Do you have a sort of preconceived idea or expectation of who you want your child to be or maybe become? I think just about every parent has big ideas about the kind of person their child will grow up to be. I did too.
Join me as I share ideas of how important it is to learn about who your child is, and how to accept and love them unconditionally. You’ll be glad you did. And your relationship will probably start changing immediately…for the better.
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So now onto today’s show…
Have you ever considered letting go of an expectation you have for your child? Well, I should ask this, if you really think about it… do you have a sort of preconceived idea or expectation of who you want your child to be or maybe become?
I imagine almost every new parent has big ideas about the kind of person their child will grow up to be.
We may have visions of our child dressing out for the big game and scoring the winning shot, or seeing them walk across the stage at graduation wearing every ribbon and medal known to man, or envisioning them taking a bow after a musical concert where they played first chair.
I had very similar ideas for each of my children, but by the time my oldest son was in Kindergarten, I began to see that his strengths and interests didn’t necessarily align with my vision of who I thought he should be.
I actually distinctly remember listening to other moms as they had their babies and talked about their concerns about how their baby was maybe not meeting certain milestones yet, like crawling or walking or talking, and me thinking to myself, Oh that’s not going to be my baby! He’s going to overachieve in all things. Which is funny, because all of my babies were very late crawlers and walkers, and my first child spoke a language only I could understand till about the age of 4. (But he walks and talks just fine now at age 20, so we’re good.)
But I remember the angst and worry I felt. As I took him in to get him diagnosed and put on medication for ADHD in 10th grade, I did not even know how we had gotten to that point. I fought it for so long and did not want to do it, and even now I’m not exactly sure it was the right thing to do, but had been so pressured by the schools and by his teachers.
But I always wondered and worried if there was more I should have done. I almost felt like putting him on a pill was the easy way out. Even though it didn’t really fix much of anything and pretty soon my son decided he didn’t like how he felt on the medication and stopped taking it all together, which I fully supported. But I always felt like there was more I should do: Should I have worked with him more? Spent more time helping him get organized each day? Should I have hired a tutor? I had no idea how the son of an educator could struggle in school so much, even though his IQ had tested off the charts. I basically blamed myself for everything, as if something was “wrong.”
But school wasn’t even what did me in. It was when I realized I had spent years of my life, painstakingly holding his hand through the Boy Scouts program, since the age of 8, to make sure he met all the milestones, raised money and sent him to all of the scout camps, spent hours working with him to get all of the merit badges he needed; and it was at about age 16 when he let me know that he was not going to finish and get his Eagle. His Eagle! The ultimate accomplishment to show how hard we worked (how hard I worked right alongside him!) We were finally going to get the pay off. He was going to have something amazing to put on his resume and show that he was worthy of any job he applied for because he was an Eagle! I hardly knew how to wrap my mind around him giving up, backing out, deciding that’s not something he really cared about getting.
It took a long time and a lot of working through my frustration and disappointment, but I finally concluded that the only way to move on with my relationship with him was to let the Eagle go. I just had to let it go. Like, completely go. And you know, I had to really dig deep and figure out why exactly it was so important for me that he accomplish this thing. Was it so I would have a sort of outward reward for all my hard work as a mom to show others just how good of a mom I was that my son could accomplish this big thing? Was it because of other people? Was it cultural? Was it an expectation I had put on myself when I was young, that all my sons would get their Eagles? Was it something unfulfilled in me that I was trying to live vicariously through my son?
Most importantly, in the midst of all trying to figure all of this out, and getting through my disappointment, I realized I had to finally start getting to know my son for who he is and what he wants out of life, and stop raising him to be what I think he should be.
It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight--it took a lot of practice and honestly a lot of really trying to get to know him for, really, the first time--but when I decided to do that, it changed everything. I was able to tap into his sensitivities, his needs, and the things he enjoyed and did not enjoy doing. I was able to work on myself and my own parenting to try to do a better job of meeting his needs, not what I thought his needs should be. Our relationship became stronger and I truly started to love my child for who he is and not based on if he was able to meet up to my expectations.
