Dear Ivy: Confound

My Dear Ivy,

I’ve given you a lot of advice in these letters – some of which is rather, shall we say, counterintuitive. Much of what I’ve written here goes against the expectations and conventions of the culture we inhabit.

And you know what? I’m ok with that.

As you can tell from these letters, I like to write. Writing is the way I feel most comfortable in saying what I truly think and believe. And so I write a lot. And from some of the responses I’ve gotten to some of my writing, sometimes I tend to . . . well . . . confound people.

The way I see it, that’s a good thing.

Expectations, you see, are overrated.

As your parent, I try to make it a general practice to have as few expectations of you as possible. That’s not because I don’t think you’re capable of doing great things. I think you’re fully and completely capable of doing whatever you set your mind to do! The reason I try not to have expectations is that I don’t want my desires to be your motivation to do those great things (or even the mundane things that we talked in a previous letter about needing to get done).

I want you to do things that fulfill you. Not me. And while there will probably eventually be some things that are expected of you simply as a member of this family (though certainly not at a year and a half), I’ll do my best to keep those to a minimum.

And after a fashion, that’s my own way of baffling expectations. There are those who believe that having super high expectations of someone is the best way to motivate them. I don’t believe that. Or rather, I do believe it’s a way to motivate you . . . to do what I want you to do

But I’ve always said that my goal as a parent is not to raise compliant, well-behaved children. My goal is to raise healthy, wise, functioning adults.
And just as we talked about earlier with decision-making, the way to get there is to cultivate your own motivations for doing the things that fulfill your needs and desires. Because you want to, not because I said so.

As I wrote in my letters to your brother, nearly a decade ago now, “When we set high expectations on someone, we can indeed motivate them to do something, but in the process we de-personalize them a bit . . . we tell them, ‘This is who you are, and I will be less approving and more disappointed in you if you don’t live up to my vision of who you are.’

Similarly, when we set low expectations for someone, we’re objectifying them in the same way . . . we’re telling them, ‘This is who you are, and don’t bother trying to convince me otherwise because I already know better.'”

As I told him, in both cases, whether our expectations are artificially high or artificially low, we’re not relating to a person, but to a figment of our own imaginations.

Now, despite my best efforts, there will be times when I expect things of you. And there will certainly be others throughout your life who place expectations on you.

And I want you to confound them! 

And yes, by “them,” I mean me, too.

I want you to forge your own path – the path you want to walk – not the one someone else sets before you. I want you to pursue your dreams no matter how wild or unrealistic or ridiculous someone else may try to decide that they are. It’s not their decision.

I think of archeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who decided as a small boy reading the epic tales of the ancient world, that he was one day going to find the city of Troy – believed by many at the time to be only a fairy tale. And though many told him his quest to find the lost city was ridiculous, as an adult, he found it! Some of the greatest discoveries ever made were just the sort that confounded expectations. And since you’re already so good at confounding your mother and me, I have no doubt that you are fully capable of following in their footsteps if you decide to do so.

So when someone – again, including me – places expectations on you, take them for what they are: someone else’s desires for you. That doesn’t mean they’re always bad. But it doesn’t mean they’re always good, either. I want you to set your own course, and while I will always be there to tell you what I think, the rest of it is up to you.

I love you.


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