Years ago, I inherited a piece of furniture upon which these words had been scribbled:
Lower your expectations. You’ll achieve more!
In a world where we’re taught to reach for the stars, the phrase struck me as likely to have been the musings of a homework-weary teenager. Yet after working with thousands of parents, I’ve started to come around to the idea that lowering expectations — for our kids, and for ourselves — may not be a bad idea.
What expectations do you have for yourself as a parent?
“I’ll stay calm, even when my kids are running wild.”
“I’ll listen patiently when my little one tells me an endless story about what happened at preschool, even when I’m tired and hungry and distracted by all the things I need to do.”
“I’ll joyfully play Candyland/ Monopoly/ UNO to foster “family time” even when all I can think about is how much I want to collapse into bed.”
When you become a parent, you do not change species. You are still human. You will still feel weary. You will still need to eat and sleep and drink water and listen to music and paint and dance and spend time with grown ups. You will still need physical, mental, and emotional nourishment. You will still need rest.
We do no favors to our children by subsuming our life into theirs. Sure, we’ll need to make sacrifices — lots of them.Yes, it can be emotionally taxing to tend to the needs of our kids, requiring that we hold our tongue and our temper when we’re bone-crushingly tired. And yes, sometimes, we will say things we wish we hadn’t, or show up in ways that don’t match up with the person and parent we hope to be.
But while a little remorse can propel us toward growing and changing, more than a little remorse turns into shame and self-hatred. And those qualities have no place in healthy parenting. When we feel awful about how we’re handled a difficult moment with our child, we will be tempted to push harder against that child to behave “better” so we don’t end up feeling rotten about ourselves for mishandling a tough parenting moment.
Lower your expectations for how you will show up today. Set the bar realistically. Here are a few ideas:
- Acknowledge what went well at the end of the day, taking note of at least five moments you feel good about.
- Try being fully present and anchored in your heart for three minutes rather than attempting false enthusiasm for an hour.
- Notice when you’re running on fumes and hit the Pause button — even for five minutes. Put your feet up, drink water, or lie on the floor with your eyes closed (“I’m doing yoga!”) We tend to snap when we’ve ignored our own needs for too long.
I’m not advocating a narcissistic approach to parenting. Our children’s needs may need to come before our own, simply because they have fewer resources for coping with discomfort. But by lowering expectations for yourself — and your kids — you’ll enjoy more moments of enjoying life with those little guys. And that will be quite an achievement.