When we are able to let our expectations fall away, to truly just Let the Eagle Go, we get to watch our child’s real strengths and interests emerge.
Accept your child for exactly who they are. Get to know them and what makes them tick. Don’t just parent them from your own brain and what you think they should be doing, what they should be thinking, and accomplishing; parent them from your heart.
It's only when you try to get to know who your child really is and what their needs really are and accept them completely, even if they aren’t exactly who you were hoping or had expected them to be, it's only then that you have stumbled upon loving your child unconditionally.
And along the journey of really getting to know your child and their interests and what they want to do with their life, be careful not to overburden them or their schedule with too many things. Every activity we sign up for, it would help to take a step back and ask yourself, “Is something I want for them, or something THEY are really wanting to do?” Now this is good to keep in mind, but as I say this I realize I pretty much forced all of my children to play the piano. So I’m a little bit of a walking contradiction. So I guess I would say, within reason, it’s okay for you to choose some things for your child because you know it is a good thing for them. However, with my children and piano, if it has really gotten in the way of their life and brought their spirits down, I have let them stop taking lessons in their teenage years, which wasn’t something I wanted to do, but saw that they needed to stop for their own emotional well-being. In that case, I did let an expectation go.
That being said, there’s a book by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson called The Self-Driven Child and in this book they explore the link between parental control over the lives of kids and mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and self-harm. They teach us that the structured and busy world we have created for our kids where we fill every minute with team sports; art, music, dance, and language lessons; tutoring; and try to make our kids better versions of themselves is actually creating a generation of anxiety-riddled humans who have no sense of autonomy, feel stressed and exhausted, and have no control over their own lives.
What expectations are you holding onto that you’re holding onto just for yourself and not necessarily for your child’s best interest?
I believe that letting go of your expectations for your child might actually improve your relationship and make your child happier.
As I shifted my focus over time, I do remember kind of a grieving process as I let go of what I thought this whole motherhood thing was going to be like, of what I thought my child was going to be like and accomplish in life. I believe it is really important that we acknowledge the dream, but also how it does not support the reality. As I let go, the expectations were different. They felt lighter; I was more focused on the moment, the signs and signals of what my child needed, and also on me as a parent and how I needed to grow.
It definitely is still a work in progress. But I must say, with all that I’m learning, I’m a much better mom to my last 3 kids... that poor first child science project of mine.
I began moving away from the idea that I could mold my children to become my vision or dream, to one where I saw my children more clearly and tried to create space for them to grow and thrive in their own right, not mine.
This is not anywhere near easy for us parents, at all. But as you set that clouded idealization aside, you realize the beautiful and unique people in front of you. You become an observer in your child’s life, helping them navigate their path as opposed to choosing it for them. I found it to be incredibly eye-opening, as well as an opportunity for me to grow in my own parenting. Imagine how letting go of your dreams and expectations for your child and just “letting the eagle go”, imagine how this might affect your child. How would it change things for them? How heavy of a burden would you be lifting from their shoulders? How might this strengthen their relationship with you?
Seeing our children for who they are, not who we want them to be, takes focus in every moment. It also requires us to release any preconceived notion of what this journey will look like. It will never be exactly what we expect. As we see our child clearly, admiring their personality traits, needs, interests, and ideas, we can create a beautiful environment for them to thrive in.
So just remember: In the words of Joan Ryan, “Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have.”
Thank you for listening today and I’ll talk to you next time.
Now there are two ways to work with me, and I honestly can’t wait to meet you. Please make an appointment for a free 30-minute coaching call with me, you’ll be amazed at how much we can figure out for you and your family in just 30 minutes. And now I also have a free workshop to show you how to help your high school student earn college credits without changing schools or adding hours to their day. I’m so excited to share this with you. Go to the links in the show notes or go to my website the-mommywhisperer.com. Let’s talk soon.