Don’t ‘Live Down’ to Your Family’s Expectations

(In the photo, see anyone who stands out as ‘different’?  She most definitely was.  But the others in her family of origin deemed her a ‘freak.’)

We hear it all the time:  One’s family of origin dictates the path in life a young person follows. In other words, there’s a family dynamic that’s created, early on, generally established by parents in overt and subtle interaction with their kids. That dynamic filters down to the kids who take on the family characterization, living up or down, to parental expectations.  Furthermore, they further the characterizations, as all take their assigned spots.

And that characterization often affects what they become.

Here’s how it generally plays out, in family conversation:  “Susan’s the one who’s going to be CEO of a company by the time she’s 25;” “Joe’s too picky about everything; he never gets along with anybody; he’ll end up alone in life;” “Brett lacks focus and he’s too undiscisplined;” “Mary’s a troublemaker who makes a big problem out of everything;” “‘Maria’s the sensitive one.”

Sound familiar?  Maybe you heard these growing up (or have your own memories).

They’re the casual observations by parents or others that find their mark…some, over and over. By the time the child reaches 18, he or she has bought into the parental assessment, either for good or bad.  If it’s the former, he believes he’s entitled and he’ll be profoundly affected by what doesn’t transpire.

If it’s negative, he now believes:  “I’m a loser.”

When I think about dysfunctional family dynamics, that 1960’s American television series, “The Munsters” leaps to mind:  There they all were:  Herman Munster, his wife, Lily, Uncle Fester,  Marilyn.  They believed they were well-adjusted and fine, except for poor Marilyn (the ‘normal one’).  The rest regarded her as a deviant, suggesting she was ‘ugly’ and a ‘misfit.’ This coming from folks who had vampire-like features (Lily), Frankensteinian nodes in the neck (Herman,) and the habit of lying in a casket in the basement during the day(Uncle Fester) seemed ludicrous.

Nevertheless, they labeled Marilyn ‘the freak.’

It’s what they believed, and that assessment is what they passed down to her…daily. Sure, it was a television show– a comedy at that– but that message was serious.

Some folks go through life mightily trying to overleap their family’s negative characterization.  They have a hard time realizing their potential, atrophied as they are by the bleak prognosis that follows them from birth through later years.

Those are the ones who must work doubly hard to not ‘live down’ to their family’s expectations.

But when they burst through family-imposed barriers, there are no limits to what they can accomplish. 

This post is for you who fight against such…

And because 2 of my 3 names are distinctly Irish, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize tomorrow’s important day–March 17, St. Patrick’s Day–for all who wear the green (and all who wish to), so “Have a Happy!”

And to all: “Live up to your own dreams in this life and lose the baggage of the past.  You’re not necessarily the person your family imagines….unless you want to be.”

About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog,, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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