The weight of (great) expectations

A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. This year, I was going to give my kids a great Valentine’s day. We’d make homemade Valentines together; we’d enjoy a special themed breakfast (and maybe dinner), and we’d create memories that years later we would still treasure.

Needless to say, I think we created some memories. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they’re the ones that I want my kids to remember.

Our Valentine’s day prep began the week before, as my son’s teacher requested that he bring his Valentine’s in early. My son is nothing if not focused, so he pestered me for a few days until we did the cards: twenty-three hand-made cards (thirty-six, including the ones for his sister’s pre-school class) with a pair of dice attached to each one and an age-appropriate math game inside the cards. “I’m lucky to have you as a friend, Valentine!” “We make a great pair!” “You’re my odds-on favorite for a Valentine!” In what amounts to a supreme sacrifice of my perfectionist tendencies, I let the kids help as much as possible.

When the cards were 3/4 finished, my daughter knocked over a cup of juice and sent a wave of liquid toward the cards we’d just spent hours working on. I rescued most of the cards, but I lost my temper in the process and yelled at the kids, making both my baby and my four-year-old cry. My oldest son danced around the table saying, “I’m scared!”

So much for creating great memories.

This failure made me even more determined to do the rest of the holiday right.  When Valentine’s rolled around, I made pink pancakes for my two oldest kids–which neither of them wanted to eat. My son had volunteered me to bring the “healthy” snack for his class that morning, and he wanted to bring biscuits. (I know. They’re not healthy. But that’s what he wanted). And strawberries. It was my own idiot idea to try to dip the strawberries to make them more festive, and I’d spent the evening before doing so. But that morning, after trying to juggle pancakes, a nursing baby, and the before-school-needs of my seven-year-old, I wasn’t  feeling the love for the holiday like I wanted. And I still had to make the biscuits. By the time I dragged the biscuits, the baby, and the four-year-old into my son’s class (late), it was all I could do not to feel utterly demoralized by the whole mess.

I like to think I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I’ve survived 30+ years on earth, I have three children and a PhD, and yet I consistently manage to sabotage myself with the weight of my own (and society’s) expectations.

Recently, Kacy Faulconer posted a lovely and honest list of the ways she fears she’s failing her children over at Babble. I think most of us can add our own fears–the ways we’re failing our friends, our children, our faith. As for me, I worry that I’m not fun enough, that my naturally serious temperament will somehow ruin the carefree years of my children’s childhood (hence the disastrous attempt at Valentine’s Day). I worry that my inherent dorkiness will pass to my children and they’ll find middle school and high school unendurable. (I watch my daughter, with one of her preschool friends, sing “We’re the cool girls!” as they walk into preschool and I waver between tears and laughter because I’m pretty sure my daughter doesn’t have a chance at being cool–at least, not until college.) I worry that my children will someday pick up on the fact that I have questions about my faith and these questions will translate into insurmountable doubts in my children. Yet I also worry that my children won’t learn to question enough to build the faith that they need.

By now, most of you have seen the “Drops of Awesome” post that’s been making the rounds of the internet. I think there’s a lot to be said about the importance of celebrating our small triumphs–of seeing the fact that I made Valentine’s day cards with my children (even with the yelling) as a triumph, rather than a tragedy.

But I think there’s also something to be said for grace.

As a young missionary, I struggled with the idea that my imperfections kept me from being an effective missionary. Now, as a mother, I face a similar struggle–the fear that if I don’t somehow meet up to all the expectations weighing on me, that weight will crush not just me but my children. In both cases, I think the answer is simply grace. Christ’s Atonement works not in spite of my imperfections, but through them.

I still need to work on moderating my expectations, on figuring out which ones are reasonable and which are expendable. In the meantime, I’m holding out for grace.

(And selective memory in my children!)

