I don't impress them much!
The harder we try to impress people, the less impressed they are.
I do not remember a time when I did not feel insecure about how others perceived me. When I was young, I was too shy and too quiet. When I got older, I was too independent and too impatient. As an adult, I am too opinionated and too loud. My expectations and standards are always too high. According to my mom I am too much like my dad. According to my dad, I am too much like the Hollands (my mom’s side of the family). According to my brothers and sisters, I was too mature and too political. And more than a few men I dated before getting married said I was simply too much!
All these outside observations of my overabundance of every personality trait possible, turned me into someone who second-guesses everything I say and do in a constant self-critical loop. It never occurred to me that people had their own reasons for describing me the way they do. I just accepted that they were right, and that I had to work harder to be better, do better, and impress people more. I worked harder at my jobs, often taking on responsibilities that were not mine, or working hours they did not compensate me for. I tried to shoehorn my personality into the expectations of the people I was with. And I would do things I did not want to or say things I did not believe just to be accepted.
I did not realize until my daughters all cut me out of their lives that I had fallen into a habit of trying to impress them, too. From the moment I became a mom, all I wanted to be was a “good” mom. I put good in quotation marks because everyone’s definition of good is different. For me, the definition of good mom was someone who my girls could count on to be there, who loved them unconditionally, and who they looked up to as a role model. I wanted my girls to be proud of me and proud to call me mom. Now that they are all adults and none of them feel this way, it is my greatest failure and shame in life.
I have obsessed about this situation. I really would do absolutely anything to fix it. And for me that is perhaps the greatest frustration, that they will not even give me the opportunity to address their complaints. But I have also come to realize that my overwhelming desire to impress them is perhaps what led to the demise of our relationship. I see now that the harder we try to impress people, the less impressed they are.
Year over year, I tried to outdo the year before for occasions. All my energy went into hosting personalized special events for the girls to create lifelong memories. Unique, personalized birthday parties, Easter egg hunts with cousins, Christmases with gifts galore. We decorated their bedrooms with each new phase of their youth. We took them camping every year, but also planned a couple of special holidays including 26 days in Europe where we visited 6 countries! I made special itinerary booklets for each of them so they knew where we were going and staying, how long we would be at each place, and what we would see/do while there. But the list of things I did to impress them over the years doesn’t really matter, the point is that I worked my butt off so my girls would think “wow, this is special.”
I also did things for myself to be a role model for them. When our oldest two girls first started talking about post-secondary education, I felt hypocritical preaching about its benefits since I did not have one myself. I also felt hypocritical telling them to pursue what they love, because I had not done so. So, I enrolled in college. I attended full time while my youngest was in elementary school, my middle in middle school, and my oldest in high school. I earned a diploma in professional writing to show my girls it was never too late to pursue your dreams and/or get an education, and if you want something, nothing (not even three kids) can stand in your way.
I have also launched a couple of different businesses over the years and pursued a few hobbies. I discovered a couple of years ago that I am a decent amateur painter. And I love to cook.
I did these things for myself, but my motivation was my daughters. I wanted to show them we must discover ourselves and that we can do anything we set our minds to. I wanted to teach them that fear of the unknown or fear of failure should not prevent us from trying. And I hoped they would be both impressed and inspired by my efforts, regardless of my success or failure.
Things did not, however, turn out as I planned. It all backfired. One thing I have heard repeatedly from my girls and daughter-in-law is that they all feel that they cannot live up to my expectations. These comments really confused me because I did not feel that I was placing any expectations on them. Quite the contrary, I have always encouraged them to follow their own path, even it differed from the norm. I also have made things easy for them as adults, never asking them to bring anything when they visit. Never making demands based on my wants or needs, but always trying to accommodate theirs. Even so, apparently, they all feel they cannot live up to my expectations.
I struggled with this idea for quite some time, but something a friend said set me on a path to finding some clarity. She told me I had extremely high expectations of myself and that I am hard on myself if I do not live up to my own expectations. She felt my daughters measure themselves based on the expectations I have of myself, not anything I have overtly placed on them. It was not an instant “a ha” moment when she said this, but a slow dawn. They have felt pressure to live up to all the things I have done over the years to impress them. I did not impress them with my efforts. I unintentionally pressured them!
When I ran around the house like Ricochet Rabbit trying to make everything perfect for them what they felt, and saw was stress and pressure. When I was upset because I did not like the way the Christmas tree looked, they saw a tree that was fine and felt like they could never decorate a tree that lived up to my standards. When I fussed to clean my house before company came, they felt like they would never have a clean enough house for me. Because I was so desperate to impress them, so eager for their approval, and so hungry for their love, I overwhelmed them with my standards. And somewhere along the way they started to view those things I did to try and impress them as manipulations and things I used to hang over their heads.
Of course, they have said nothing of this to me. These are the kinds of realizations I keep arriving at as I obsess about the alienation from my daughters. I this case I understand that just because we have the best intentions, love people with everything we have, and would do anything for them, that does not mean it is what they need or want. I wonder now, would things be different if my daughters did not think I was holding them to some impossible standard? Would they be more forgiving of my attempts to impress them if they understood that was my intention? And would they be happier if I had laid back and not worried about winning their approval so much?
I can’t know the answers to these questions because what is done, is done. But I have decided that I am going to try to worry less about making things perfect and trying to impress everyone and relax more. I don’t impress them much anyway, and being hard on myself has not gotten me anywhere. One day I hope they understand that I have no expectations of them. I have hopes and dreams for them, but no expectations. Their lives are theirs to live, and their choices theirs to make. I would never sit in judgement of them regardless how they live or what they choose. My love for them is deep and eternal, and all I ever wanted in return was their love and approval. I guess I shouldn’t have tried so hard.