Expectations. We all have them, particularly for our kids. I grew up keenly aware of my father’s expectations of me: college, maybe a graduate degree, then onto a promising career; perhaps even taking over his business. Nothing wrong with expectations as long as they don’t become oppressive and don’t give a boy the space to grow up and do what his inner voice calls him to do as a man.
Just as my father had expectations of me, I too had expectations for my son. I wanted him to follow the socially accepted pattern of getting a college degree and transitioning into a rewarding job, find a nice woman, start a family. My expectations were also fueled by our circle of friends, nearly all of who had high-achieving sons.
All of these nice things are still reachable for my 23-year-old son, but I no longer call them expectations, but Hopes. That’s because two years ago my expectations were altered by the discovery of my son’s drug addiction.
When I came face-to-face with this frightening reality, my expectations for a promising future quickly flew out the window. All bets were off. The only thing that mattered was his safety. Suddenly, my expectation of college and beyond seemed superficial. All I yearned for was that my son would somehow find a way to live free of the clutches of addiction.
What I’ve learned over time, being around my recovering son and other young men wrestling the addiction demons with the help of New Life House, is that expectations can be tricky. Most of us can acknowledge them and move on. But for some, expectations can contribute to an oppressive anxiety that begs to be medicated. Growing up, my son had to deal with being an only child, following on the heels of a brother and sister who died in infancy. Although my wife and I didn’t think we put excess pressure on him, he nonetheless felt the weight.
I’m sure there were other reasons why my son turned to drugs, but trying to escape his anxiety was a driving force. I’ve since come to find out that social anxiety is a trigger for many young men trapped in the addition cycle.
My expectations contributed to my own anxiety, too, as my son spiraled out of control and eventually (thank God!) was arrested for possession of narcotics. I had to come to grips with a new reality that didn’t involve a college diploma, at least for a considerable period of time.
Through Al-Anon, conversations with other parents, and illuminating moments at New Life House, I learned to let go of the expectations I had for my son. I decided to let him set his own expectations. After all, it’s his life, not mine. I’m trying to embrace serenity, which according to AA, is inversely proportional to expectations.
My son is now taking on more responsibility in sobriety than I ever thought possible. He’s a man of integrity and accountability who’s giving of himself to other young men struggling to find comfort and acceptance in sober living.
My expectations have morphed into “Hopes” for a happy, fulfilling future for my son. Moreover, I live in gratitude for getting the opportunity to re-kindle a relationship with a maturing, gratitude-filled young man with whom I’m only now getting to truly know – my son.