Elisabeth Corey teaches her daughter how to draw healthy boundaries.
My daughter wears a love mask. This isn’t unusual. We all wear masks. Every person on the planet is hiding some kind of emotion or insecurity behind a mask. And many wear the love mask. My personal choice is the perfection mask, although I will gladly pull out my anger mask when I want to be left alone.
But a love mask is not authentic love. It is a needy love. It is a love with an ulterior motive. It is a love that forces us to put ourselves last. It doesn’t consider setting boundaries, saying “no” or walking away from others. It is the love that encourages co-dependence. It is not the love that I want my daughter to embrace.
Unfortunately, my daughter has a well-honed love mask for her age. She was abandoned by her father at a young age and I think she believes this love will keep people around. To say it scares me is an understatement. I am petrified that she will try this in adulthood. Maybe it scares me because I have tried a variation of it myself, hence my children’s experience with abandonment. And the cycle continues … as it does.
I have seen her use this love mask in some pretty crafty ways. When she has been bullied, she has tended to pull out her love mask in an attempt to stop the bullying. Last year was the kicker. She was being bullied by a little boy, so she decided to “have a crush” on him. She followed him around and paid him so much attention that he just wanted to get away from her. The bullying stopped but not in a healthy way. And I discussed it with her. I told her there are other ways, more direct ways, to stop bullying. But I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. That was brilliant.” But I couldn’t help but think, “I hope she doesn’t think that was brilliant.”
Since then, I have remained painfully aware of her love mask. I have encouraged her to be as direct as possible with people who aren’t treating her well. I had a feeling it was getting through to her, but I was a little shocked by what happened yesterday. I never expected it.
We were at a new pool and we were meeting some new people. One adult man was particularly weird. I know that sounds judgmental, but it is the truth. He had been drinking and didn’t appear to be well-socialized. He felt the need to lecture my children about listening to their mom. He was one of those people who hasn’t figured out that kids will listen to their mothers without a man stepping in. He certainly had a saving complex … and a misogyny complex. And he needed some instruction in boundaries. I wasn’t concerned about pedophilia. He was far too unpolished for that. So I tried to be as nice as possible, but I also tried to stay away from him.
On the way home, my daughter said something I have never heard her say. “Mom, I don’t like him.” I tried to hide my shock. She liked everyone. What? And my response shocked me even more. “That’s ok. You don’t have to like him. And you don’t have to talk to him or be around him at all.” So she asked, “But what if he calls me over to talk to him?” And I said, “Don’t go.” And she looked relieved. I had just given her my full permission not to spend time with someone she didn’t like. She didn’t have to wear her love mask. She could take it off and everything would be ok.
And then I thought about my own childhood. I thought about what would have happened if I had “disrespected” an adult in that way. I thought about what my parents would have said: The fires of hell would have raineth down upon me. Children had no rights and that was that.
And I thought about how much time I had spent in my adulthood trying to regain use of the word “no.”
And I thought about all the adults who use the love mask and can’t allow themselves to kick someone to the curb.
And I thought my daughter won’t be one of those adults.
And I said to myself, “Thank God for that weird guy.”