Expectations – those darn things that we seem to allow to run amuck in all areas of our lives. The problem is that expectations have a nasty habit of ruining our goals, our dreams and our desires. This is especially true when it comes to our expectations of ourselves and our relationship with others. Including the sacred relationships we have with our children. When we hold expectations about how others (and ourselves) “should” act, behave and live we are essentially projecting our own issues, insecurities and values onto another person. When that other person happens to be your child, the consequences can be far reaching into not only the future but also who they are as a person. Placing expectations on others is something that has come to the forefront for me recently. Something that has negatively impacted my relationship with my four-year-old son.
Before I gave birth to my son, I would visualise what it would be like to be a Mum. How I would really nurture who this little person was, who was about to enter my life. I would focus on how I would parent, what we would do together and how our relationship would have a strong unconditional loving connection. All of this was fine, because it was all up to me and how I acted as a parent, and my responsibilities to my son. However, as time went on and my son entered toddlerhood and his strong personality came stampeding to the forefront, I realised I had (at the time) become attached to these unrealistic expectations of not only how he “should” behave but also who he “should” be. This ironically, is one of the very strong values that I vowed to myself I would follow – that my children would be who they are born to be. That I wouldn’t shape or mould them to my values. That I was their equal, not their superior. That I would nourish and nurture their uniqueness and celebrate them as the beautiful person they came here to be.
Unfortunately, along the way in my parenting journey my vision became cloudy. It became murky. My expectations of how my son should act and who he should be tainted not only our relationship, but also how I saw him as a person and how I acted – or rather reacted towards him. My delusional visions of him were of this well-behaved, quiet, dreamy little boy who would stay next to me at the shops instead of running off and stressing the hell out of me; who would clean up his own mess; who would sit quietly in his own imaginative world; and who would exude peace and serenity. When my son did not meet these preconceived “delusions” and expectations I felt angry, frustrated, annoyed. I would meet his storm with my own storm. As you can imagine there was thunder, lightening, cyclones and hail. He would run around the house creating a mess of toy destruction in his wake. I would yell, threaten, and issue ultimatums – all things I swore I would never do – to try and counteract and “persuade” him to clean up as he went. In all honesty, it became exhausting. My energy got depleted. The more I pushed my expectations on him, the more he pushed back and then some. We were both trapped in this vicious delusional cycle that I had created all because I had these expectations of who he should be instead of embracing the beautiful person he has always been.
When I realised how much my expectations were projecting on him and negatively affecting our relationship and becoming extremely detrimental to his personal growth, I had an epiphany. Like in the movies where the character suddenly has this flashback of all events prior to that particular moment in time. The camera zooms in on their eye and then pulls back. The audience sees the utter devastation on the character’s face. The moment the character realises they instigated the whole thing. Then we wait a moment more and a look of determination lights up the character’s face, as they make that epiphany, revelation, realisation, that they hold the power to change. Well that dramatic movie occurrence that Hollywood loves to include in basically all their movies happened to me. I realised that by having all these confounded expectations, I had single-handedly destroyed the relationship with my son. In that moment I made a decision. A decision that has brought me more peace, more acceptance, more authenticity and more love. That decision was to release all my expectations and to fully embrace EVERY. SINGLE. aspect of my son for WHO HE IS.
Where I saw loud and noisy; I now see energetic and full of life.
Where I saw messy and destructive; I now see fun and creativity.
Where I saw defiance; I now see free-spirited and courageous.
Where I saw roughhouse; I now see playful.
Where I saw screaming and frustration; I now see as determined and strong.
Where I saw constant movement; I now see as a wild imagination.
In that moment I made a choice. The choice to see my son for who he is, instead of who I think he should be. Now when I see mess and cushions all over the floor I no longer feel frustrated and annoyed that I will be the one that cleans it up. Instead I see the growth and learning that is occurring. The world of imagination and creativity that my son has produced. Yes, I am still the one that cleans up the mess but what is more important; becoming a raving, yelling lunatic and shouting “if you don’t clean up your mess than [insert threat here]” or that my son is learning, expressing himself and being so present in the moment, in his own world that nothing else matters. Cleaning up messes is what comes through developmental milestones and modelling cleaning up – as they say monkey see, monkey do. It just takes patience…a lot of patience to get to the point where they are willing to clean up by themselves.
I remember when I ran my own day care one of the government department assessors said to me “when we come to a home and there is no mess we feel concerned that the children have not been learning.”
Life is messy. Fun is messy. Creativity is messy. The big advancements in society didn’t come from cleanliness and tidiness. Your child’s – my sons’ – learning and growth won’t come from that either.
Note: I’ve used the mess example because it was one of my failed expectations of how my son should be that I felt annoyed about most.
My Tips for Releasing Expectations
- Write down a list of all the expectations you have of how your child should act and who they should be.
- Write down how they are not meeting these expectations.
- Turn all these unmet “expectations” into something positive. I.E. defiant becomes free-spirited, assertive and/or creative.
- Write down all of their positive traits – many of these will overlap with those above .
- Become mindful of your reactions towards your child and recognise when you are projecting your expectations onto them.
- Breathe and take a moment to alter your automatic response. Research has shown that you can create new habits in 21 days. This also creates different neural pathways in the brain, so that eventually what might have been a yelling match reaction now becomes a peaceful request or a different way of looking at the situation.
- Remember that how you react with or connect with your child is a choice YOU make. You could be yelling at your child to clean up their toys until you turn blue but as the saying goes “if you have told your child a thousand times, it is not the child who is the slow learner.” Choose a different response, talk to your child in ways that resonate with them, get them involved in problem-solving a way to get both your needs met. That way they also feel like they are in control of their life, which means it is less likely, they will “rebel” against you.
So now I invite you, when you walk into the room and see a cyclone of destruction everywhere choose to see a world of imagination that your child has created. A mess is easy to clean up, squashed imaginations and hope is not easy to reignite.
I also challenge you to make a choice in every moment to see beyond the loudness, messiness or whatever it is that really gets up in your grill and choose to see it differently. Choose to see it how your child does. Choose to nurture your child for who s/he is and not coerce them into how you think they should be.