“As a parent, I really feel that with my kids I can’t plan what their expectations for themselves are, that’s none of my business, and I don’t want them to feel that they have to live up to any of MY expectations” Jack Savoretti, March 2019
Since hearing this fantastic quote I’ve been thinking of the dreaded situation where your child is the one ‘acting up’. When yours is the one running around boisterously whilst all the other children are calm. Or the one having a tantrum when the rest of the children are playing wonderfully! It happens to us all at different times though it can leave us feeling as though we are doing something wrong. But this is rarely the case! We simply don’t see what happens for other families at other times. It’s often just our perception of the situation and what we expect from our children. And this is the subject of my post this week; managing our parental expectations.
When the going gets tough, it’s great to stop and have a think about what we, as parents, are expecting from our children and I don’t just mean their behaviour. Who are we hoping they take after? What do we want them to be when they are older? How do we expect them to react to certain situations? Often, until we stop and think like this, we don’t even realise what our expectations are, or that we even have any but more often than not we do. Once we have ascertained what we are hoping for and expecting, we need to take some time to work out if we are projecting these expectations onto our children? And how we can let them be authentic and true to themselves.
Challenges and Advice
Much of the advice available points to parents being in the right and that their children are wrong for behaving in unwanted ways. It’s easy to worry that if we allow children to display their own personality unchallenged then they will become unruly and ‘spoilt’ but this simply isn’t the case. From birth, babies do have their own personalities and even from early on we need to let them develop in their own way and not the way we expect or want them to.
I’ll be honest and say that this was one of the most difficult parenting challenges I faced with my own son. I felt that to keep him safe, I had to try to gently control him. Unwittingly, I tried to manipulate his behaviour so it fitted into my own comfort zone. I didn’t realise I was even doing it and now, many years later, I see that I was acting to stop feeling fear when I thought I was losing control of a situation and of him too. If I had just relaxed and let him express himself we both would have felt freer to be ourselves.
Boundaries and Parenting
This isn’t to say that we should allow children to run amok and do what they like! Boundaries are the walls around children that keep them contained and feeling safe. It is our job as parents to gently contain and nurture these little people; teach right from wrong; teach them how to respect others and how to navigate their way through life. All the while being mindful that their way might be different to yours. This is all easier said than done at times. Being comfortable in letting children express themselves through drawing and painting and play is a lot easier to handle than a full blown tantrum in public caused by the frustration of a child who can’t have what they want.
Are We Asking Too Much?
Just as in my previous post I suggest that you take a step back from the situation whenever you can, take a deep breath and think about how both you and your child are feeling and ask if, maybe, you are expecting too much from them? It’s a lot to ask a three-year-old to sit still during a long family meal. And to come away from the park when they were having such a lovely time. To not to snatch when a playmate has an interesting toy they want. It’s a lot to expect a teenager not to argue back or to slam the door when they’re angry. It’s this understanding that brings an acceptance that can diffuse difficult situations.
So, it is important to keep in mind that our children are simply displaying behaviour in keeping with their level of psychological development and to remember that the children that appear to be sitting still or playing nicely together will all have their own meltdowns, just at a different time. Children are not small adults, therefore they cannot act like adults and small things are often the end of the world to them and they will react accordingly. Try to keep calm, keep in mind what is going on for your child and to keep a level of understanding in your mind. It helps to bear in mind too that when you look around and see other parents seemingly with their lives all neatly under control, that you are only seeing a snapshot and are not seeing the full picture which includes their own struggles and insecurities.
Be aware of the expectations you put on yourself as a parent too. We are often influenced by our own upbringing. Whether it was positive or not, we might want to give our children the same or the opposite as we had. Maybe we thought a lot about the parent we hoped to become. Our hopes for our child’s achievement at school. Who they would choose as friends. Sometimes these may not come to fruition and we can feel a disappointment or even anger that things are not working out as we feel they should. This can only end in stress, not just for us but for our children too. Take that step back. Remember that our children are not an extension of us. They are becoming totally separate people with their own needs and desires. And it’s ok that these might not match our own.