You verify every grade on the report card. You double check your kid’s homework to make sure she has it all “right”. You make sure they do their homework for two hours before they play any Minecraft. You take over the science project to ensure they win top prize. You want to make sure your child is a success and your happiness is dependent on it.
Really? Do you want to be dependent on your child’s success for your own happiness? That will end up being a lifetime of struggle. I’m not suggesting that you don’t want health and happiness for your child. We all want that. But are you measuring your happiness and/or success by your child’s success? What does success look like for your child? And who gets to decide what success is? Is that really up to you?
I facilitated a workshop on CRR Global’s Toxins and Exploring Edges. I coached one of the participants on a change she wanted to make in her life (which Edge she wanted to explore). She has two sons. One is academically gifted and the other is academically challenged. Well, she was able to let go of expectations from the challenged son. She realized that letting go of one child’s expectations had heightened the expectations for the other child. The change she wanted to make was to be able to let go of expectations for her gifted son.
So here are some of the insights from the exercise:
- Trust is the core of every relationship. This is one of the 5 Behaviors of the Cohesive Team by Patrick Lencioni. As Lencioni posits, it’s not just predictive trust (you do what you say you are going to do) but also vulnerability based trust (you admit when you made a mistake). Are you letting your child be vulnerable? Are they allowed to make a mistake without you chiding them? If they can’t be vulnerable, they aren’t going to tell you when they mess up.
- Autonomy doesn’t have to mean you don’t care. Autonomy is a great gift to the folks in your life. Getting wrapped up in whether or not their homework is done or if they are EVER going to empty the garbage is exhausting and it’s not helping you find happiness. When you don’t let your children have autonomy (within reason folks…don’t let your 5-year-old park the car), they are constantly seeking your approval and reassurance or, on the flip side, are demotivated because they can’t have independence. Autonomy helps them create that on their own. The responsibility of success, failure and happiness are safely resting on their shoulders. Autonomy shows that you do care.
- Let go in stages that work for you. The mom I was working with, initially “jumped” across the Edge. She then decided to go back and slowly inch her way across the Edge. It resonated when she was able to gradually move across the change of letting go. Her body language relaxed. You could see that she was relieved and that she could control how and when she would let go. How and when you let go is a very personal choice. Don’t jump unless you want to.
- Acceptance of both failure and success is critical. Mommy client said that she needed to let go of whether her son got a 90 or a 97. “They are both A’s.” I remember standing in the middle of the kitchen when my son was making a complicated cake recipe. I was making suggestions ….er telling him how to fix it when he looked at me, put up his hand and said, “Stop! Let me fail.” I was thunder struck. Whether or not that cake failed is not life changing but him taking responsibility for its failure or success is life changing. Let go of the reins.
- Communicate your expectations. One of the participants at the workshop suggested she go home and tell her sons about her new insight. If she doesn’t communicate that she is letting go of her expectations, he might feel like she is abdicating. There were several in the audience who talked about a parent who had essentially abdicated their parenting if a child did not follow the path the parent wanted (you know…doctor, lawyer, good college education, etc.). I remember telling my son after a poor semester at school, that I loved him no matter what he did. I didn’t want him feeling like he had to stick to something in exchange for my love. Unconditional love needs to be communicated.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world and is complicated, as in my case, when you are separated with the parent you had that child with. Model happiness for your children instead of measuring their success against unrealistic expectations. You will be happier in the end as well.