Expectations – we all have them. From how a single day may go, to an event, or even large portions of our life. We expect people to behave in ways consistent with their role (like how the cashier acts when ringing up your items, or the plumber, or those closest to us like spouses and children). Some of these expectations are healthy and help us gauge whether or not to continue to do business with an establishment, or they help us guide our children. Some expectations even help us recognize when we aren’t being treated correctly by a spouse, sibling, or friend.
Unrealistic expectations, however, make us feel like we’re being wronged when we aren’t. They change how we interact with people, often times in ways that make us hard to live with. I most often think of expectations in terms of my parental role. Some expectations encourage my kids to participate in our family life, and help me guide them onward and upward. But those expectations can often become too rigid, and too much to bear. The more I expect of my kids, and the more I point out that they are failing my expectations, the less they try. Then I become more frustrated and point out more failures, then they try less. It can be an ugly & vicious cycle. In this cycle, I recognize my kids cringe when I walk into a room. Instead of seeing me and wanting to run up and tell me all about their most recent discovery or adventure, they just want to avoid me. This isn’t how I want my kids to see me or grow up. While I am always their parent first, I’ve come to recognize that relationship doesn’t have to include an iron fist 24/7.
I would never advocate for dropping all expectations as a parent. Having no expectations to meet would likely leave them wandering around lost, with little to do. My kids all have expected contributions to running the home (otherwise known as chores). But I find myself sometimes expecting them to the chores the same way I would, or to the level I would expect of a professional. The fact is, they are kids. They won’t do it the same as I, or even my way half the time. And I will never walk in and find that they’ve cleaned a room like a professional maid may have. But most of the time they try really hard to do a good job. They don’t see the mess the same way I do, so they don’t clean it the same way. But I have to admit that when they are done, it looks much better when they started most of the time – I would say 9 out of 10 times it looks better than when they started.
So I’m going to slow down, reevaluate, and try to recognize where my expectations are becoming unrealistic. Where I’ve gotten a little too uptight, I’m going to apologize. I’m going to try to give my kids the room to do things their own way, even if that means they make mistakes. And I’m not going to carry on about their mistakes as if it makes their contributions null & void. A simple re-do and move on – after all, in most of my adult responsibilities a simple re-do fixes a large portion of my mistakes. I’m going to lighten up. I want them to be excited when I walk into a room. I want them to know they I recognize their efforts and their attempts, and that I recognize their humanity – they are no more capable of perfection than I am, and even in the middle of the messes, that is beautiful to me.
(I was inspired to write about expectations by the writing prompt over at Write. Blog. Connect.)