The Trap of Expectations
Ever since I have had children in my life, I have learned that expectations (about myself or them) are usually a set-up for frustration and disappointment. Expectations can be small or big. “I plan to get an article written today” or “I want my child to go to law school and become a lawyer”.
Even though I know expectations are a trigger for me, I still go there. I have been thinking a lot about what it is that creates this need to have expectations rather than to be in the moment.
When I left my career and forged a new path in life, I thought I was leaving behind much of what made me unhappy.
Within the first several years, I had everything I had been looking for when I left, such as time with family, a slower-paced life, a chance to write about my experiences and publish them, coaching and supporting parents to create respectful relationships with children.
And, I expected myself to happy and joyful all the time.
Shockingly, this is not the case.
My life is not always full of bliss. When I am stressed out and upset, the expectation that I SHOULD be happy all the time kicks in.
For the sake of my own growth, I decided to write down some of the things I have expected from myself:
*I will be a patient and loving parent who treats children with respect and dignity all the time.
*I will be happy and upbeat no matter what happens.
*I will never, ever yell.
*I will be able to calmly articulate my needs to Rob, and the children in my life rather than holding them inside and getting angry later.
*I will be positive about the future and not worry about money or time, because somehow it will all work out.
*I will be able to easily balance my role as a coach, consultant, and university administrator with being an available and accessible parent whenever the children in my life need me.
*I will be able to identify when I am being triggered and remove myself from any situation before I am frustrated and angry.
*I will always “walk the talk” of social change and respectful parenting.
*I will be able to identify the harmful socialization I have experienced and unlearn that socialization so that it never impacts the children in my life.
Just the act of writing these expectations down and then reading them helps me to see how absurd and unobtainable they are.
And yet, they still sometimes pop up in my head and impact how I see myself.
I have made progress in having fewer expectations of the children in my life, but much less progress in the expectations I have of myself. It is easier to practice radical acceptance for the children in my life, than it is for my own growth and development.
When we are children, love and acceptance by adults are conditional upon how we behave and what we do. I think it is rare that children are truly accepted for who they are in our society.
In fact, our socialization as parents tells us that it is our duty to NOT accept children as they are, but to mold and condition them so that they can take their rightful place as adults.
Our culture sets expectations as a normal part of our learning and socialization.
We learn what is expected at home.
We learn what is expected at school.
We learn what is expected at work.
If we want to receive love and acceptance from those around us, we strive to meet those expectations.
We have children and then we make sure they understand society’s expectations. The cycle continues unbroken unless we question not only the idea of having expectations, but also the kinds of expectations that are lodged in our heads.
How can I break the cycle within me? I have been slowly trying to rid myself of the idea of having expectations. It is hard.
The children in my life are my biggest teachers when the expectations in my head get in the way of my life with them.
My feelings are also a barometer for when I am bumping up against this socialization. When I am angry, it can be a signal to me to leave and begin to think about why I am angry.
Writing is another process for me in unlearning this dominant socialization. Talking with other parents who are actively questioning and reading about others who are doing the same keeps me growing.
The key for me is to not isolate myself in my process. Reaching out and connecting to others, creating a support network in doing work that is not always done by parents, are all critical to continuing to break the cycle and learn new ways of parenting.