The Art of Expectations
Expectations. We all have them… usually a lot of them. But the way we manage our
expectations makes all the difference in the way we achieve them and, in the long run, in the way we think or feel about ourselves.
A mom once said to me, “Some days I don’t feel well, and I know I could be a better mom if I could get an extra half an hour of rest in the mornings, but I feel guilty for not being with my kids during that time. In the long run though, I just end up feeling grumpy and more tired the rest of the day. I just don’t know what to do.”
This mom is not alone in feeling this way. Her expectations were telling her that she “should” be able to do it all. That she “shouldn’t” feel sick in the morning so that she could spend that extra time with her kids. But when that expectation failed her, or became unrealistic, she felt that she was letting her husband, her kids, and herself down.
To help her work through her expectations, I asked her which option would help her be her best self: Saying to her kids, “mommy doesn’t feel well right now, so it would help me out a lot if you could do this activity for 30 minutes and then we will get together and make a yummy breakfast and have a great day together,” or getting up and spending that extra half hour with them, but not feeling well and ultimately feeling drained and angry throughout the day.
In this situation, the answer was clear. She saw that in this way she could engage and take care of her kids, but still take care of herself so that she could be the mom she wanted to be the rest of the day.
Her follow-up concern was that her children would get used to having mornings “off” and then fight her on days when they started their morning routine at their regular time. At this point I encouraged her to come up with a title for these more relaxed mornings such as a “rest morning,” or a “special morning.” This way her children knew that these mornings, where mom rested and they got to do a special activity, were not going to be the norm, but a special surprise on only some mornings.
This is just one example of the common ways our expectations tend to get the best of us. We think we have to do it all and when we can’t, we feel as though we have failed. But here’s the great part: we can do it all if we do it realistically. We can be our best selves, we can do what we want to do—but we often can’t do it alone, and we certainly can’t do it without acknowledging our needs.
So moms, make your best self your new best friend.
What does it mean to be your best self? Start by identifying the strengths and qualities that you want to exhibit, the strengths and qualities that reflect who you are when you’re at your “best.” Examples of this could be calm, patient, creative, organized, thoughtful, loving, joyful, playful, etc.
Once you have identified the qualities that you have when you’re feeling your best, write them down.
Now that you have identified what it means to you to be your best self, ask yourself in all situations (especially those situations where you are feeling harried, stressed, or frustrated), “What do I need to do to be my best self in this situation?” This will prompt your cortex (your thinking brain) to kick in and let you know that maybe in this moment you need to take a deep breath before responding, you need to set your kids up with an activity so you can rest for 30 minutes, you need to take a moment to listen and understand why your child—or another adult—is acting out, you need to get a drink of water and stop and say a prayer in the midst of the activities of the day, or you need to make a plan toess your needs with another person at a time you can both be calm and undistracted. Whatever you need to do, act out of the perspective being your best self.
Working to be our best self helps us improve in the art of balancing our expectations. In no situation does “being my best self” mean running around and exhausting myself so that I’m angry and resentful. It means saying yes to what I can say yes to, saying no to what I need to, being loving, and working to meet everyone’s needs—including my own.