Without Expectations

I told her that it doesn’t have to be so hard.

I told her that it can just be easy, that she can just be easy. That life is good. That she has a lot to be happy about.

But she just kept crying.

She told me that she was sad.

She told me that she was hungry. She told me that she didn’t want to eat. She told me through her sobs that she was happy. She told me that she didn’t want to turn five and that she didn’t want to be little. She told me that she missed her Yeye, that she just wanted to be alone, that she needed to be with someone.

I hugged her and told her to just breathe, in and out, slowly, like she does in yoga. I told her that she didn’t need to be sad.

She told me it was her body that was telling her to be sad.

I told her that she was powerful and she could control how her body felt and that all of this noise wasn’t going to solve her problems.

She told me that I didn’t understand.

She told me a lot of things. And she was right – I didn’t understand.

What I was really telling her was that it wasn’t okay to feel the way she did. What she was really telling me was to just shut up and listen.

—-

I have a lot of expectations as a father. I expect to be able to communicate with my daughters and impart what little wisdom I have gleaned from my own life and to show them how to flow through life. I expect them to listen and to use their words to solve their problems and to just try.

As a man who is trying to find my own way through all of this, I try not to have expectations. I have found that expectations lead to disappointment and suffering. Life happens. There isn’t anything I can do about things that are outside of my control, which is to say that other than my own choices I have no choice. I can walk my path armed with kindness and consideration, with positive eyes and an open heart, but to the moments that are beyond my reach I must surrender. I try not to worry – it’s a waste of energy.

And now I am discovering this disconnect that I have between how I am as a father and how I want to be as a man is creating a disconnect between my daughters and me.

—-

What seems like a lifetime ago, before I was a dad, I went to school to learn how to be a teacher. Driven into my brain was the idea that high expectations result in high achievement. This seemed pretty logical to me and I held onto that view as I muddled through a short and stuttered life as a teacher of sorts. It also blended well with what I believed was in my nature. I was rigid in my own thoughts, slow to compromise, and an unwavering set of expectations followed me into the classroom and then back out into my life. If you didn’t do as I said there were consequences and if you didn’t believe as I believed you were an idiot. I was young and black and white worked for me then. I didn’t ever have to admit that I was wrong.

As the chapters in my story paged by, I mellowed, as most do. I started to see the shades of grey that give all of our stories color and life. I gained perspective and I learned how to be wrong in order to learn what was right for me wasn’t right for everyone.

When I became a father, though, I somehow forgot to unlearn the lessons I had been taught about unyielding expectations. I remember thinking how useful all of that stuff from all of those books about education and child psychology and child development would be in the coming years staying home to raise my one, then two, daughters. It would be great, I thought. I’ll hang on to these books, I thought. A readymade parental library, I thought.

Though, my daughters, as it turns out, are not in any of the indexes.

—-

The theory of high expectations becoming high achievement may or may not be a useful one in a classroom. Honestly, I really don’t care either way. I am not a teacher anymore – I am a father. And while teacher may be one of the hats that I wear with my girls, it is not the only or the most important one. And we don’t live in a classroom.

Trying to be the best person I can be has allowed me to let go of expectations. Sitting here reflecting on it all, I find it bizarre that I have, as a father, continued to hold onto them for my daughters when I don’t hold onto them for myself. If expectations are not healthy or productive towards a happy life for me then how in the hell can they be for them? I am nearly forty years old and as I am beginning to free myself of these burdens, I am still saddling my children with them.

Those sobs will happen again, many times over, and she will tell me again that she feels sad. She will, through wet eyes and heavy breaths, say things that don’t make sense to my adult mind. And I’m sure in those moments that I will think I should solve it for her.

But she doesn’t need me to solve her problems for her. I don’t know if that desire to solve her problems is a man thing or an adult thing or a me thing, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I allow her to be who she is and where she is, right now and right here, without me burdening her with my expectations. What she needs is for me to create for her a safe place, one that is filled with love and acceptance, not conformity. What I want her to do or what I expect her to be is my problem, not hers. But if I put all of that on her then it becomes her problem – one that I created.

This is a wonderful and difficult thing, this parenthood. I have learned so much already. And I expect I have so much more to learn.

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About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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18 Responses to Without Expectations

  1. It is a great journey and one hell of an adventure this parenting thing.

  2. mudly says:

    That desire to solve problems is a caring person thing in my opinion. And what all us caring people don’t seem to easily see is that solving other peoples problems doesn’t help them as much as acceptance and space to learn, grow, try, and screw up, does.

