My family was all-in on my dreams. Not a lot of people can say that, I realize.
I was lucky that my family completely supported me becoming a professional baseball player. They sacrificed their money, paying for all the equipment, private lessons, and travel expenses that come with year-long competitive ball. They sacrificed their time, driving me all around the nation for tournaments and camps. Year-long competition at the highest level meant that my family spent an egregious amount of time sitting in the Texas sun, cheering me on. They poured their blood, (a whole lot of) sweat, and tears into me. They bought in.
But then the dreams of a professional baseball career slowly proved unattainable. A lot of people know the feeling, unfortunately. Our lives are full of broken dreams. As baseball faded from the picture, I rediscovered my childhood aspiration — to work in entertainment. When I told my family that I wanted to stop playing baseball and transfer universities to pursue a film degree, my words were met with opposition. One family member told me, “You had your chance at a lofty dream, and you failed. It’s time to get serious and find a real job.”
Playing a professional sport and pursuing a career in Hollywood are indeed lofty dreams, admittedly. My family’s disappointment struck deep, though. That one word—“failed”—rang in my mind. I realized that in sacrificing so much for me, my family expected much in return. Not only that, but they expected a certain life for me moving forward. I failed to meet their expectations once, and they didn’t want me to fail to meet them again.
I’m sure you can relate. Maybe your family’s expectations deal with your grades and success in school, or maybe they deal with settling down in a certain location. Whatever they may be, we all have to face our family’s expectations one day. Unless we put them in their proper place, the voices that raised us can linger and control our lives, even into late adulthood.
Don’t get me wrong. We do have a very real responsibility to our families — both to those who came before us and to those who will come after us. Families are the basic units of our lives, so we have a duty to honor them. However, we also have a duty to honor God and ourselves. So how do we find balance? How do we respect our families while also placing proper boundaries on their expectations for us?
Establish proper boundaries
Depending on where you grew up, the word “boundary” may have a bad connotation. Boundaries are necessary for any relationship, though. They help clarify where one person’s world ends and another’s begins. Without them, relationships suffocate — but with them, relationships blossom.
Boundaries allow the space for people to grow into the best versions of themselves, which is also (conveniently) the ultimate purpose of a family. The family is the setting God uses to help us grow into who we are created to be. The family becomes distorted when its members are only allowed to grow into the people their family expects them to be.
Asserting a boundary with family members is hard to do, but it’s crucial in order for you to grow into your best self. Not only that, but asserting a boundary will also free up your family members to grow into their best selves, too. Boundary-less expectations create codependent families and stunt family members from achieving their full potential. So it’s not only good to create space between you and your family’s expectations — it’s essential that you do so.
If I expected my family to respect my decision to pursue film, then I needed to take responsibility for my decision. Boundaries aren’t a free pass to make it ”your way or the highway.” They’re more a loving handshake, acknowledging the individual responsibility we have for ourselves.
Because my parents were paying for my degree, it couldn’t be a one-way street. They were taking on responsibility, so I needed to offer responsibility on my end as well. If that meant having to pay for my degree myself, then that’s what I would do. I wanted them to know that whether I succeeded or failed in the entertainment industry, it would be on my terms, and their relationship with me wasn’t dependent upon the outcome. My career was my choice, and if I needed to be the one to give myself the opportunities to afford that career, then so be it.
Entertain your desires
Our desires are clues to God’s will for our lives. Not all desires are good, and discernment is needed to decipher the good ones from the bad ones. Often, though, God places desires in our hearts to help guide us into the lives He desires for us. Suppressing these desires leads to a sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness — or, worse, resentment.
When your family expects you to live differently than you desire, you serve them best by entertaining your desires. In doing so, you establish a healthy amount of independence and autonomy. We are family members, not family slaves.
I had a strong desire to study the arts and become an artist, which is a good desire. There’s nothing inherently wrong with desiring to be an artist. Because my family expected differently from me, though, I was faced with essentially two options: be obedient to their desires, or be obedient to the desires placed on my heart. The more loving thing was to do the latter. I couldn’t love my family fully if I wasn’t becoming the person I was created to be. My obedience to them would be disobedience to God and the desires He gave me.
Give yourself time
Letting go of anything is hard. If taking this step causes you anxiety, then acknowledge the feeling, remain focused, and keep moving forward. It will pass. The hardest boundary to set is the first boundary you set. It gets easier from there.
Here’s the hard truth: Parents will inevitably disappoint their children, and children will inevitably disappoint their parents. Holding firm to every familial expectation is a false expression of obedience. Here’s another hard truth: Letting go of your family’s expectations will often not go well. This is just a messy part of growing up and establishing our own lives. But the relationships in your family will be far better off in due time than if you had continued succumbing to their every wish. Sometimes things need to be broken in order to grow properly.
My relationship with my parents definitely went through some growing pains when I first began my film career. I was hurt by their words, and they were hurt that I refused to use their money in the way they preferred. They were kind enough to continue paying for my degree, despite their feelings, but it was a difficult period. In time, they came to see the vitality that film brought me, and they supported my career just as hard as they supported my baseball ambitions. We were all stronger in the end because I stuck to my guns and the desires on my heart.
Remember your ultimate responsibility
We are members of our families, but we are first and foremost members of God’s family. Our allegiance to God the Father trumps our allegiances to our earthly fathers. This explains one of Jesus’s harder teachings when He says, “They will be divided, father against son and son against father.” Sometimes God’s will contrasts with our families’ wills.
God’s will can even contrast with our own wills. So we need to not only create a healthy distance from our family’s expectations, but we also need to create a healthy distance from our own expectations. This life isn’t about doing what our family wants, and it’s not about doing what we want. It’s about doing what God wants. Sometimes that does mean doing what our family wants, or what we want. And sometimes that means everyone wins. Other times — in God’s providence — that means none of us do. One thing remains, however: God is faithful and will not allow us to be lost.