Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Managing Expectations

My husband and I have a few principles that guide our relationship. The principles are almost like parts of a manifesto. It didn't start out that way. We didn't sit down one day and say, "we need concrete principles to have a successful marriage".  Instead it evolved from beliefs we had independent of each other and independent of marriage, but that seemed applicable. In the interest of privacy, I am not sharing the list. However, one principle stands above the others. It has made our marriage so strong and, I discovered after having children, has made me a better parent.

Ready? Wait for it ......

Life is about managing expectations. 

I'm quite certain books have been written about it.  This nugget contains enormous power! Power over our excitement, fear, frustration, happiness. and most importantly disappointment. The disappointment is most important because (at the risk of sounding like Yoda) it leads to anger. 

This has been a crucial lesson when dealing with my children.  What to expect from them changes almost monthly because of typical social and physical development.  Most of us aren't sure what to expect at any given age, and that is a problem. If I don't know what to expect, I might miss a huge warning sign, or become unbearably frustrated with my child's actions.

When I find myself pulling out my hair, I've resorted to asking, "Am I expecting too much from my child?" I don't want to just lower expectations to improve the situation, but often I forget that tantrums, crying, arguing, and stubbornness are just part of being 2, 3 or 4 years old.  I put myself in their shoes, and remember how tough it must be to sit still for dinner, ride in a 5-point harness in the car for hours to see Grammy, to go to bed when he really just wants to hang out with mom and dad for a few more minutes. 

The other issue related to our children's behavior is gender. This harkens back to a previous post about how we teach or sons and daughters to be boys and girls.  If we think about what we expect boys to behave like, and what we expect girls to behave like, it will explain how children form their gender identity.

I recently heard a male friend lament about how sensitive his son was. He was worried that if he didn't toughen up, he would end up being bullied and pushed around. I am sure men all over the world remember the moments where they showed weakness and were subsequently punished for it - by adults or peers - with ridicule. As a woman, as a mother, all I could think was: what if you toughen him up and he becomes the bully? We NEED more sensitive men and boys. Maybe more sensitivity, compassion and empathy will lead to less violence against women.  Maybe it will lead to less war. Maybe it will will just lead to more happiness for men and boys. I just read (through tears streaming down my face) this beautiful blog post that captures my feelings in so many ways.

I try desperately to manage my expectations of my two very young sons. I listen to their voices, their tears, their emotions. I let them show me who they really are, regardless of age or gender, rather than expecting what the greater society had tried to show me is who they really should be. 

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