By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Hidden Messages : What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children
Melissa woke up after a perfect night’s sleep feeling refreshed and energetic. The sun shining through the window added yet more joy to this beautiful spring day. As she sprang out of bed, a thought hit her, and she began to giggle like a schoolgirl.
“What a wonderful day to play hooky!” she said to herself. An idea began to take shape. She’d never done anything like this before, but, after all, what was life for? “Yes!” she thought, “I’ll take a personal day off of work, actually let the boys skip school, and the three of us will spend this glorious day at the zoo!”
As she got dressed she added up her reasons to validate this slightly naughty endeavor: She’d get to spend some quality time with the boys, they’d get to enjoy a day with each other, they’d all have a respite from the rigors of their daily routine. She enjoyed her vision of the three of them laughing and strolling through the zoo, the boys chatting together and gushing their appreciation for their delightful day and their hip mom….
She headed off to wake up her kids and share her pleasant surprise. She bounded into Kevin’s room first and sat beside him on the bed. “Okay, sleepyhead! Time to get up.” The answer was a groan from under the covers.
Next was Luke’s room. She rolled his wheelchair beside the bed and suggested he choose shorts and a tee shirt for this fine warm day. She almost blurted out her plans, but thought better of it: she decided to get the kids up and dressed before telling them.
As the boys were eating breakfast, Melissa sat at the table across from them. Fairly bursting with her idea, she blurted, “How’d you guys like to skip school today? I thought we’d play hooky and head to the zoo!” Her eyes wide with excitement, she waited for their expressions of glee.
Luke looked mildly pleased, but not overly excited. Kevin scrunched up his face and wrinkled his nose. “The zoo? I don’t want to go to the zoo!” he moaned.
Melissa was a little disappointed, but she knew—just knew—they’d have a great time once they got there. “Oh come on!” She said, “We’ll have a ball!”
Kevin looked doubtful. “Who has fun at the zoo?”
She wasn’t about to give up on her wonderful plan, but her short-tempered response sounded like a bursting balloon. “We’re going to the zoo, and you’re going to have fun, it’s a sunny day, I’ve already called in for the day off, and this is quality time with your mother.”
Kevin and Luke just stared at their mom. “Yeah, yeah,” said Kevin, “Let’s go to the zoo. Whoopee.”
Determined not to let this little setback ruin her plans, Melissa gathered up their stuff and herded the boys into the van. Once she’d folded and loaded Luke’s chair, she hopped into the front seat with a broad smile on her face. “Here we go!” She didn’t see the looks her boys shot each other behind her.
They weren’t even out of the neighborhood when Luke’s voice pierced Melissa’s cheerful mood. “Mooommm! Kevin took my markers!”
“Did not!” Kevin retorted, “They’re mine!”
“Are not!” yelled Kevin, “Make him give ‘em back!”
“Boys!” growled Melissa. “You’re not even supposed to have markers in the van. Give them to me.” Melissa waved her hand backward over the seat, motioning for the markers.
“Well if they’re yours, then you give her the markers,” Kevin sneered at his brother.
“I can’t reach. You do it.”
“No. Figure it out.”
Melissa snapped her fingers. “Just give me the markers!” she growled.
They rode down the street in relative silence for the next fifteen minutes. Melissa turned on the radio and began to sing along. Her cheerful mood was returning.
Soon, they arrived at the zoo. Melissa found the handicapped spots full—with cars that didn’t belong there, of course—so she had to drive around the enormous lot twice before finding a spot. After unloading the chair, their gear, and themselves, they headed toward the zoo entrance. It wasn’t until they were nearly at the gate—and the steep flight of stone stairs—that she spied the “Wheelchair Access” sign, with its arrow pointing to the opposite side of the parking lot. In frustrated silence, they trudged back to the van and reloaded, only to repeat the process at the opposite side of the lot. As they approached the promised entrance, Luke piped up. “Kevin’s right. This isn’t gonna be any fun at all.”
Melissa didn’t even have the energy to answer. She paid for their tickets, posted her complaint about the inappropriately filled handicapped parking spots, and ushered the boys through the large iron gates. “Where do you want to go first?” she asked.
“Let’s go see the lions and tigers,” Kevin suggested.
“No way! I wanna see the elephants and giraffes,” protested Luke.
“Why do we always have to do what you want?” complained Kevin. “I vote for the lions and tigers.”
Melissa pulled the plug on the argument. “We’ll go to the reptile house.” She stated it firmly and stomped away, both boys groaning as they followed.
Melissa was enjoying the reptile house until she turned to see Kevin racing with Luke through the halls, nearly knocking over a woman and her baby as they popped wheelchair wheelies along the way. Her tightly clenched teeth were all that stood between a controlled but angry reprimand and a loud, angry outburst.
