A while ago, I attended a party with some families I’m just getting to know. My youngest was the only toddler, but there were older kids, and several about my eldest’s age. The only outside place to play was right alongside a parking lot.
I headed out to supervise my younger one, but I was the only adult doing so. Truthfully, parking lot play makes me nervous, even with older kids.
And just as I stepped outside, I wondered: “If no one else is worried about this, should I be worried? Are they going to think I’m uptight?”
And then I realized I was worried about people judging me for keeping my toddler from running in front of cars.
Sometimes, I’d like to be sixty, or seventy, or eighty, because I’ve heard people say that the best thing about being older was not caring what other people think of them. I’d sign up for perma-press pants and orthotic-friendly shoes for that.
Of course, the desire to please others probably doesn’t disappear like magic when one wears bifocals. Surely that particular transformation comes from the long habit of thinking differently.
Here’s how I’m trying to acquire it:
- Toning down the labels. It’s tidy and helpful to be able to label myself–my relationships, behaviors, my preferences, beliefs. It’s even handier as a shorthand for pigeonholing others. And yet–the more I depend on these labels, the more I worry about fitting into those designations. I have to remind myself than I’m more than labels–even the biggies, like “parent” or “daughter” or “wife”. I will never fit comfortably into any category, because I’m not a category–I’m a person.
- Reserving judgement. Let’s just say that when I put “good” in front of one of those labels (a “good” writer, a “good” parent) I get a lot more worried about expectations. I’m trying to ask myself: how do I show love in _this_ situation (instead of what do people expect of me)? What solution works for me (instead of what’s the “right” solution)? What am I interested in now (instead of what’s most prestigious)?
- Taking care of myself. Am I pursuing the things I love, or am I holding back because I’m afraid of what people will think? Am I rested? Have I fed myself good food and good books? Do I have enough time to myself to give back to others? I can’t build my character when I’m running a deficit. I can’t treat myself kindly if, well, I don’t treat myself kindly.
- Accepting my faults as part of the package. I imagine people tipping their heads to one side, clucking their tongues. “Oh, that Heather,” they’ll think. “She’s always so _____”
But my flaws can’t be untangled from my strengths. I know this about my friends. I accept them for who they are. Can I be okay with the fact that I’m publicly, inevitably imperfect every day, in every interaction? And that truly no one expects otherwise?
How about you? How heavily do others’ expectations weigh on you? Have you been able to shed that particular hang-up?