Keeping High Expectations while Letting Go of the Outcome
Have you ever been given a gift with strings attached?
I think most of us have a negative reaction when we hear that there are conditions attached to something. Perhaps it is a compliment that is followed by a “but.” Too often as a parent I was guilty of saying that my child did a great job with something, BUT it would have been even better if they did this or that in addition.
Looking back, I see how I backhanded my praise with a critique. Of course my intentions were to be helpful, but I can see now that I was so focused on achieving a certain outcome that I minimized the satisfaction my children felt from their efforts.
When our children were young, my husband and I started to save money for our children’s college education. Over the years, however, we found that the money was not actually needed. Our kids always worked part-time jobs and covered their spending money and books. The savings weren’t enormous, but since the money had been put aside for the kids it seemed fitting to present them with a “nest egg” upon graduation. It might give them a down payment for a car or apartment, or enable them to take a celebratory trip after studying for four years. We were excited to see them use this money to launch their dreams.
Our older daughter, whom I affectionately called my “Save-the-World Kid” was already applying to the Peace Corps. While she waited for her official assignment, she became involved in several other charitable organizations. One day she called to let us know that she decided to give away the nest egg we had given her to a well-deserving charity – all of it! I was speechless. On one hand, I was very proud of her selfless and generous spirit. On the other hand, I was angry. It had taken us 15 years to save that money – for our daughter. I took a deep breath and asked her to think about this decision. Several conversations later, and we were at a stalemate. I didn’t feel she was listening to my concerns, and she felt I was trying to control her actions.
I had to step back and evaluate myself. Was I attaching strings to our gift? Did I trust her to make her own decisions? Why was I not able to let go of the outcome? I realized that I had not conveyed the expectations her father and I had for the money. So a different conversation ensued. We shared with her the sacrifice we made to set aside this money, including the near bankruptcy years when a contractor took our bank loan funds, used it to build someone’s home, and then declared bankruptcy himself. We then told her that the money was indeed a gift and hers to spend as she wanted. If contributing some of the money to a non-profit was important to her, perhaps she could donate a portion of the funds and save some for her future.
Once I was able to communicate my high expectations for my daughter’s life decisions, I was indeed able to let go of the outcome.