Recently I have been thinking about expectations and their role in both parent/child relationships and the interplay between lovers. These reflections may have been fuelled by the fact that I am currently on a seminar tour of North and South America with my 17-year-old son. I am also apart from my partner, Moira, who is visiting family abroad for two months. Here are a few thoughts.
Life as a Garden
Children of the Baby Boomers were often charged with the belief that they could do and be anything they chose. Unfortunately, that expectation was not necessarily tempered with the understanding that success requires a tremendous amount of effort. In a gasping economy, this is even truer than in the gravy days of their parents and yet Gen X dreamers still crawl life's pathways, awaiting their pre-ordained dance with destiny. Here is the reality check. You can still have a shot at anything, but success is harder, not easier, than in previous times and you are mistaken to believe that success is your birthright. Get real with your expectations. If your parents have sponsored the first two or three decades of your life, they were misled and so were you. Realise that life is a garden, where passion, effort and exertion equal results. There are no handouts and there is no harvest without toil.
The Happiness Saboteur
The sabotage potential of expectation is most apparent when we consider personal relationships, including marriages. The most common reason given when over 50% of marriages fail is, "he/she didn't make me happy". Here’s some news. No one can make you happy except you. If you can drop the words "should" and "shouldn't" from your thoughts, you have removed a major liability. When your happiness is dependent upon someone else doing whatever you expect of them, you have effectively lost control of your own destiny and you are very vulnerable. Happiness is the ultimate goal in this life and you have just placed it in someone else's hands. The problem is that they often don't know or care what you expect of them, so your unhappiness is assured. It is also important to recognise that your personal happiness is often dependent upon your input in any relationship or situation. Your life is an energy system and you can't receive what you don't give.
Softening the Blow
Magazines, movies and digital media are constantly fuelling the fires of consumerism, the desires of the dreamers and the dream of all that seems desirable. Most of us understand that this stuff is not real, but the airbrushed images of perfect bodies and perfect lives can still leave a legacy of dissatisfaction with what we have. Our contentment with work, relationships and material possessions can suffer and the reason for our existence, our happiness, is at threat.
It can soften the blow of unrealised expectations if you truly understand that you control the root of happiness. There is absolutely no equation between physical or material achievements and your likelihood of happiness. This is your personal domain and all of us have equal access to the great gift. It begins with seeing the beauty in everything and ends when you recognise all that is beautiful in yourself. You cannot love another until you love yourself and this is not something that comes from looking in a mirror or surveying your material domain. It comes from looking within and enjoying what you see. The more forgiving and the less judgemental you can become, the more you will like that inner image and the greater your chance of happiness.
Reclaim Your Parenting Power
The institution of parenting has suffered the ravages of change more intensely than any other. Work pressures (now involving both parents), digital babysitters, broken relationships, substandard nutrition, video games and the all-pervading internet have conspired to create a very different parenting experience from that enjoyed by the previous generations. Mastery of these diverse influences is essential, but how are these "contaminants" best countered. Here are some ideas to consider:
Schedule quality time – If you are time-poor, as many of us are, then there is an increased need to schedule quality time with our children. The best way to achieve any goal is to programme time to work toward the desired outcome and to use that time productively. You may shudder at the loss of spontaneity, but some of our greatest novels and songs have been written using this self-enforced scheduling. In this case, the end result is amongst the most important achievements in your life. It represents your contribution to mankind (in helping to produce a community member who will be an asset rather than a liability for the world) and, of course, it represents the quality of the most enduring relationship in your life. Create the space and the good things will come.
Dissect the digital dilemma – Here’s how it works: computers, video games and the internet are undeniably the greatest bane of modern parenting. Head-shaking despair is the most common response from millions of parents, as they lament the loss of connectivity and communication that so often comes with digital absorption. "To where has my attentive, engaging child disappeared?" is the question of the ages. The problem is that this technology is here to stay and it is our role to learn to live with it. Grand Theft Auto recently achieved a record billion dollars in sales within three days of release. Unfortunately, this entertainment has become part of the shared cultural experience for the digital generation in this global village, and who are we to limit this cultural experience? It is hard to conjure up such a pervasive parallel but I guess your own parents banning the Beatles, movies and motor vehicles combined, might come close. They would only have served to create misfits for a modern world. Pleasant people perhaps, who bike to the library while whistling Beethoven's Fifth, but you wouldn't choose to party with them. So, we need to figure out a way to reclaim our kids without completely derailing their digital delights and common experiences. "Oh my God!" I hear you cry, "How can this be done?" Here's my humble contribution:
You can play the games with them (as some do).
You can make them earn their screen time with enforced time out, where you desperately hope you can generate entertainment powerful enough to wean them from their addiction.
You can encourage something equally addictive but more healthy, like surfing.
They are actually exercising both their brain and hand-eye coordination with these blood-drenched adventures, so our challenge is to make sure that they do not lose their communication skills in the process. Once again, it is our input that will determine their output. I have not mastered this dilemma personally, but I am trying hard.
I watch my 17-year-old son, Dan, in amazement. Multi-tasking is like breathing to this generation. He can do his homework, respond to constant texts, answer MSM messages and giggle his way through Facebook chats, whilst watching a TV comedy (and still laugh in all the right places).
Parenting becomes a constant battle where righteousness and reason are forever challenged by reality. I mean, how can I sit by and watch this multiple media mayhem? Surely his brain is suffering. This hyperactive fragmentation must be stripping his social skills and seriously messing up his ability to remain focused. And yet his grades are great and he communicates better than most of his monosyllabic mates. I simply can't find the negatives that should surely be ruining his innocent young life, so what do I do? Do I impose my belief system upon him regardless of the evidence or do I force back my flood of concern and practice watchful waiting? I am dropping the words "should" and "shouldn't" and life does become easier and more peaceful.