In high school, my English class read the Dickens classic Great Expectations. Upon completion of the book, which we had not found quite as riveting as our teacher had, we took my friend’s copy to a large room and essentially played baseball with the book. While present day me is appalled at our casual destruction of a book, I can also appreciate the great symbolic lesson that was lost on high school me: sometimes the best thing you can do with your Great Expectations is to smash them to bits, beat them down, and otherwise throw them out.
It is natural to start any endeavor with high expectations. Sometimes, though, you have to take down the “Aim for the Stars” motivational poster and replace it with the cat on a branch reminding you to Hang On. But how can you tell if you need to change your plan to meet your expectations or if you need to change your expectations altogether?
Start by evaluating your motivations. We all would love a clean house, polite and responsible children, and a rigorous self-care routine. If the pursuit of these goals comes from a desire to please or keep up with others, your efforts are doomed from the start. Comparison is the thief of all joy. And you are likely comparing yourself to a fake standard anyway. Even if someone you know seems to have it all together, odds are they struggle with something you don’t see, or at the very least they have worked hard to overcome obstacles to reach the point where you see them. Make sure your goals come from a healthy place before you try to set healthy expectations.
Second, evaluate your perspective. Stress can cause us to hyper-focus on a problem. Taking time to step back to see the larger situation can do a world of good for our mental health. I have heard so very many parents who are debating their child’s school options for the next year say they just don’t want their child to fall behind. This is a totally reasonable reaction when faced with an unprecedented educational choice. Here is the perspective I encourage parents in this situation to remember: This is a GLOBAL pandemic. Every single child the world over is being impacted by this situation. Every college board or hiring company in the future will know that your child has been through this experience and will have adjusted their expectations accordingly. So while the disruptions to your child’s education are likely unique within your family, they are common to this generation. The fact that you are invested enough in your child to worry about their education is already an advantage to your child, so cut yourself some slack and feel free to lower your expectations accordingly. You are doing better than you think!
Finally, if there are areas where you really want to keep your expectations high, find ways to meet those expectations with as little effort as possible. My motto for areas of high expectations is Organize or Die. Harsh? Maybe. Effective? Definitely. I find that creating routines or using technology help me take the mental effort out of keeping up with my expectations. I use apps to help with meal planning and chore tracking. I set calendar reminders or alarms for tasks and events that I don’t want to get lost in possible mental fog. And, as you may have heard, I color-code everything I can! Plus, don’t discount the value of good old fashioned paper calendars and sticky notes to keep you organized! High expectations are not met accidentally.
Give yourself permission to risk failure. Give yourself permission to change things up. Give yourself permission to set Okay Expectations.