I talked to a friend on my way into work this morning. We shared our frustration for how quickly evenings pass, especially with young children. Even the basic tasks seem to take so much time – work, dinner, clean-up, play etc. This becomes especially challenging when your time or capacity is further reduced by chronic health issues. We can try to simplify and reduce the time we spend on needed, or wanted tasks. Eventually though, the only remaining option is to change our expectations. This is a life-long task, but certain seasons of life, such a parenthood or long-term illness, increase the urgency to adapt.
I’ve adjusted my expectations of myself greatly in the past few years. But works remains. Choosing realistic expectations leads to greater joy and less stress, not just for you, but for those around you. Unrealistic expectation may be harming you and some of your close relationships. Unmet expectations (realistic or not), can lead to frustration, disappointment, resentment or depression. Maybe it’s time you examined yours? Start with your simplest expectations for a day – cook dinner, workout, give your child a bath… How do they look? And how do they make you feel?
Here are some simple ways I’ve adjusted my expectations for a day:
- Expecting health rather than a model or fitness-perfect body. I want quality time with my son, which means I am unwilling to spend hours at a gym each week as a working mother. So physical perfection is not in the books. Being healthy is. I have free weights at home and can make a few minutes here and there to continue to strengthen, but at a workable commitment level.
- Eating healthy, but cooking what works. Spending long hours cooking elaborate meals while the rest of the family play will only leave me tired and resentful. My family would rather have more quality time and less elaborate meals. We eat healthy, but don’t expect every vegetable to be fresh and unfrozen. Sweet potato fries again? Yup.
- Staying abreast of only important news and letting everything else pass by. I no longer want to take hours each week listening to news, politics, debates etc. I want to be aware of important current events, but I don’t need to stay current on the political and social minutia. Most of it is old news anyway, right?
- Leaving pop-culture to the kids. I used to spend hours keeping up with new books, tv shows, movies, music and magazines. But who can really keep up with pop culture? (Unless it’s their full-time job.) And why do I feel its worthy of my time? After having a child the latest HBO premiere seems unimportant. Now I watch between 1 and 2 hours of TV per week. And guess what! I’m no less happy or fulfilled. I used to be a prolific reader of nonfiction and history. Recently I’ve found there is plenty to be learned outside a book. I think staying up on culture increases your relevancy to a degree, especially as a parent, but most of us consume culture in extremely large, and unnecessary portions.
- Redefining my free time as a mother. Pre-baby I spent my free time in personal development, house projects or creative work. Now I kick a ball in the front yard or ride my bike to a park with my family. My goal is no longer a to-do list in conflict with the reality of my life. I still work on creative projects; I am currently sewing/embroidering a growth chart for my son. But whereas I used to set short deadlines for myself, I now keep projects open-ended over the course of months or even a few years. I pick them up when I have a few free minutes, and I don’t worry if it sits untouched for a few months.
Now it’s your turn. How have you adjusted your expectations? Or how do you need to?