Expectations: Why Teaching the Ones We Love is Often the Hardest

January 29, 2014 by V.R.M. - 1 Comment

It’s humorously ironic. As a mother, my number one responsibility (as I see it) is to turn my daughters into two decent, happy people. And yet, some days, I am the last person they want to learn from. When considering how challenging it is to teach my girls, it occurred to me that teaching the ones we love – children, parents, lovers – is often a challenge. We expect so very much from our loved ones, and yet sometimes we are willing to give them little in return. We expect them to “know us” (read our thoughts), and because we think we know them, often we don’t listen fully because we think we have heard it all before. Permanence also plays a part, I believe — we know our family is permanent, so social filters (patience, politeness, holding our tongue) don’t apply as much when we are inside our family circle.

My husband was one of my earliest driving instructors. I loved how attentive he was and how I could get unfettered access to his driving knowledge long after the event was over. As our relationship progressed and as he got to know me better as a driver and as a partner, his expectations for me increased and his patience seemed to decrease. At the same time, my expectations that he should provide me with endless pre- and post-event feedback about our driving sessions together increased. I was doing his laundry, after all, so why not expect him to look at the data yet again, or togaze lovingly into my eyes as I over-analyzed turn 6 again?

This is what lead-follow should look like. In my case, I was off the frame. Way off.

This is what lead-follow should look like. In my case, I was off the frame. Way off.

The last time my husband driver-coached me, we got off to a rocky start. I had never driven MidOhio in my Spec Miata, and I asked him to do a “lead-follow” for me so I could get some points of reference (neither of our Spec Miatas have passenger seats). So we could communicate, he zip-tied a radio to my Miata’s rollbar. His plan was to talk me through the course for a few laps so I could remember, and then set me free. Off we went on our first lap, and by turn 2 he had dropped me like a hot potato. To make matters worse, I could hear the radio going off above my head, but thanks to the Miata’s noisy engine, I couldn’t understand a single word he was saying. My first session went something like this:

Me: (thinking) “I wonder how fast I should go into the hairpin?”

He: Bwa bwa bwa BWAAAAAAAAA”

Me (thinking) “I better brake at the 500 marker just to be safe…where did he go? How can he be out of Madness already? Wait, is that him behind me? He’s lapped me!”

He: “BWAAAA BWAAAAA THROTTLE BWAAAAAAA!”

I was being coached by Charlie Brown’s teacher…an increasingly frustrated one. When I got out of the car, I was ready to quit and he was wondering why I was driving like Grandma on her way to meet her canasta partners. Expectations were getting in the way of a perfectly enjoyable experience: mine, “why won’t he be more patient? Can’t he tell I am getting more nervous because I can’t follow his directions?” and he, “why is she driving so slowly? Did she forget everything she’s learned until now?” Thankfully, we had a quick chat and moved on to have a great weekend together, but things could have gone differently because of our expectations of eachother.

When they ask to learn, teaching is so much easier.

When they ask to learn, teaching is so much easier.

Those pesky expectations. We expect so much from our loved ones. We get impatient when things we have taught them countless times (elbows off the table, never lift in a turn, towels in the hamper, keys in the dish) are not carried out exactly the way we would like. So often we forget the people in our inner circle are just people – they have their own internal universe, where things are prioritized differently. We forget that our family members may seem like they ignore what we say, but in reality they are wide open to what we say to them — all the loving words and criticism we can take with a grain of salt from strangers hurts and burns more when it comes from our own clan. In each of our homes, there may be much imperfection and chaos, but there is also intimacy. And with this intimacy comes a great responsibility to teach and learn from eachother. Today I’m grateful that my family can show eachother our imperfections, and reminding myself to be gentle when they are shown. My expectations are just mine, and they don’t apply to my children or my husband, who will learn in their own way, at their own pace.

On a recent snow day, I realized that so much of what we are able to teach our kids and partners is driven by opportunity vs. agenda. I often try to come up with ideas to keep my daughters entertained while they are home. Most of the time the girls don’t find the activities I come up with nearly as exciting as the ones they suggest. Yesterday, my oldest wanted to knit with me, while my youngest wanted to practice yoga. In the usual way, neither girl had an iota of interest in the activity her sister wanted to do. “Knitting is boring,” said J, while V affirmed, “I don’t like yoga. I think I’ll stick to soccer.” While V knit, J and I ended up in an impromptu yoga session together, where she learned to do a headstand (salamba sirsasana). I learned that teaching kids is much, much easier if we let them come to us and ask. Of course sometimes this is not possible (I have yet to hear, “Mom, teach me how to do laundry! or Mom, I would like to learn table manners!”), but if your kid asks you  to  teach them something, seize the moment and teach away. You’ll probably learn something in the process, too.

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I leave violin teaching to the (very patient) expert…

Likewise, if you are trying to teach something and your child shows no interest, there is no shame in recruiting your partner, friend, or talented acquaintance to pass the knowledge along. A change in teachers can sometimes do wonders. The conduit doesn’t matter…it takes a village. I have a dear friend who is a talented violinist. Her daughter is already showing great promise as a violinist, but as she entered the pre-teen years, my friend struggled trying to teach her. My friend reached out to her sister, also a talented violinist, and Auntie is now teaching my friend’s daughter. Result? A more relaxed mom, a more compliant kid, and the violin is still being played (although my friend confessed her daughter won’t practice for her Auntie, either. Hey, one victory at a time, right?). Sometimes when the girls and I have been butting heads all day, I ask my husband to give the lesson a try. More times than not, the girls (and I) benefit from a change of teacher.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my brother taught me to drive, mostly because my Mom tried and found that I wanted nothing to do with following her directions behind the wheel. In a few years, when my daughters learn to drive, it is entirely possible that they will want to learn from someone other than me. Although I would like to be the one to teach my girls everything, I know better than to think this will be possible. If I’ve learned something nearly 9 years into this child-rearing project it is that children learn more from what we do than what we teach. If I want them to be kind, forgiving, and good drivers, I best work on being kind to others (especially my family) and forgiving often. We grownups still have a lot to learn. And while I’m at it, there is always room for improving my driving skills, and being a good example in that department, too.