Like most children, I suffered my parent’s expectations. As a parent myself I have come to understand that a parent’s expectation is the burden on every child. It is as much part of my being a worrier as it is my being unforgiving when my children aren’t all that I expect them to be. As a mother I expect them to be good when in public, I expect them to listen and I expect a certain degree of bravery from each of them. May not be fair, but my expectations are as ingrained inside of me as my love for them. It is a natural part of motherhood, one that almost demands we expect our children not to be what they truly are, but what we want them to be; good or bad; right or wrong.
The tough truth comes with the realization that the expectations that your parents have don’t necessarily leave when you do. Just because a child walks away from the parent does not mean those two souls can be untwined. In fact, it is the opposite. A mother’s heart is intricately tied to her child’s from conception to death. And even beyond death a mother’s heart can be felt.
This can be a gift. A wonderous relationship between the mother and child that mimics those of the greatest love stories. It can also be a demanding, destructive relationship that rather than encouraging a child’s perfection, guarantees a child’s demise. A parent’s expectations can be in such opposition to a child’s true nature that it causes seeds not only of doubt, but triggers a powerful convergence of fear, hate, and loneliness. A parent’s inability to understand that their expectations can be destructive will forever be disappointed by the product of those same expectations.
I don’t know the exact expectations of my mother. I know there were the basics: behavior was to be perfect, my grades high, and my ability to impress all those around me had to be impeccable. There was a strict line that I had to obey in my childhood, or the wrath of my mother would be heard miles away. My childhood was happy, yet, it was intertwined with details that my mother believed to be requirements for my wholeness. I have come to accept that mother’s demands, my mother’s expectations were far greater than my own. And while she never hurt me, and would even be crushed to know what I am about to say, there is a harsh truth about a mother’s expectations: they don’t ever leave and they are never truly conquerable.
I am going to see my mother for the first time in a couple of months, later this week. So far, I have dyed my hair to get the grey out; I have painted my nails (something I don’t do often), I have systematically and totally tried to reverse the damage I have done to my skin, I have shaved, I have buffed, and tomorrow I even go to get my eyebrows waxed. I will never understand why 350 days of the year, while not perfectly happy with myself I still allow myself to be natural, and 15 days of the year I go out of my way to look perfect.
My mother has never out right asked me to look perfect. There has never been a derogatory remark about my looks, beyond some weight comments, yet I feel this expectation from her. And while the expectation with my father, who does comment on all those things is much greater, I don’t put half the effort into myself when he visits. Just my mother.
The thing about being as old as I am is that you have to understand some difficult truths. For instance, the agony and time-consuming procedures I succumb to before seeing my mother, is because I need to do it. I have the right and probably the ability to look at her and simply say, “take it or leave it”. And my mother would probably roll her eyes, and say I love you just like you are. But there is this pressure in my soul, to be better than I really am for my parents. To, on the outside at least, look the part.
It is difficult having a disease, especially with two parents who do not have any concept of the power of my disease. It is difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable around my parents, by showing anything but a put together woman who I will never be. The unmitigated fear I have that my parents will understand that I can never live up to the expectations they had for me, is heartbreaking. And while I understand their expectations for me have gotten less and less as I grew, there is always that knowledge that if they knew the truth about me, they would understand that it was possible they missed so much.
I put on a cover so they can’t look below the surface. I put on nail polish, and every hair is in place so they can’t see the truth about my soul. For my husband, I read so that he can’t see my true thoughts. With my children, so far I can just utilize a simple smile. Covers are useful in a bipolar’s world, it leaves you room to feel and breathe. Covers can temporarily make other’s expectations seem real. Covers can hide the disappointing truth of who and what we really are. Covers can bring me a freedom that no amount of wings ever would. And all I have to do is constantly and consistently hide who and what I am.