 

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

12 thoughts on “The weight of (great) expectations

  1. Such a great post, Roslyn. I have many of the same fears that Kacy and you do. I also have tried to do too much for a holiday or a birthday and in the process made the day more stressful and crazy than anything else. But one unexpected gift now that my kids are little older is that they see me for who I am quite clearly, and they still love me. I think. : -) I also realize that who THEY are has much less to do with me than I ever understood.

    And if it means anything, having three little kids was the hardest time in my parenting life. Harder, even, than having four, because by then my oldest two were old enough to help. I’d also given up by then on many of the perfectionist tendencies that dogged me throughout my early years as a mom.

    And I bet your kids will be cool. Nerds are cool now. It’s a thing. :-)

  2. Yep. I get angry with my kids over stupid things. I have these grand plans that my kids inevitably aren’t interested in. I have this strange ambition to spend a fun, happy day with my daughter where she doesn’t spend any time watching brain-rotting TV.

    I feel like a terrible mother so very often: too strict and not consistent enough; easily angered; distracted by the house and the internet and whatever other crap I’m choosing to fill my life with. And yet every moment of the day they clamber for me. My daughter wants me to read to her at night. My son wants me to take him on walks. On weekends when my husband is home and it’s ostensibly my “time off” they still want me to play and read and listen.

    I don’t get it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m setting them up for lives in emotionally abusive relationships.

    The thing that brings me (strange) comfort is the fact that I don’t remember much about my mom. Stupid, huh? I love my mom. I have always loved my mom. I don’t remember doing things with her, though. I know she was very involved in my early life from stories other people have told, but I don’t remember reading with her or playing with her. I remember my cousins, I remember grandparents, my siblings, my dad. I don’t remember her. I think she was just so much a part of my life I didn’t have to make any specific memories, like the color of carpet or the smell of water.

    Perhaps not the most positive, uplifting way of thinking about it, but I kind of hope my kids don’t remember me either. I hope they have vague feelings of security, happiness, and being loved and that’s it. I hope what I do as a mom is positive enough and ubiquitous enough that they remember good feelings and forget all the stupid little incidents that I beat myself up over.

    Which I think is just another way of hoping grace will cover all my mistakes!

  3. When my very shy daughter was in 1st grade she was assigned to interview a business owner in our town. I called up her favorite restaurant and the manager agreed to talk to her. We got there and my daughter would not say a word. Nothing. The manager was not nice about it–we lived then in a suburban East coast town where shyness was considered a major disability–and she told me I was wasting her time.
    I was really angry with my daughter and felt humiliated by the restaurant manager. I used my loud, angry whisper (it was in public, after all)and criticized her all the way home. I have been so ashamed of this for years. So ashamed that I never brought it up again–until this year.
    My daughter is now a confident teenager who acts in plays, is the jazz band pianist, plays tennis and navigates her own life well. I expected her to remember this occasion with the same level of intensity that I remember it–as such an awful time in our relationship. As it turns out, she didn’t remember anything about it. She just said “No wonder you were mad at me.” and shrugged it off.
    In a Relief Society lesson when I was a new mother a teacher once told us that we usually behave ourselves with our children 99% of the time and mess up (yell, have a tantrum) probably less than 1% of any given day. Yet, we focus on that 1% and often beat ourselves up a lot more than we need to.

  4. I blame Pinterest. I mean, really. Who has time for all those carefully designed plans to make memories via crafting and food manipulation? And why should we all think that the primary goal for parents is to “make memories” rather than to raise caring, honest, kind children?

  5. One of the greatest things being a working parent has taught me is that value of the big picture. Yes, I see all the things my friends can do who stay home with their kids all day, but I also realize my kids are seeing that there are lots of different kinds of normal – some are homemade, some are store bought, but all are done with love.

  6. Thank you all for your kind comments!

    @Angela, thank you for the hopeful glimpse of the future! I forget, sometimes, how pre-set my children are in terms of personality–I need to remember that more.

