The perceived danger of hope

I have been thinking about family legacies of trauma (I’m working on a longer blog post about that) and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is that when a family knows that the worst things can happen, hope can become a dangerous thing. Not every family that experiences trauma is like this, obviously, but it’s common because people want to be safe. If you’re too hopeful, you might take risks and you might fail.

I think about this when I hear parents dialing down their kids’ big plans.

“Don’t expect to hit a home run right away, kiddo.”

“Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the lead.”

“Not everyone is going to get an award for this, you know.”

We don’t want our kids to be disappointed when they fail so we prepare them for failure.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” we say. But isn’t that what hope is for?

It’s true that we need our kids to be realistic but reality will do that for them. Telling them not to be excited doesn’t protect them from failure; it just adds an ugly sheen to the excited times before.

I get it, I do. There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child’s dreams get dashed. Ugh. Like a dagger to your own heart, I know. Our urge to mitigate that possible disappointment comes from a loving place but it’s spoils the fun and dampens the spirit.

Imagine if we did this with other things like, “Sooner or later you’re going to take a swig of milk and realize it’s gone bad so I think you should just prepare yourself for sour milk every time you drink it. I think you should mistrust the anticipation you have that the milk will be good.”

(Substitute some other example if you are dairy-free. Like apples with bruises or when your salad has the lettuce core in it. Or when your pancakes have those bitter lumps of baking soda.)

Nobody wants to live their life expecting disappointment.

So why not be hopeful? Why not get excited? And then if things don’t work out, we can hug the heck out of each other. It’ll be OK.

If you don’t do this with your kids, you might do this with yourself. You might find yourself gearing up by tearing yourself down. Whose voice is in your ear telling you to be careful? Not to aim too high? Who’s telling you to dial down your dreaming?

And here is Mel Brooks singing Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst, because Mel Brooks can make everything funny including the Judaic legacy of trauma (oh boy does this ring familiar and not just because my dad does a killer Yiddish accent):

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