by Jill Savage
When child number one threw a fit in the grocery store one day, screaming at the top of her lungs in a very public place, I was so embarrassed. I’d witnessed a scene like that before I had children, and I swore my kids would never do that. Since becoming a mom, of course I’ve found myself in all kinds of situations I never thought I’d be in.
When the kids didn’t sleep much, I found myself beyond weary. When they didn’t potty train as quickly as other kids their age, I was discouraged. When they grew older and began to have a mind of their own, I found myself exhausted from the conflict.
Everything I just described to you is normal. Normal feelings, normal struggles, normal things for kids to do. Yet in all of that “normal” stuff of life, I’ve often found myself discouraged, disappointed, and if I’m honest, even discontent.
Too often when disappointment sets in, it actually breeds discontentment. Discontentment left untended creates disillusionment and can eventually even lead to disconnection. What I’ve come to understand, however, is that at the heart of many a parent’s struggles is unrealistic expectations.
“Expectations are preconceived resentments.” I don’t remember where I first heard that statement, but it’s stuck with me ever since.
I’ve come to understand that if you want to get to the root of most marriage issues, dig deep into expectations. If you long to know what went wrong with a friendship, look no further than where one or both of your expectations weren’t met. If you struggle connecting with God, you might want to think through if what you expect from Him is realistic or possibly based upon your experiences with your earthly father. And if you find yourself a frustrated parent more often than not, examining your expectations is one of the best places to start untangling your negative emotions.
Unrealistic expectations are lies. Realistic expectations are truth. As parents, we’ll find ourselves far more content and peace-filled if we are able to replace the lies of expectations with the truth of reality. Need to start that transition? Here are some healthy, realistic expectations every parent needs to understand:
Expect messes. Kids are messy. Play is messy. Creativity is messy. Fun is often messy. If you find yourself always frustrated with cleaning up messes, adjusting your mindset to expect messes can help you embrace this reality of parenting. What if we looked at our toy-strewn family room as a visual aid illustrating happy, creative, playing children instead of seeing it as a cluttered mess we never can seem to keep under control? When we can make that mental transition, we give our kids the freedom to be kids.
Expect your kids to be different than you. So you love sports, but your son loves music. Or you loved soccer, but your daughter is only interested in basketball. Don’t expect your kids to be “mini me’s,” insisting they keep trying harder at something you love but they do not. Instead make it your goal to discover who God made them to be. Where are their natural talents? What activities are they drawn to? Nurture their interests…not yours.
Expect interruptions. When my kids were little, I often preached this to myself: Motherhood is the ministry of interruptions. It is! Most of us are interrupted a dozen times or more in the short amount of time it takes us to make a meal or fold a load of laundry! For many it seems like it’s been years since we’ve had an uninterrupted conversation with our spouse. But what if we actually expected interruptions? What if we looked at interruptions during our day as evidence of being needed instead of frustrations to be dealt with?
Expect your kids to fail. Yep, you read that right. Sure, expect obedience, and expect responsibility. But expect your kids to fail at both on occasion. Do you know that the brain optimally grows in failure? That’s right. The brain grows best in failure! So the next time you’re dealing with disobedience, give your son a big smile and tell him, “I know what’s happening right now. Your brain is growing!”
Expect progress, not perfection. Think about this…when a child is learning to walk he takes a few steps and falls down. Then he gets back up and takes a few more steps and falls down again. Would any of us call that failure? Of course not. We would see that as progress. Why then, when our older kids “take a few steps and fall down,” do we see that as failure? It’s because our expectations are unrealistic and we’re putting unnecessary pressure on our kids to be perfect. When we expect progress, not perfection, we allow our kids to be in the process of “becoming.”
The Bible tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What if we did that with our unrealistic expectations? What if we “renewed our mind” by replacing the lies of unrealistic expectations with the truth of realistic expectations?
It’s a transition I’ve been working on for the past five years, and I want you to know it’s resulted in more patience, less frustration, more contentment and an increased ability to influence and lead my kids well. Care to join me?
Jill Savage is an author and speaker who is passionate about encouraging families. She is the author of eleven books including Real Moms…Real Jesus, No More Perfect Kids, No More Perfect Moms, Better Together and No More Perfect Marriages. Featured on Focus on the Family, Crosswalk.com, Huffington Post and Family Life Today, Jill and her husband, Mark, have five children and three grandchildren. They make their home in Normal, Illinois. You can find Jill online at www.jillsavage.org.
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