    @Kristine, I think it is comforting that you don’t remember much about your mom. I don’t remember much either, except that she was always around when I needed her. Hopefully my kids will have similarly softened memories!

    @Amos, 1% sounds about right. I think it’s easy (sometimes too easy) in our culture to focus on what we do wrong rather than what we do right. It’s something I know I need to work on.

    @Jordynn–yes, I agree. Access to other people’s blogs, pins, etc., makes it much easier for us to project a fantasy version of our lives–and I think that can be damaging when we forget that it’s just a fantasy! Also, thanks for stopping by!

    @Tasha, you have some lucky kids.

  7. Loved this, Rosalyn! I can very much relate. In fact, last year, I got caught up in all of the blogs in which people were doing 14 acts of service in February, and I planned all of these little acts of service my kids and I would do. When I presented the idea to the kids, the oldest had a meltdown–“one more thing” he had to do. I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on him in other aspects of his life for this to completely stress him out. Holidays do it to me–make me feel the need to strive for memories and perfection.

  8. I have never met a kid who cared if they got a home made valentine. The most I know just want candy and all our beautiful homemade cards get thrown on the floor or in the trash!

    I am all about making memories with our kids but I think sometimes our idea if what that means is very different than our kids. I think Pinterest and this whole craftsy domestic goddess movement is hurting us in a lot if ways. At least I know it hurts me.

    I always remember this talk given in conference where the speaker told about this big family trip that they took and afterward he asked his son what was his favorite part. He said it was lying down and looking at the stars together!

  9. I am grateful I read your post Rosalyn! Because we are surrounded by those things others talked about (pinterest, blogs, etc.), it seems even more important to keep relating honestly to each other as women and mothers. If not, we will be buried by the should’ve, would’ve, could’ves that can easily follow us from moment to moment.

  10. Thank you so much for this! I am bound and determined to create traditions and memories and my 4 sons and husband look at me like i’m from Mars! My cute 5 year old daughter gets it and loves my efforts. But seriously it’s ridiculous I’m so offended when they don’t care as much as I want them too. What is most important is TIME together. In my life when I do the handmade valentines and pretty desserts, it’s more about ME than it is about them. It’s to impress the other Moms because I know the kids could care less. I’m so much happier as are my kids when I have realistic expectations and don’t over extend myself!

  11. For years, I had a phrase running through my head… it still does sometimes. “Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Sometimes you have to do what’s expected.” But when I hear myself saying that in a moment of ‘failure’ I, like you, have to remember Grace. I have to remember that what I think is expected isn’t necessarily what my kids, my husband, my bishop, or my Lord expects from me. I have had to learn, and am still learning, that expectations are almost more of wishes than actual realistic expectations.

    We had the Elders over for a meal a while ago and one Elder’s spiritual thought rocked my world. He shared first the scripture in 2 Nephi 25:23 that says we are saved by grace after all we can do. I always thought if I knew I could do more, I hadn’t done enough. But this wise young men led us next to Alma 24:11, where it says, “…since it has been ALL THAT WE COULD DO, (as we were the most lost of all mankind)to repentof all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was ALL WE COULD DO to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain.” Obviously we aren’t murders and sinners to like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, but if its after all we can do that we are saved, maybe all we can do is repent and try harder tomorrow… Just a thought.

  12. There was something about the Drops of Awesome post that rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t figure it out. I think you’ve got it, we don’t have to soothe our consciences because the atonement covers it all. When we justify ourselves with reasoning and altered perceptions of who we should be it decreases our reliance on the grace and mercy of Christ. The lifelong process of utilizing the atonement is more difficult, so it’s natural that we look for an easier way to soothe our guilt. Relying on Christ’s ability to save us and our children can give us peace. I admit this is something I’m continually trying to understand and incorporate into my daily life, not doing a good job of it either. Having realistic expectations is an important part of relying on Christ. (I hope this makes sense in some way.)

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