I recently read an excellent short article.
It reminded me of lessons that I learned that took me far too long.
When I was young, television depicted families who were darn near perfect. Dad went to work. Mom stayed home with the kids, made dinner, cleaned, cooked, sewed. Dad and Mom’s would chuckle about their children’s antics and find some clever way to discipline the kids.
The problem was that families didn’t really act that way. I’m not even sure we would like it if they did.
My mother was absolutely nothing like June Cleaver or Carol Brady. She was young, vivacious, single. She was clever, had a good job, was independent. Looking back, she is a woman that I am proud of because she was, in a sense, at the forefront of the women’s liberation movement.
Who else can say their mother was an electrician in the 1980s? Who else can say that their mother was a pioneering force in natural health and preventative medicine later on in her career?
But, here is the rub. I had expectations of what a Mom should be like. When my Mom failed to meet those expectations, I felt unloved. There was nothing wrong with my mother, mind you. She was just being herself. It was my expectations that caused the problem.
Part of life is to accept people for who they are. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to help a friend who suffers from depression, or sit with a friend who has an illness, or help a person with a drug addiction. What it does mean is that each person has an innate personality. They have an identity separate from ours and separate from our relationship to them.
My mother is my mother, but she also has a name and a personhood all her own. She has likes and dislikes, talents and experience, knowledge and friendships that are all personal to her.
Part of any relationship is acceptance. We give people whom we are in relationship with the right to be themselves, free from our approval or disapproval. Loving someone doesn’t mean that we can control them, or try to change them to suit our needs. Loving someone means accepting them. Accepting that, like us, they are human. There may be things about them that we don’t like. In fact, there will be things about each and everyone we know that we don’t like. There are things about us that others won’t like.
There will also be things about each and every person that we like. We build relationships and we accept the people in our circle. We accept that they are imperfect. We let go of expectations and negotiate the waters of the relationship with full disclosure, eyes wide open.
Love isn’t a fickle emotion. It is steady and true.
When we let go of who we think a person should be, we can find out who they are. Discovery is an exhilarating process. There are treasure troves inside each person. There is knowledge that comes from experience, wisdom that comes from reflection and study, humor that comes from learning to not take ourselves too seriously.
The expectations that would put on other people can hinder our relationship with them. They may try to live up to our expectations only to be met with failure again and again. It’s a lot of pressure to put on another human being. Nobody else can be our happiness. Happiness must first be found within, from knowing ourselves.