The Right Expectations
Some mums seem to have it all together and it can leave us feeling like we are scrapping the barrel behind endlessly missing the mark. Does this take us away from the real joy in parenting? How does this affect the way we praise our kids?
Expecting Our Kids To Be Kids
From the outside everything looks so perfect. Cute size 8 shoes, frilly socks matching her frilly dress and a glowing tiara placed on the top of bouncy curls. Behaviour … Impecable. Then arrives the mother from behind, tall heels, ironed dress with a royal blue coat and all 9 matching golden buttons. Both wearing matching lipstick and composed faces it’s easy to think this is someone who doesn’t get the busy, porridge in the hair (I don’t know how it gets in there) mum. I used to look at these put together mums and think, “They haven’t got a clue what my life is like”.
I especially had one lovely friend who just seemed so calm and put together I couldn’t help but feel small and ridiculous. Not to mention messy and frazzled. Everything seemed too easy for her. I would ask,
“How was your birth?”
“Oh my birth? Great!” She would reply with enthusiasm. “Best feeling ever isn’t it. Such a beautiful God given moment when the world stops and this precious bundle of joy comes bursting through.”
Then I ask, “What about the pain?”
“Oh it’s just so worth it though isn’t it. Personally I didn’t feel much pain. Well I can’t remember if I did. I just remember looking lovingly into his eyes.”
Well of course it is an incredible miraculous event, I was never advocating that it wasn’t but I wanted to hear some realness- some connection, how can everything seem so fine and easy when I felt as though I struggled right from the moment I fell pregnant? Right from birth these sometimes subtle – sometimes not – expectations creep in that we need to be a certain way, act a certain way. Not just for ourselves, but also for our children.
Right from birth these sometimes subtle – sometimes not – expectations creep in that we need to be a certain way, act a certain way. Not just for ourselves, but also for our children.
EYES OPEN WIDE
I realised a key reason that some have it all together and some don’t. After working with many families as a parent coach I have come to this conclusion- some mums are better at hiding the raw material than others. Many of the families I work with look immaculately dressed, speak with elegant self-assurance and somehow don’t complain at all about their lives – until they see me in my coaching session.
The first few families I worked with I was blown away with how difficult these families were finding parenting when on the outside everything looked so picture perfect. Many just spend the first session crying. And these are not your usual, predictable ‘criers’. Many have been held in their anguish for months if not a couple of years holding in how they feel they are failing their children. They don’t know what they’ve done wrong to have such an undisciplined child- what did they do wrong, have they done anything right? Was it the way they talked to them, too many toys? Not enough toys, too much television, not enough time with the grandparents? All these questions roaming through their heads, just like my very own. To me it was this new discovery of humankind- the elite in society had feelings too- and the same feelings to me. Somehow I felt that I was able to connect to these people on a different level.
My clients vulnerability made me really think- are we only showing the best parts of us? Is that a healthy community outlook? These woman who are crying, wanting their parenting to be perfect have somehow caught the idea that in order to be okay, only perfectionism will count.
This idea not only runs through our perception of our parenting skills but also I have noticed into our expectations of our children’s behaviour. Many of us expect our children to behave, well, more like mini adults than free, joyful children. We go to places that don’t cater for children to be silly or have fun- the café, the spas, shopping or even some of our friends’ houses. We leave feeling mortified by our children’s behaviour as they have acted loud or ridiculous in public.
This happened to me a couple of weeks ago as we went to the hot pools on a cloudy cold day. As soon as we entered the water my body stiffened as the only other people occupying the pool were two couples, both elderly. My girls excitedly squealed with delight as they entered the warm pool followed by my harsh, “Shhhhh!” The whole experience was doomed for failure as my expectations were not for them to be children but for them to behave like an old grandma soaking in her bathtub so as not to disturb the other guests. Realising what I was doing, I silently prayed that God would grant me enough grace to cover what I could not in that moment. I felt myself relax and was able to enjoy their play. I still gave them boundaries – my youngest started splashing a nearby man and wanted to jump and dive – that was not even permitted on the rules chart sitting directly in front of us, so it was about balancing grace and rules. This scenario made me re-evaluate what I expect from my kids behaviour.
Knowing their age and stage is mightily important to help us evaluate correctly and not based on social expectations.
One of the biggest problems in expectations is that we run into this feeling of resentment. I see it more and more as parents confide that they don’t actually like one of their kids. Now stay with me, it isn’t as bad as it seems, it’s actually a very normal feeling when we get into this cycle of expecting more of a child than they can do and constantly focusing on their bad behaviour while not praising the positive things.
When we switch our thinking and talking into all the positive things that our kids are doing, we can be shocked at how good they actually are. Focusing on what Philippians four verse eight teaches us – to think on things good, honouring, pure, lovely or worthy of praise, helps to set ourselves up for a more joyful home. One where we can see our children in a positive light.
THE RIGHT TYPE OF PRAISE
There have been quite a few studies done on how praise can affect kids in a negative way, causing them to depend on that praise for their self-esteem. Unfortunately out of worry from these studies many parents have unconsciously opted out of any praise for their kids. Not only does this affect the kids’ behaviour but it affects our attitudes towards our kids. When we are only focusing on behaviour modification, our job becomes very negative and highly stressful. An easy way to praise effectively is to describe what our kids are doing in a positive tone and add a character compliment. It’s very simple but very effective. The child then has the opportunity to praise themselves and it boosts their self-esteem immensely. For example if they are scribbling on a piece of paper you would say:
“Wow you are using the red colour to go around and around, you are creative”.
If they finished their homework on time you would say,
“You finished all your homework- now that’s what I call diligent.”
Adding a character trait helps them to own positive words for themselves and hearing it often will help them believe it. My middle child responds every time to this sort of praise. When I first tried it I couldn’t believe it, not only was she beaming but she said,
“I am so good at it!”
Recently a client tried this technique and the forgiveness towards her son became a natural progression. As she points out every positive, she is learning to fall in love with her child again and you can see it clearly in her eyes as she now talks about him with a sparkle. It is very normal to lose that sparkle.
Find some time today to write down all the things you love about your child- character traits, talents, skills and their quirky habits. Then whenever you are tempted to criticize or put them down, read it out loud to them. You will find your attitude changes and it will help you to change your expectations. Trying to keep up appearances is never beneficial to anyone- next time you see a perfectly put together mum- remember we are all on this journey together and it is often not all as it seems. In fact, those well put together mums – sometimes they are the ones that need your encouragement the most.