I have written about expectations numerous times and yet they continue to come up. They are deeply embedded in our everyday lives and there is always another layer to deconstruct. In this post, I want to share some discussions I’ve had recently with parents. Their challenges are common, yet they did not realize how their expectations where influencing their feelings.
First, I spoke to a mom who was stuck in her definition of what a Mom should do. She was allowing the thought, “Moms don’t do that”, hold her back from doing things she really enjoyed like working out, dancing and spending time with her friends. She was carrying around a definition of Mom behavior without questioning it. I asked her “Where did this definition come from? Why do you think this? Is it true?” When she thought through the questions she couldn’t explain where these thoughts had come from. When she challenged if they were true, she realized they were not. Once she saw things from a different perspective, she released the definition holding her back and gave herself permission to start doing things she loved. As we were talking, I reminded her - being a mom doesn’t change who are, it strengthens who you’ve always been.
Expectations are subtle, embedded deep within our thoughts, as if accepted through osmosis and without question.
In my second conversation, my friend shared, “Dinner time is so hard. Each night I struggle to get my boys (4 and 2) to eat at the table. It’s so stressful.” I can totally relate. Making a meal everyone will eat at the end of the long day often seems like an insurmountable task. Pile on top of that the expectation of (1) eating together, (2) at the table, (3) between the hours of 5:00 – 8:00, (4) with a protein, vegetable and starch on the plate. Four unspoken “rules” of dinner in one simple sentence. Experts will tell you it’s important to sit at the table to build strong family bonds. Parents will boast on social media how many times a week their family eats dinner together. Sitting at the table has become an unspoken measurement of parenting success. When I shared that my family rarely sits down at the table together during the week, I could hear the relief in her voice. I explained how years ago I realized our ever-changing activity and work schedules made sitting down to dinner every night impossible. We still make time to talk about our day, connect and have conversations with each other, it’s just not around the table. Releasing the expectation (eating at the table) and focusing on the intention (connecting with each other), allowed me to accept guilt-free that our dinner time didn’t look like other families.
A few days after I had this conversation about the dinner table, my co-workers brought up their struggles of getting their young kids to eat dinner. Eating the food on their plate, not snacking before (or after) dinner and sitting at the table were all common challenges with those in the discussion. I remembered having those same struggles with my own kids but now I could see the child was not fitting into the expectation of the parent. The friction of how the parent thought things should be versus how the child was behaving was the cause of the struggle.
I started thinking about my sister who is a new mom. We were recently talking about how fast 2 hours can go by and then its time for the baby to eat again. It’s been a while since I’ve had a newborn, but she’s exactly right, babies eat every 2-3 hours. I remember how excited I was when my kids ate enough to make it through the night, even if it was only a five hour stretch. As they grow into toddler-hood, we feed them a meal with a snack in between, maintaining that schedule of eating something every 2-3 hours. This pattern continues until we decide to put our kids to our schedule, eating bigger meals and going longer stretches in between. When they start to rebel, we are confused by their sudden change in behavior around food. But what if they are on to something? What if we encouraged our kids to listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry? What if we all listened to our body, ate when we were hungry and stopped when we felt full?
Until you really stop to think about some of these things, you don’t realize how embedded our expectations are and how they influence so many pieces of our lives. They can cause us to get stressed out and lose our perspective on what might really be important. It is in these times, we need to pause, take a step back and think about why it is we think this way. Is this expectation realistic for where I am at today? Is this inline with my family or do we need to create our own “normal” based on our personalities and what works for us?
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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.