As I often say, “Misplaced expectation is the mother of all disappointment.” And when you’re the mother with the misguided expectation, your children pay the price. As a survivor of childhood trauma, you likely paid it too.
I know what it’s like to be conditioned to believe I had to meet “the standard” in order to feel love and accepted. I’ve also seen the look in my kids’ eyes when I’ve given them the same impression.
It’s gut wrenching and it doesn’t have to be your normal. In this episode we’ll talk about how to handle motherhood when the message in childhood was the adults in charge are hard to please.
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Hard to Please
Hi, I’m Vanessa and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Hey there, Mama Bare! You know one of the easiest things to be is yourself, which we’ll define as living led by what’s in your heart.
If you think about it, so much of what you say and do is automatic, like you’re on autopilot.
It’s not until someone acts like a mirror reflecting back your words and actions that you’re aware of how you come across.
I’m the first to admit I have high standards. My children second that wholeheartedly.
80 percent of the time, my standards push them to do their best in a world that rewards getting by giving the least effort.
But 20 percent of the time, my expectations bring my kids down instead of bringing out their best.
Expectations that only serve to communicate disappointment and give the impression I won’t be satisfied until they’re perfect.
I hate that I do that to them. I hate that I do it to myself.
Nobody comes out of the womb a perfectionist. It’s a response to a message you learn from authority figures, like parents you naturally want to please or others in power over your quality of life.
Their level of satisfaction with you decided whether or not they unleashed verbal or physical abuse or responded with emotional distance, which, though silent and leaves no physical marks, is equally scarring.
So you tried to figure out what it took to please them for your own sanity and personal safety, till you realized nothing was ever enough. The goal post moved constantly.
And while the truth is their unrealistic expectations made them hard to please, you felt like a failure—unable to satisfy them and unable to save yourself from the consequence of their disappointment and anger.
And you still try to meet the standard because you’re conditioned to believe that’s the only hope you have of feeling worthy of love and approval.
That mirror you looked into as a child—your mom, your dad, another relative, a coach, a teacher—the mirror who told you as long as you didn’t meet their standard you were sub par at best or good for nothing at worst was a defective mirror.
Maybe they had a set of standards they were trying to live up to, ones they felt required you to meet theirs. But their issue is not your problem.
The truth is no one but the God who created you has a right to tie his satisfaction with you to how well you met his standard.
And the beauty is one, God loved you before he ever made you and two, he knows you can’t meet his standard and doesn’t want you to try.
You are a perfectly imperfect human being like everyone else, which is why Jesus met the only standard that matters. And he met it in your place.
It’s only been since allowing Jesus to be my mirror that I see how satisfied God is with me.
Now how does that impact me practically?
Well, it looks like giving myself the grace I didn’t get growing up. I don’t have to make things look good or make people feel good to avoid rejection or abuse. God is already pleased with me.
It’s also celebrating progress along the way instead of demanding I meet the goal first. And it looks like setting a standard then dialing it back just a little bit because I’m a creature of habit and perfectionism takes time to unlearn.
And my children reap the benefits as well! I’m less likely to have unrealistic expectations of them because I’m not parenting from low self esteem.
Because I don’t need their performance to make me feel safe or good about myself, I’m free to root for them to be their best, yet love and support them no matter what their best looks like.
Did this change happen overnight?
No! I do have my share of relapses but I’m more likely to hear myself, realize I’m being ridiculous, apologize and reset my expectations, than I used to.
But it takes time to change a narrative ingrained in you as a child.
A narrative that persisted despite my pediatric training in developmentally appropriate expectations. And that’s a point not to be overlooked because adults abused as children often don’t have the bandwidth for children to act age appropriate because you weren’t afforded the same freedom.
You don’t know what age appropriate behavior is because the adults serving as your mirrors growing up were distorted.
They taught you an adult’s peace and self-control depended on you behaving just right—regardless of the fact their lack of coping skills wasn’t your responsibility.
But you see why now as an adult you’d base your standards for your children on what was expected of you rather than what your child can actually accomplish—which only leads to more fear and frustration.
And if a pediatrician had this struggle, what hope is there for you?
Well, you’re still here and as long as you’re here, there’s hope.
And there’s nothing like the power of awareness. You can only do better when you know better, and now you know to be curious about what you expect from your children and where that came from.
You also need a place to work through those discoveries. Years before I ever met with a counselor, journaling, second only to my faith, played a major role in helping me process my expectations.
Something about your thoughts going from your head to the paper makes you pay more attention to them. Then reading what you wrote adds another layer of awareness.
As you’re more in tune with your thoughts, you’re able to face what you discover, make adjustments as necessary, and apologize when you misstep.
And journaling is a judgment free space where you can practice giving yourself grace and holding yourself accountable.
But the origin of the hyper criticism I battle with and how intrenched it became is something I didn’t discover till I met with a counselor. Some insights take another pair of eyes with a different perspective. That counselor can also serve as a distortion free mirror addressing the judgment you feel for not living up to unfair standards.
But there’s nothing like the truth to set you free. So I’m most grateful for my relationship with Jesus and years of renewing my mind with Bible truths. They are the foundation for me seeing myself accurately and inform the healing I experience through journaling and counseling.
You are body, soul and spirit and wholeness happens when you address all three.
If you’d like more food for thought on setting appropriate expectations for yourself and others, check out the show notes for this episode at motherhoodunmasked.com/episode52.
Now, if right now you’re feeling shame and regret over burdening your children with impossible standards, go ahead and let that go. They don’t serve you, your children, or your legacy. You can’t change yesterday, but you can choose today. You can choose to change what you believe and follow where it leads you.
Because what you believe changes everything.
So stop by motherhoodunmasked.com for resources to get you started on your healing journey.
And until next time, please remember. When it comes to being the mother of your children, you are the woman for the job. I’m rooting for you. Take care.
We can all draw close to him with the veil removed from our faces. And with no veil we all become like mirrors who brightly reflect the glory of the Lord Jesus.2 Corinthians 3:18, The Passion Translation
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast should not be taken as medical advice. The content here is for informational purposes only, and because each person is so unique, please consult your health care professional for any medical questions.
Food for Thought…
When you grow up in an environment heavy on performance and low on acceptance, you learn how you appear to others is more important than being seen. After a while you stop seeing yourself and function more robotic than human, losing the ability to feel for yourself and others.
Before you can appreciate your children as living, breathing individuals just because they exist, you have to give that to yourself. Grieve what you missed as a child and empathize with your pain.
Then you’ll be able to own your mistakes without defensiveness and apologize to your children. Journaling, counseling, taking parenting classes, if needed. The possibilities are endless. And the choice–is yours.
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