In the past few weeks each of you has expressed some version of the following sentiment to me: “I feel pressured to live up to the expectations you and mom have for me.”
On the one hand, I’m tempted to take this as a compliment: If you didn’t respect us enough to worry about what we think, we wouldn’t be in any position to parent. On the other hand, I want to be as clear as possible about what I really expect from you. With that in mind, here are four things:
1. I expect imperfection
Whatever image you have in mind of what you think I want you to be–perfect child, varsity athlete, valedictorian, whatever–just go ahead and let that go. Your mom and I want you to be a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person, not just in middle school, high school, or college but far beyond. And every happy, healthy, well-adjusted person I know is also deliciously, uniquely imperfect.
You will be, too. Even as an adult, you will often be confused or frustrated or unsure. You will make mistakes and muddle through. And every now and then, you’ll probably really blow it.
In fact, the real question isn’t whether you’ll be imperfect but what you’ll do with your imperfections. Many of them you should just accept and learn to work with and/or compensate for: they are part of what makes you deliciously, uniquely you. Others of them you should work to change. Which brings me to my next expectation.
2. I expect work
Becoming a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person isn’t easy. It takes experimentation, struggle, and even a certain amount of sadness and frustration along the way. That may seem counter-intuitive, but you’re plenty smart enough to understand that it’s true. Life isn’t always easy and good. To get the best out of it, sometimes you have to find your way–or even fight your way–through.
Oddly enough, the path to your happiest self is likely to be paved with good old-fashioned hard work–in a job, as a parent, with fellow volunteers, etc. Hopefully much of it will be the sort of work you find engaging and rewarding, but–news flash–it will probably still feel a lot like work a lot of the time.
Sorry. The silver lining here is that a sense of real accomplishment lies on the far side of work, as does the respect of people who come to rely on you (and vice versa). And the work can sometimes be fun along the way. Which brings me to my third point.
3. I expect joy
Pure, unmitigated, unabashed joy. Not every day. Maybe not even every week. But every so often for sure. The joy that comes from accepting yourself as you really are and maximizing the gifts you’ve been given. The joy that comes from celebrating real accomplishment. And the joy that comes, most of all, from loving and being loved.
I expect that you will experience joy because I know that you bring it. And while karma is rarely instant, people do tend to reap what they sow. I also think it’s important to stay open to the possibility of joy, which can sometimes arrive when you least expect it.
4. I expect great things
In the end, I really do expect great things from you. But more importantly, I want great things for you, and I want you to decide for yourself what those great things are.
Parents are famous for projecting their own insecurities and unfulfilled dreams back onto their children. I promise I’m trying my best not to do that. If I ever fall short, see numbers 1 and 2 above: I’m imperfect, but I’m working on it.
And even as I do, you bring me great joy. You’re already more than I ever expected, so don’t worry too much about living up to what I want. Just get on with becoming what you mean to be. Create your own expectations for yourself. Then go out and chase them. I’ll be here whenever you need me.