Set Standards, Not Expectations

th-4.jpgFather worked six days a week, and with the exception of Saturday, was gone from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm.  Sundays were reserved for family day:  usually church, visiting, and a formal dinner.  He could be fun at times, but typically he was tyrannical – angry and critical – calling us idiots, useless, and expletives I won’t mention here.   When Dad was home, more often than not, we ran for cover.

I wanted a Dad who came to my baseball games, championed my successes, and told me I was his princess.  He never came through for me.

Mom cooked, shopped, cleaned, pandered to Father’s every need, never had any friends of her own, and told us all was well.   She fed us when we were hurting, avoided confrontation, and bore her physical ailments like a martyr.   She voiced her disapproval of me daily, as if words alone could change me.

I wanted a mother who was strong, and assertive, and whom I could model my own life after.   It was not to be.

th-5I wanted to be that kid, whose family rallied around when times were tough, and always ‘had my back’ (whatever that meant).  Instead, I grew up in a household where attention was in short supply, and siblings were either jealous, fighting, or indifferent.  Comparisons pitted us, one against the other, and the competition was on to see whose drama gleaned the greatest power. As the most “stable” offspring, I was a constant outsider.

I internalized the lacking in my life, as if it was somehow a manifestation of my own failings.  If my parents were a disappointment to me, surely it was because I didn’t meet their expectations.  I was too loud, too obnoxious, and lacked in feminine graces – never good enough for my father, and forever an enigma to my mother.

It is easy to look back on my life and assign fault for the many mistakes I have made, and yet, blame is a endless game.    What I really need to do is question my expectations.

Expectations are egocentric and based in fantasy.

“Set standards, not expectations,” I told my daughter recently.  “Standards define accepted behaviour and imply boundaries.  Expectations invite disappointment.”

Imagine letting go of expectations.  Imagine accepting a parent’s love for what it is:  their best effort given the circumstances.   Imagine being free of other people’s expectations.  Imagine feeling accepted.

th-3.jpgHistory cannot be rewritten, but it can be re-examined.

Without expectation I can see my father for who he really was – a man overwhelmed by the inability to live an authentic life.   I cannot possibly fathom how difficult it was for him, every day, to go to work, pretend he was something he wasn’t, and then return home to a family who refused to acknowledge him.  It is actually a testament to his love for us that he did hold it together.  A lesser man might have made different choices.

She may not have been the mother I wanted, but my mother was a survivor.  With six children and no means of supporting us, she had no choice but to make her marriage work, and she did so with an upbeat attitude, and a commitment to shelter us children from the worst of it.

th-1My parent’s were not disappointed in me.  In my own convoluted way, I made myself responsible for their well-being, and I translated their pain into personal guilt.  What I failed to see through the lens of expectations was that we were all victims of a tragic situation, each struggling to pull through.  Some of us thrived better than others.

In a reversal of perspective, I can see that I have been gifted with a life that has challenged me to be resourceful, develop faith, and grow.  And I could not have done it without the family I was born into.




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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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