The disgruntled trio headed to the African Jungle. On the way, they passed a cotton candy stand. “Oh, what the heck,” Melissa thought. “Cotton candy before lunch—why not?” “Wait here a sec,” she said to the boys. But her big sweet surprise brought nothing but more complaints.
“Why’d you get pink?” complained Luke.
“How come only one?” Kevin whined. “I suppose Luke gets to hold it!”
“Well, if you hold it, nobody else will get to eat any since you’re such a PIG!”
“KNOCK IT OFF!” yelled Melissa, on the verge of tears. “This is supposed to be FUN!”
Kevin rolled his eyes at her. “Well, I told you the zoo wasn’t any fun!”
Melissa whirled Luke around so fast, he lost his balance. “Come on,” she growled at Kevin. She walked away so quickly, he had to run to catch up.
“What are you doing?” Luke asked.
“I have a headache,” Melissa responded. “We’re going home.”
The boys cried all the way home, while Melissa held her aching head and fumed over a totally wasted day.
The Hidden Message
“My expectations are so far from reality that the only possible result is my disappointment and anger.”
Think About It
Expectations: Our lives are full of them. On the day the pregnancy test is positive, we begin painting beautiful rosy pictures of what our lives as parents will be like; it’s Mother Nature’s way of fostering parent/child bonds and the hope that keeps us going.
As our children grow, we continue to envision how we hope things will turn out. We set up ideals, some realistic, some not. Eventually, the former delight us, and the latter…sometimes they break our hearts.
A mother discovers her robust newborn will never run on a baseball field, or even walk to school, and that they will face problems that she never even knew existed. The parents of four girls hope the birth of number five will add some variety to the family makeup, only to discover they will have plenty of use for the pink frilly dresses packed in the attic. A father, himself an only child, envisions a close and loving relationship between the twins his wife is expecting—only to find years later that daily bickering and fighting are more common than friendship between them. A mother with a close and loving relationship with her daughter turns around one day to ask who this sullen, selfish, moody, and demanding teenager living with her is.
Our great expectations frame the big picture as well as the small innumerable closeups of our daily lives. We set up countless ideal scenarios for our every day: the little one will behave in church; the painstakingly planned birthday party will be a smash hit; the new puppy will fit into the family perfectly. It’s a fact of life: Many of these small expectations are destined for failure.
The difference between expectation and reality equals unhappiness. The more specific and lofty our expectations, the harder we fall when reality crashes down on us.
Changes You Can Make
Take a good look at your own expectations for your children and your life. Examine these expectations and determine if they are realistic and likely. Don’t be afraid to make an honest assessment of where you are, how this compares to what you know to be ‘typical’ and where you think you may be headed.
One important way of making this exercise work is to become more knowledgeable about the stages of child development. When you are familiar with typical patterns of childhood—and there are many—you have a benchmark against which to measure the issues that arise daily. The vast bodies of research and observation available to you can help you see when your child’s behavior is usual for his age and situation, and when it is outside the norm and requires more attention. For example, if the Mom with the selfish and demanding teenage daughter were well read about what to expect in adolescence, she wouldn’t feel responsible for her daughter’s behavioral changes. She would have known that, no matter how close and loving the relationship with parents, nearly all teenagers endure hormonal and emotional upheaval at this time in their lives.
I am by no means suggesting pessimism, and actually, realistic expectations prevent pessimism. The more realistic your expectations the more possible it is to raise your children with optimism. In other words, when your expectations are realistic enough your children’s success is at least possible, and you will feel success as a parent. When expectations are extreme and unrealistic then failure is the most likely result. As an example, if you have more than one child, and you expect that they will NEVER bicker, NEVER fight, and that they will ALWAYS be cheerful-best-of-friends, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and anger.
On the flip side, I’m not suggesting that you passively accept “typical” misbehavior just because you expected it! Understanding and accepting your child’s behavior in a realistic way can help you see areas that may require your attention or may act as a warning light telling you that the situation requires taking the time to explore various solutions. So, when you understand that siblings WILL bicker and fight, sometimes just as often as they are cheerful-best-of-friends (and sometimes, more!), then you can relax and know that they are behaving normally—and then—explore the many ways you can encourage a more positive relationship between them. As another example, if your child doesn’t handle transitions well it doesn’t mean that you have to live your life on a rigid routine schedule—it means that you need to find ways to help your child learn to cope with life’s transitions in a more positive way.
When you have realistic expectations, you can calmly approach this momentous job we call parenting with a calm demeanor and a level head.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of several books, including Gentle Baby Care : No-cry, No-fuss, No-worry — Essential Tips for Raising Your Baby, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Kid Cooperation (with an introduction by William Sears, MD), Perfect Parenting, as well as her latest The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers and is also president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues, and her newsletter, Parent Tips, is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest, and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. Visit Elizabeth’s web site http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth.
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