    Always a pleasure Mitchell 🙂

    • Thanks, Mud. It is such a pleasure to know that you are reading, my friend.

      Allowing that space to learn, grow, try and screw up is sometimes so hard to do, but it is so important. I certainly have learned a TON via the screw up. You could say it has been my method of choice.

  3. Well, I don’t think expectations are bad in and of themselves. I think a lot of times where we go wrong is when the expectations don’t match the person (too high or too low). Many times I know teachers have all sorts of expectations, but they don’t bother to show the kids how to reach the destination. And that is the crazy dance of parenthood as well – the expectations have to be suited for our particular child (instead of being our own); and we have to be equipped to show them how to get there. And that’s very hard in the moment – as you’ve described above. Where the initial reaction (at least for me) is usually “shake it off” “it’s not so bad” — or to talk it out in some way. But most of the time with very young children it is just impossible to force the lessons – they come slowly, so slowly when we are on the receiving end of the tears and tantrums. And sometimes it’s hard to see that anything’s being learned at all. But I know by setting aside our expectations of perfect behavior and just being there to guide and show and repeat mantras….eventually I’m quite sure they will exceed your expectations.
    And I agree w/ mudly – I think that desire to solve problems is just a love thing. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for this, Anne Katherine. I appreciate so much the time and thought.

      I first read your comment last night and have been thinking of it a lot since. I would agree that expectations aren’t bad in and of themselves. If I was to be more specific, I could say that expectations in the form of “what I want to happen” don’t help me to move forward and, similarly, won’t help me help my daughters move forward. If I think of expectations in terms of standards I set and goals I hope to achieve for myself and my girls then I can see them as quite useful – vital, even. Also, I love your point about showing “them how to get there”. With that map, the expectations become a tangible, teachable moment. Without it they are hollow and stifling.

      I also really like your point about the difficulty of conveying the lesson or message when your child is in that difficult space. They are certainly not ready to receive anything, let alone process a solution, in that moment. I need to learn to always just be that safe place at that moment in order to help them back to balance and then, after the dust has settled, they will be in a place to hear the lesson.

      Thanks again for your contribution.

  4. Brother David says:

    Brother Father,
    Great write, again, Especially your conclusion. You and I may have another layer of difficulty raising our amazing, lovely daughters… we are fathers, they are girls. It is suggested we are from Mars, they from Venus. We want to solve problems, they just want us to listen to their problems, and as you have so well suggested assure them they are in a safe place, filled with love and acceptance, and it is all right to feel the way they sometimes do. Well done, again.
    Brother Father.

    • Thank you, Brother Father. Bridging that gap between the two planets does prove to be a challenge at times. But, as is the case with the opportunity to see from different perspectives, we get to learn so much more about them and about ourselves.

  5. D says:

    Beautiful Mitchell!

  6. talleygilly says:

    Beautiful piece, Mitchell. I was nodding my head (and I see from the comments, others were too) “Yes, yes–exactly” – all the way through your essay. I find myself in the same minefields with my kids–knowing logically I need to teach them to do things on their own, but emotionally wanting to fix everything for them. So glad your daughter has a strong voice of her own, and a father who is listening. And this line broke my heart a little –> “She told me that she didn’t want to turn five and that she didn’t want to be little.” –that’s exactly it – kids want to grow up but yet they don’t. And as their parents, we struggle with the same. Thanks for a great piece that keeps me thinking long after I finish it.

    • Alexandra, I am honored by your words. Thank you. I have to say I really have enjoyed the connection we have made reading each other’s stuff. That last sentence you wrote made my day.

  7. As I imagine what my now 4-month old daughter will be like as she grows, I’m finding your posts both informative and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for saying so, Quentin. I hope you enjoy your journey as much as I am enjoying mine. It is quite a ride that just keeps on going – spiral out. 🙂

      I am always pleased to see your comments here.

  8. Maggie Batt says:

    Pobresita! These sensitive children of our new age really “feel” others pain. A lot has gone on the past couple weeks with eclipse energy stirring our emotions up. You’re a good daddy….we miss your crew.

  9. Wolf Pascoe says:

    The whole problem with dispensing wisdom is it’s always coming out of wanting my kid to be me, doing it right. So it backfired. Every time.

    I need to read this post every morning.

    • I find (in these quiet moments, late at night when I can be with my thoughts) that it is such a challenge to be the dispenser of wisdom when I am not always sure that I have a firm grasp of the subject.

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