Pessimism: Parenting with Negative Expectations
When we feel inadequately prepared to cope with the task of life, we cannot feel secure or optimistic. We can only predict a negative outcome and do not trust life to be kind to us.
Some believe only “lucky” people can have such positive expectations. Some assume that if their expectations are negative, their only hope is to minimize the pain and loss that awaits them down the road.
This same negative expectation applies to our children. We expect them to misbehave. When they do, we pounce on them for confirming our pessimistic outlook. ”I knew it. I knew you would spill your juice, I can’t rely on you to do anything right.” However, many never pay that level of attention to their little successes.
We want our children to succeed in school and in life. “Wanting” is not the problem. Underneath our wanting, many feel they do not deserve the happiness and prosperity that their child’s success would bring. We do not have confidence that our child has the determination or responsibility to make the grade and keep making it. We expect him/her to fail. And we, as parents, feel at fault for their failure.
These expectations are called pessimism, which is the anticipation that we will be betrayed and disappointed by life, by others and ultimately by ourselves. As much as we blame others for our unhappiness, in our hearts we “know” that the fault is in ourselves. ”Its not you, its me.” We just don’t want to hear about it. It would hurt too much.
However, rather then focus on what occurs internally, many find it easier to focus on the sources of distress that are external. By saying “its not me, its you” we are seeking to exempt ourselves from the pain of guilt, fault and irresponsibility.
In addition, this means solutions to our problems are external too. So we don’t have to be accountable because its out of our hands. Since there is nothing we can do to make things better, what’s the point in trying.
If we do try and end up failing, it will only confirm our pessimistic expectations. “People are no damn good.” When that includes our own children, advice such as “count to ten,” or “communicate in their level,” become irrelevant absurdities.
Before we can manage our anger at our child’s provocative misbehavior, we must replace our pessimism with trust. We must learn to trust ourselves, which is hard to do when we have felt inadequate and discouraged since kindergarten. It is not impossible and it can be done if we know how.
We must learn how to find the middle ground between naively trusting too much and cynically trusting too little. Trust does not exist in a vacuum. It is not like a bicep that one can isolate and strengthen all by itself. It exists in a context.
When our context of self-doubt is replaced with self-respect, trust in our judgment will come along with it. We will find ourselves having positive, expectations for our children. We will find them living up, instead of down, to our expectations.
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