The holidays are almost upon us and as you anticipate their approach, your mind may begin to fill with images about what they will be like this year. Any upcoming holiday, birthday, or special occasion can fill you with anticipation. As you think about the future, you cannot help but wonder, hope, and dream about how things will unfold – and probably even more so once you have children.
Expecting or Hoping for “Perfect”
As a parent, it is only natural for you to have certain expectations about how your children will behave during a particular event. You may mix your expectations with hopes for things to turn out “perfectly.” For example, it would be really nice if your children could take a break from fighting with their brothers and sisters during a holiday. It would be great if they could actually sit still and be sociable during a family gathering instead of being so antsy that they are falling out of their chairs. It would be so exciting to have a child stay happy during their entire birthday party instead of tantruming halfway through it. See what I mean? Parents cannot help but wish for the best – and sometimes even for perfection. But what happens when your wishes and expectations are set too high?
At any given time, you may have many images in your mind about the way you want things to turn out and the way your children are “supposed” to behave. Unfortunately, it is through these many images that most moms and dads measure their successes and failures as parents. If what you had imagined comes true, then you feel good about yourself and your children. You feel successful. But when the reality does not match what you had wished for, you may feel like a failure, and be angry and resentful of your children’s behaviors. You may then question why they cannot, just this once, help the family to have a pleasant holiday or why you cannot be a better, more tolerant, and patient parent.
What Can You Do?
When you feel things starting to take an unpleasant turn and you start to lose your temper because your children are not behaving as they “should,” you can stop and ask yourself, “What am I expecting that is not coming true?” Is your image of how your child “should behave” a realistic one? Is it one that takes into account your child’s temperament, personality, maturity, and past patterns of behavior in similar situations? Sometimes your anxious feelings about how your children are behaving can be a clue that you may be expecting more than your children are capable of doing. For example, is it realistic to expect a two-year-old to sit through an entire meal, or a child with a low sensory threshold to attend a loud concert without complaining, or a child who is shy or slow-to-warm to carry on a conversation with relatives he has not seen in a while without hiding behind your leg?
Lining Up Expectations with Reality
With all of the excitement of an arriving holiday, it is understandable that you sometimes lose sight of the need to plan and dream with your children and your family in mind. Learning to establish more realistic expectations about an upcoming event based on what will work for your own family is not always easy, but it can help to reduce pressure and dissappointment. Some of the following suggestions may help:
- Look at and learn about your child’s temperament and developmental phases.
- Prepare your child as much as possible for future happenings by gathering information and talking with him about what might happen and what might not. You can role-play up-coming situations, remembering to be tentative because plans often change.
- Know that children, by nature, are egocentric and impulsive, and try to understand a situation from your child’s perspective. You may just see the “reasonableness” of his behaviors. By doing so, you can approach the holidays with more patience and compassion.
When things are all said and done, you may find that there are many times when your expectations are met, when the holiday is as good as you had hoped, when your children behave as you wish. These are moments to cherish. Being realistic in your expectations can help these moments to happen more frequently.
It also helps to continually remember that there is no such thing as the perfect parent, the perfect child, or the perfect holiday. You can encourage the behaviors you want; you can strive to meet your hopes and goals; and you can be kind to yourself and your family by doing what you can to adjust your expectations to fit your own children and your own family situations.
Have a joyous holiday season!By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
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