

RC – Hmm. Maggie, I like you so much for having these opinions. Thank you for your wisdom.

MD – We have a shared and mutual love and respect, which is why I love chatting to you Rach. And from get go.

RC – Oh, well, thank you. Well, we will be back next week with one more question. So I look forward to that.

MD – Sounds fantastic.

RC – All right. You’re the best.


Episode 67