How to Handle Family Expectations

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Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. This week we’re going to talk about a merging of communication and cultural issues. I’m excited to answer these questions, because it has some personal relevance to me as well. I got a question from Raj in Canada. He writes, “I don’t know how to communicate with my family, Doctor Neha, specifically my parents. I’m a grown man, and I recently went through a divorce, and they have already started introducing me to other potential women. I don’t even think I’m ready yet. How do I tell them that I’m not ready without offending them?” This is a great question, Raj! I’m going to give some examples alongside answering your question.

What I hear is that you have gone through a traumatic experience. Whether it’s the breakup of a relationship, changing a job, or a divorce, which is even more significant, these types of situations take time. You might notice that family is pretty interested in putting all the pieces back together again to make everything okay because they love you. One thing I notice culturally is that what you say about what’s happening next is really important. As parents, they probably love you a lot and want to help, but it doesn’t seem like it’s helping.

First, a part of you is saying, “I’m not ready yet.” You want to listen to that part of you. Get clear about how your physiology tells you that. There will usually be some sort of physical constriction in your body. For me my throat tightens, my heart races, or my stomach turns. Then my muscles get tight, and I start breathing very shallowly or not breathing at all. So the next time the topic of remarriage or introducing you to other people comes up, notice what’s happening for you on a physical level. Breathe through that, and manage yourself. That’s step one.

Step two is about tapping into that feeling of not disappointing others. Is that something you struggle with? When you’re thinking about your parents and you don’t want to disappoint them, you may already feel like you have. For whatever reason, your marriage didn’t work out, and some part may feel like you’ve disappointed yourself and others. Get really honest about that; you can do that through journaling or talking to a friend.

I don’t know you, but what I would bet is that there was a lot of learning for you recently. You’ve probably learned about yourself, how you show up in relationships, what you want, what you value, what you’ll put up with, what you’re willing to work through, what you’re not. What are the lessons that this experience has brought you? If you get clear about that, you’re going to start becoming grateful for this experience, even though that might feel like a stretch right now. Grateful for a divorce, are you kidding? It doesn’t feel that way initially, but once you learn the lessons that you came to learn, you can get there.

Now let’s address how you tell your parents you’re not ready without offending them. What I know is that you care deeply about your parents and you respect them. You care not only about your own heart, but you care about breaking theirs. What they want is for you to be happy, and they think they know how that’s going to happen for you. So you need to get clear about where you end and they begin. You also need to trust that they’re strong and capable. When they know that you’re clear about you want, they’re probably going to listen to you.

Let me give you a sample conversation of what this might sound like:

“Hey, Mom and Dad, do you have 15 or 20 minutes? Because I want to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. You know yesterday at dinner when you asked if I would meet this new woman that you have been talking about, I hesitated and got quiet. I noticed that my heart started racing, and my stomach was turning a little bit. What I want to say is thank you so much for caring about me and about my well-being. What I realized after thinking about this overnight is that I’m not ready yet. I know what you’re doing: you want me to be happy, you want me to be in a relationship again, and I love you for that. Thank you for taking such good care of me, and what I need right now, is a little bit of time to just heal and be by myself.”

Now they might say, “But you’re going to miss some opportunities. What if you miss some really good people?” Then acknowledge their emotion, such as, “Thank you so much. I hear how worried you are and how important I am to you. What I trust is that the right opportunity will come when I’m ready. No matter what opportunity comes along, it won’t be the right opportunity if I’m not ready to meet it. So what I’m asking for is for you to give me at least four to six months to be alone, reflect, learn the lessons that I need to learn about how I showed up and what happened. I will come back to you and ask for your help, because I know you both have my best interest at heart.” The conversation you need to have with them would sound something like that.

In my own life, this has shown up in several ways. One is that, I am in my 40s, I’m not married and I don’t have children. If any of you know an Indian family or are in one, it’s all about education, family and grandchildren. I’ve had some experiences like this myself when I’m not following the traditional path of a culture or of family expectations. It requires me to get clear about what I value, what’s important to me. So I tell my family, “Let me be clear, I value relationship; I value children; I value family. It’s just that I’ve made some other choices. I’ve written a book, I’ve done other things that I felt were aligned with my values, my being, my purpose in the world.”

When my book finally came out, I said to my dad, “Go open the package because your grand-book-baby has just arrived.” I was joking, and I’m not sure that it went over so well with him. But as I’ve become more clear, my parents have become a lot more loving and accepting about the fact that I’m going to take a different path.

I hope this has been informative. These challenges are about any situation in which somebody else has expectations of you that don’t settle well inside you and you have to decide where you end and someone else begins. Can you trust that this person is strong and capable and resourceful? And that if you tell them that something isn’t working for you, and you’re respectful and honoring toward them, can you have an honest conversation so you can both get what you want and stay connected? The answer is yes, you can.

Come on over to the blog and let me know when you have had to battle your own desires with the expectations of others. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.

Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Identify the physical signals in your body that let you know you are uncomfortable with someone else’s expectations.
  2. Get clear about your emotions and values in relation to the situation.
  3. Ask to have a conversation with the other person.
  4. Thank the other person for their care and concern, and express what you need.
  5. Trust that the other person is strong and capable to handle whatever you say.

Turning up the volume of your heart,

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