Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Mevater?

Q: I am concerned about my 11-year-old daughter who is oh so eager to please. I know that it is nice when a child wants to be giving to others, but I’m worried that she might be too much of a people pleaser. Sometimes she is so giving that it leads others to take advantage of her, and then she turns into, as they say, a shmatta.

While sometimes I think that she behaves this way because she simply has good middos, other times I think she might be acting this way in order to win friends and allies among her siblings.

My husband tells me that I should leave her alone and be proud of her character trait of being mevater. But I am afraid that she will view her own opinion as being unimportant, and that this may carry into her marriage and other important aspects of her life in the future.

I know that you may say that I worry too much about what will be, but I see myself having been the way she is now, for many years. To suddenly change and become even appropriately assertive can be very upsetting to those around you. I made that turn-around some 10 years ago and it wasn’t easy for my husband or for our children.

When I began to make time for my own self-care (e.g. going to the gym, making time to see friends), it wasn’t taken so well at first.The always-available mom wasn’t always so available. I had to learn to say no and it wasn’t easy for me — or for them!Even now there are days that I struggle with this issue.

When my other children want some extra help at the last minute, they know whom to turn to. They turn to my 11-year-old! She also lets them send her on guilt trips if she doesn’t do what they want.

How can I know what’s healthy vatrunus and what’s not?

A: Unfortunately there is no easy answer to your question (as is the case with all good questions). What a comfortable level of vatranus is for one may not be so for another. For those who are more obstinate by nature, giving up something is quite a difficult challenge. For those who are more flexible, less effort is involved when being mevater.

In general, being flexible is a desirable goal, as it is written in Masechta Taanis (20B): “A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not rigid like a cedar.”

One needs to keep in mind that being mevater is not the same as compromising. Rather, it is giving up what you initially desired, to concede, to relinquish. Being able to compromise is a mature, necessary skill that every person needs to learn in order to cope in this world. Compromise can indeed be very difficult to achieve, as neither side is getting what it desires.

Being mevater, on the other hand, is reflective of a high level of selflessness, but people need to be very honest with themselves about what’s motivating their actions. Are they being manipulated into doing this?

Sometimes even if it is through manipulation, it might bethe correct thing to do (as in the case of visiting an elderly relative, or somethingelse that one might avoid doing).

If one does give in, whether through manipulation or otherwise, it is wise to indicate that another similar request might not be acceded to in the future.

Perhaps one should spell out the parameters and limitations of the present act of selflessness, to make clear that this act of kindness may not occur again. People also need to be honest about their present life circumstances. What might have been possible two months before might not be advisable now.

It would be helpful to speak to your daughter openly about your concerns. You can convey ways that you yourself have learned, through years of experience, the tenuous balance of maintaining a generous spirit while simultaneously safeguarding a sense of self-preservation. A sense of dignity, along with being unselfish and flexible, allows self-esteem to be enhanced. B’hatzlachah!