One of my favorite episodes of the television sitcom Reba presents an exhausted Cheyenne and Van, the young parents of a brand new baby girl. They have been grouchy with each other and meet to discuss their anxieties. After sharing their frustrations from lack of sleep and new parenting, one of them referring to their daughter said, “I don’t like her either!" The conversation is of course, meant to be funny. They just happen to be a comedic example of parents living a fabulous but imperfect life. Kids are remarkable, and kids are complicated. You can find memes and quotes all day long that will make you feel guilty for not being the most amazing parent that walked the earth. Guess what? You are amazing and you are human.
During my last session of counseling, I learned a valuable lesson that I am still chewing on. We talked about unmet expectations. We discussed the difference between expectations and goals. They are entirely different beasts and are consistently used interchangeably. Doing so is wreaking havoc on the psyche of parents. If you are walking around (or hiding in your bed) feeling utterly overwhelmed with life and your ideals for it, you may be confusing expectations with goals.
Expectation (n.) something to look forward to, regarded as likely to happen, an anticipated event
Goal (n.) the result, aim, end or achievement at which effort is directed, a terminal point
If you are expecting a certain behavior from your children and it does not happen, it can feel disappointing. Parents can often associate that disappointment with perceived failure and even grief. If you look at that same behavior and realize that you’re expectations are on the path to your ultimate goal, then you can see that it is just one more step in the direction of achievement. Children (and humans in general) often expect much of themselves and each other, when it would be healthier to see expectations as part of the journey rather than the end result.
Be aware, you might not comprehend you have certain expectations until they are left unmet. This feeling of dissatisfaction does not mean anything other than you are one of the billions of people in the same boat. Mindfulness is a way to regroup and refresh your perspectives. Living in the moment is a website of simple mindfulness ideas to facilitate an appreciation for where you are right in the moment. Loving Families, a parenting class taught at Lovelace Women’s Hospital, calls this “sitting in your shark waters.” Shark waters or learning to understand your areas of discomfort can feel scary, but it can bring a great deal of peace once you are in the water and can assess that the level of danger is not as high as you may have feared. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Every expectation is a learning step on the way to running a healthy, goal-oriented life.
Written by Catherine Roth, CHW from Labor of Love