Smothered by Others’ Expectations

Many children, teens, and adults go through life with little or no support from anyone including parents, teachers, spouses,  and friends. This lack is often the theme of TV shows and novels: we see a person who’s been through hard times finally getting a little support from somebody else and finally believing in themselves enough to try.

The flip side of that record can also be a problem. Some kids’ families–through tradition and/or grades and/or the results of various tests–are overtly expected to do great things. That scenario can be better than one in which everyone expects you to fail. However, it can also become a burden.

As a teenager and a young man, I was always expected to become a writer, partly because my father was a writer and partly because I had shown some early inclinations in that direction. Life–as people often say–got in the way. So, I ignored my writing many times because I was tired of being pushed and I was tired of being asked about it.

It got to the point where–had I just survived some hideous accident–somebody would say, “Well, in spite of that, I hope you’re keeping up with your writing.”

“Hell no, I’m not.”

As a former college teacher, literacy volunteer, and writing mentor, I still don’t know where the line is between too little support and too much support. So, more often than not, I remain silent in day-to-day life about writing because I really don’t know what to say. The support I received was damaging, representing a constant pressure to have a manuscript accepted by a magazine or book publisher, to win a contest, or to put together a winning column in a magazine or newspaper.

The constant pressure to perform brought me to the point where I ignored or sabotaged my own goals. I never want to bring another person to that point. My daughter was an excellent documentary editor, then gave up her career to raise a family. I said nothing, for I didn’t feel the right to second guess her choices the way so many adults second-guessed my choices. She has a great family and has done some great volunteer work. I’m proud of her for that.

It’s hard to stay carefully silent when one’s children and one’s students go out into the world. I want them to know that I’m here if they need me, but that I’m not here to smother them with my expectations. I hope they will be happy and successful because that’s what I always wanted people to hope for me when I was young and rebellious and uncertain about the future.