Moms spend a lot of time teaching our children how to become responsible and caring individuals. Oftentimes these lessons involve the words, “Don’t you care what people think of you?” or some variation on that theme. While it’s true we want to be (and want our children to be) contributing, appreciated members of society, sometimes worrying TOO MUCH about what others will think stands in the way of our doing that.
Don’t know what I mean? Have you ever chosen NOT to invite a friend over when you really wanted to see her just because the house is a little messy?
Have you ever talked your kids out of a day trip to the pool or beach because secretly you were dreading being in public in a swimsuit? Or, did you go ahead and go but then you suffered the entire time paranoid about what you looked like?
Perhaps you’ve put off joining the gym that you really want to join since you’ve heard great things about the classes and you don’t have equipment or space at home but you don’t want to go and be surrounded by a bunch of fit individuals who you assume will be looking down on you when you struggle.
Maybe you agreed to run the bake sale when you knew you would be short on time and energy since you were afraid that the volunteer chairperson would be upset if you declined. You, of course, manage to pull off a great bake sale, but you end up missing your son’s soccer game and don’t sleep at all the night before the bake sale so that you can finish bagging and tagging all the items.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing. I get to the gym more days than not because I don’t want to let my best friend down who is counting on me as a workout partner. She is also the same friend who walks right into my house and makes herself at home and expects me to do the same at her house. My other good friend cajoled me into daily trips to our neighborhood pool last summer to keep her company while our kids swam together. As a result, my youngest daughter was swimming like a fish by the end of the summer. And, if you’re a regular reader, you know my friend and I volunteered each other for a field trip and class party which both ended up being a lot of fun since we did them together.
So, how do you let yourself benefit from the positive effects of peer pressure without falling victim to the negative? It turns out, this is actually pretty easy. Pretend you are giving advice to the 16-year old version of yourself. If you happen to have a teenage child, it’s even more effective to pretend you are advising him or her.
Do remember when you were a teen and your parents would tell you that although having designer jeans seemed like the most important thing in the world at the time and you wouldn’t die if you didn’t have them? “It doesn’t matter what the kids at school think. You won’t even be friends with most of them five years from now.” Stupid grown-ups. They don’t know anything. They probably didn’t even have jeans when my parents were teenagers. Maybe THEY didn’t have the same friends five years after high school because they were so clueless about what it takes to be popular!
Any of this sound familiar? Take a minute to call your parents and apologize for being a know-it-all teen and then take another minute to realize you’re finally as smart as they were when they were trying to save you from your stupid mistakes. If you tap into that inner wisdom, here’s what you already know and need to remember:
Your Real Friends Want What’s Best For You
The people you should surround yourself with should be people who make you a better person. For more on this topic, read “Want To Be A Better Person? Pick Better Friends.” Good, loyal friends will want you to be happy and will help you to be. Be wary of friends who need company for their misery. That “friend” who likes to criticize your style, parenting or eating habits isn’t looking out for your interests, she’s trying to make herself feel better by pushing you down. My best friend and I don’t agree on everything, but when we do disagree we don’t try to make the other person feel bad for her opinion. I love that we’re different because it makes me think about things in different ways. You don’t need to make sure your friends are carbon copies of you since the differences will help you grow as a person. Just make sure you can be supportive of one another and appreciate, not resent, the differences.
You Can’t MAKE Other People Be Happy
For a long time I considered it a personal mission to try and drive negativity out of people around me. If someone was cruel or unkind, I thought I could somehow change them by modeling kindness. While I still believe it’s important to model good behavior (especially if your kids are watching!), I eventually figured out that some people will be miserable no matter what you do. Why waste time and energy doing things that make you unhappy on the very slim chance that it will make someone else happy? It doesn’t make sense. If you really want to help out at your child’s school book fair because you love books and enjoy helping others, then by all means, sign up to volunteer! However, if you dread doing it but are afraid that the PTO board is going to bad-mouth you to all the other parents, skip it. Chances are, they won’t say a thing. If they do: 1) That type of cattiness reflects more negatively on them than on you, and 2) If they’re so quick to gossip about you, they were going to do it anyway. That leads me to my next point.
Mean People Will Be Mean
If someone bullies your child, do you tell your child to give in to whatever the bully wants so that he or she stops? No! You tell your child to stand up to the bully or to tell a responsible adult who can intercede and stop the behavior. So why would you change your behavior to avoid being talked down to or gossiped about by a vindictive person (aka “bully”)? If someone is a gossip, she will find a way to gossip, no matter what. People who constantly criticize, belittle, or berate those around them do so because they don’t like something about themselves and want to keep the focus elsewhere. Rather than take it personally, you should feel pity for these poor, lost souls because they are the only ones who can fix their own problems. Unless you are their spouse or parent, you will have little power over improving their low self-esteem.
Act Right And You’ll Be Right
As long as you are behaving in a way that you believe is right (or good or proper), who cares what someone else has to say about it? I didn’t figure this out until I had children. Several of my husband’s sisters followed their mother’s example and had very strict nap and feeding schedules for their kids. I think that’s a great way to raise your children since it provides structure. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into my personality or life so I was much more flexible. I knew this would invite criticism because it was so different from how my sisters-in-law parented, but I was confident that what I was doing was right for me and my children so I truly didn’t care what others thought about it. It was a slower process applying this new attitude to the rest of my life, but for the most part, I’m there. Like everything else in life–marriage, parenting, exercise, healthy eating–every once in awhile I get off track and have to remind myself to focus.
The point is, you know yourself better than anyone else does, so only you really know what is right for you. None of us is perfect, so go ahead and seek advice from others and conform to different behaviors when you admire them in someone else. Just be sure that when you are letting others influence you, you are doing it because it is helping to make you a better person.