Short Notes on Rejecting Likeability: A conversation with my daughter.

In her essay, ‘Dear Ijeawele, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions ‘ Chimamanda Adichie writes about the importance of teaching girls to reject likeability.

It’s a concept that I’ve taken to heart, personally, as I’ve been a people pleaser all my life. Somehow believing that being liked and not rocking the boat were life’s key objectives, rather than prioritising your own wants.

I’m 38 and only now am I am really conscious of the shapes I have twisted myself in to keep other people happy. As if making other people happy were my job. It’s not, no more than it is anyone else’s job but mine to make me happy.

So it’s taken me thirty years to get to this point , and I’m not even fully there yet. If I can instill this in my daughter in her formative years and save her a lifetime of putting herself second, or last, then I’ll consider that a substantial parenting victory.


Which is why I found myself somewhat disturbed my an interaction with my daughter earlier this week.

She was being stubborn and not doing what I had asked , as is a three year olds wont.

I’ll be cross with you if you don’t stop that, I said.

She stopped.

Hurray! But then she said

Mammy are you happy with me ? I want you to be happy with me. 

This is a pretty regular refrain of hers. Are you happy with me mammy ? Do a happy face mammy.

Of course all children want to make their mothers happy , but it dawned on me, somewhat belatedly I admit, that threatening her with my displeasure was not the way to get her to change her behaviour. She was changing her actions to make me happy. This is not a pattern I want her to continue in her future.

She is three. She needs to be directed occasionally when she makes a misstep , but the way to deal with this is by guiding her to make the right choices, rather than withholding my satisfaction from her.

Feminism has informed my parenting in many ways, most notably being mindful of the language I use . The words that we use matter. These are the messages that stay with our children throughout their lives.

It’s not her job to make me happy. Not me, nor anyone else but herself.

Not you, not anyone else but myself.

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4 comments

  1. It’s so inbuilt over the generations for women to feel we have to please others, so I admire you for bringing up your daughter differently. If enough parents do this, hopefully future generations of women will be free of this burden.

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  2. The Other Emma · · Reply

    Heart sank when I read what she said. I’m always saying this to my two. Must stop it. I’ve spent years being, among other things, underpaid and taken advantage of personally because of my need to make sure others are happy or to avoid confrontation. I don’t want that for them

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  3. Birker · · Reply

    I have a friend who is genuinely warm, engaging, funny and friendly and is delightful company but many people (including me) find/found her scary when they first meet her simply because she does not have this immediate compulsion to make others happy and please everyone around her.
    She can come across as a bit cold because her default expression is a direct, unsmiling gaze rather than an ingratiating smile and, now I know her, it is SO refreshing to be around because it allows you to do the same. She has brought her (now teenage) daughter up to be authentic too and I admire them both. I am a proper smiler and pleaser myself and notice how automatic and needy my reactions can be in contrast to theirs.
    I find myself defending her to people sometimes. She really is not at all cold or rude, she just disregards social norms and invites you to be as real and present as she is herself.

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  4. Iskra Holstein · · Reply

    Remember the book “What Katy did?” If Katy’s aunt had told her “Katy, the staple that fixes the swing into the beam above has become loose” maybe Katy would not have disobeyed and crashed with the swing. Aunty was dad’s sister, unused to children and frazzled with home duties. Explaining when possible is good.

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