It’s plain to see that the HUGE gap between expectation and reality is what we point to in order to blame ourselves for not doing better. We shoulda coulda woulda been a better parent… Or our child shoulda been better behaved.
Expectation – Reality = GAP
We think we can control the GAP.
But in actuality, what we can control:
- The expectation: Is the expectation realistic?
- The goal: What goal did we set?
- The plan: How did we design the plan?
- The actions: How did we execute our plan?
What we cannot control:
- The reality: No one really knows what is going to happen!
- The missing piece… the RESOURCES we had at the time!
What kind of knowledge, time, energy, headspace, money, and support did we have? These are the resources we forget about. Did we know what the situation would be like exactly? Did we have enough time to design a good plan? Did we have enough energy to execute a great plan? Were we in a good enough headspace to even see potential problems? Do we have money to solve the problem a different way? Do we have support from our partner or friends? The RESOURCES, much like reality, may be beyond our control!
The greatest resource that we never really think about? EXPERIENCE! The more experience we have, the easier most of these things become… IF we consciously go through it the first few times.
Example: Toddler at Dinner with Friends
We want a smiling toddler who can sit through a dinner with 4 adults. The reality is we get a fidgeting 2-year old who is bored, tired, no longer interested in food, and getting more agitated by the minute.
Example: School Aged Child Learning Math
We believe that math is super important and want our child to be good at math so that they can be successful in the future. We know our 9-year old is smart, but they are just not that interested in getting better at math.
Example: Teenager Refuses to Take a Shower for a Week
We believe that hygiene is important and want our 14-year old to be sufficiently clean and healthy. But for some reason, they hate taking showers. It’s gotten to a point where you can smell them.
We can assess the goal, our plan, and the action… Just be careful when your analysis concludes that you could have done better. We add a layer of stress to our lives when we think we can control everything so that the reality always matches our expectations.
That’s okay if we use an analysis to learn how to manage better the NEXT time. It’s NOT okay to play the blame, shame, guilt game where we attack how good we are as parents by the number of mistakes we should not have made. That’s perfectionism, which we can address another time, and it’s a dangerous past time when you are parenting children. It’s probably much healthier to practice this new adage I made up: If you lower your expectations enough, they will be met!
How to Handle?
If you can feel yourself getting really upset when these types of things happen, it’s time to pause and assess the source of your frustration. It’s important to remember that a lot of behaviours from our children are 1) age appropriate, 2) just a symptom of them having an unmet need, 3) stressful for them, and 4) an opportunity for us to connect with them as human beings.
If we can remember that we love them, that this is not a behaviour will last forever, that it does not mean they disrespect us, and that it is not a reflection of our bad parenting, then all is well and you will be able to find a way to evolve this type of situation into something that is age appropriate, sustainable, and meeting everyone’s needs.
The alternative is a myriad of ways we can ‘get’ them to do WHAT we want them to do WHEN we want them to, HOW we want them to, based on what we think is the right thing to do and what we hope is best for them. We may end up seeing “success” in that they do what we want them to do, but what we don’t see is the future damage this potentially can do to their self-esteem, their capacity for making good decisions, and your relationship with them. Will they really be able to make good decisions if they don’t practice all their lives? Will they trust their own judgment if we are always right and they are always wrong?
For each of those examples, if we keep our long terms goals and parenting values in mind, our approach will be very different from what a traditional authoritarian approach may be. There is no one right answer, but you can find the one that works for your family. Here is how we handled them:
Example 1: For our family, my introverted husband would take them for an exploratory walk around the restaurant after they ate their fill. I would get to chat with my friends more, my husband could get away from all the people without anyone thinking that he was dissing them, and my kid would be able to move their little hands and feet.
Example 2: We started off by putting them in supplemental math classes, but our children hated it so much. As much as it killed me to do so, I took them out. (As my husband joked “They are A-sians, not B-sians!”) Then I tried worksheets until I realized that I was stressing them out too much because of my desire for them to be really good at math. I now no longer try to give them more math than they do in school. Instead, we just talk about a lot of topics like what is in the news (statistics), what companies are doing (what the numbers in the stock market mean), and money is worth in NT dollars (currency exchange). They have started to show interest in looking up how things work.
Example 3: I now expect them to shower a minimum number of times per week (2 times now that it’s pandemic winter time), more if they get dirty or sweaty. If by Friday they have not showered yet, they have agreed that they will do so on both Saturday and Sunday.
I’m not saying that these solutions will work for you, but these methods have come through negotiation, trial and error, and a sense that we are in this together. They don’t always have an equal say (vote) when it comes to issues of health & safety, finances, or education, but they have a lot of say for many things.