I have a friend who has achieved every kind of success known to womankind, from school and career to perfect hair and flawless skin, but her mother is deeply disappointed in my friend's choice of future husband. It's unfathomable to me, that such a thing could cancel out the entire string of her life's A-pluses, but I suppose it's difficult to let go of the picture you create for your child's future.
A born people pleaser, I've spent an embarrassing amount of time examining all the ways I might be letting my parents, Phillip's parents (really, ANYONE) down. After my friend shared her trials with her mother, my ruminations on disappointment took me all the way to high school, where I seriously wondered if my high school English teacher would be disappointed that I spend my days chasing after two small children (and, shudder, blogging) instead of trying to get my fifth book published. Or something like that. I can get really ridiculous about this stuff.
But one thing I haven't thought much about, at least not until Phillip asked me a few days ago, is what my kids might do that will disappoint me. I like to think I'm fairly open-minded, you know. I can't imagine having tantrums over who they want to marry, where they want to live, how they'll earn a living. Whatever makes them happy, right? Which isn't to say I'll root for every single thing my kids want to do and be, but I'll always put their happiness first. Right?
Phillip mentioned he'd have a hard time if one of our kids morphed into a heavily-eyelined goth teenager. I laughed this off. "Oh THAT!" I said merrily. "That's just a PHASE! That won't bother me AT ALL!" At which point my husband just looked at me suspiciously, and he's probably right. I don't think anyone looks good in those skintight black pants.
If my son wants to pursue a career as a published poet, who am I to point him towards law school or chemical engineering? I'll support him (but I won't let him move back in.) If my daughter wants to drop out of school and go on the road with a struggling musician, well, I can't say I'd be HAPPY about it, but I hope I wouldn't let such a thing tarnish our relationship. (Too much. Depends on the kind of music.)
I tend to worry about scarier stuff than that. What if I have a pregnant teenager in my house? What if one of them totals a car and hurts the other people inside it? What if they grow up and reject all my strongest beliefs? I listen to friends' stories about coming out, marrying people their parents disapproved of, and choosing a different religion, and I hope that I'll respond better than their parents did. But how will I know? Just because I'm fine with something in my head doesn't mean it'll come out that way in a real-life situation.
My kids are only two and one, but I was worrying about this before they were even born. And now that I have them, I have infinitely more understanding as to why my parents decreed certain things when I was growing up. Oh how I loathed them for not letting me ride in cars with boys, or for not letting me stay out nearly as late as all my friends. But as I confessed to Phillip, if they had allowed this, I might have found myself in several of the Top Parental Disappointment Situations before I even exited high school.
I want to be involved and on top of things when they're still kids. I also want to be understanding and supportive when they're adults. I guess I'll muddle through this as well as any other parent. But whatever choices my grown up children make, I hope they'll always want to come over for dinner. And I am not above bribing them with spectacular desserts.