Disclaimer 1: This title is obviously clickbait, in real life I’ve never met a perfect anything.
Disclaimer 2: This post deals with the role of ‘parent‘ since it’s a big one in my life, and also since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, but you can replace it with any role you take up in life (partner, sibling, friend, employee,…) and do the same exercise.
What IS a perfect parent? Or a perfect mother? What does she DO? What does she SAY? And of equal importance: WHO is that perfect parent? Is it your own mother? Or Mrs. Doubtfire? Or Maria from the Sound of Music (Edelweiss was the first lullaby I sang to both my babies, good memories…).
It can be a real eye-opener to find out which expectations we associate with the roles we take up in life, and where we get those expectations from. You may think that everyone has the same ideas about what the perfect mother looks like and how she acts, but you’re wrong. Everyone has a very specific picture with very unique details.
And you may think you’re picture is logical, makes total sense, is beyond criticism.
Wrong again. Many of the ideas we hold are familiar but completely illogical. We just don’t notice because of that familiarity.
How do you figure out what expectations you have, even the subconscious ones? And where they come from?
I’ve got the perfect 4-step program for you.
Step 1: Grab a piece of paper and a pen(cil).
At the top you write: A perfect mother (or substitute with your role of choice) ….
And then you start listing whatever comes up in your mind. Some examples my brain instantly comes up with:
- … always cooks healthy food
- … doesn’t lose control
- … spends as much time with her children as possible
- … is always calm and serene
- … always responds to her children’s needs
- … has well-behaved children
- … plays with her children
- … has a clean home providing structure and rest
- … bakes all birthday cakes
- … gives educational presents
- … avoids plastic toys
- … makes clothes for her kids
- … shows her kids how to deal with difficult emotions
Not nearly finished, but already plenty to pick apart. The next step is crucial.
Step 2: look through this list and see which expectations you REALLY hold and which are just borrowed from others. These are the ones you don’t really feel emotional about. In my case: gives educational presents. That’s not really a belief I hold. You may be able to scratch many, or just one or two. But scratch them, you should.
Step 3: Start smashing! Take an objective (as objective as possible) look at your list. Any contradictions in there? Any impossible standards? Anything you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?
How can you show your kids how to deal with difficult emotions if you’re always calm and in control? How can you spend as much time with your children and still maintain a clean and organized house at all times? And ALWAYS responding to my children’s needs? I need some time to respond to my own as well, thank you very much.
Step 4: Substitute aspirations for expectations.
There’s an important difference between an expectation and an aspiration. The first one you can either meet or fail to meet, the second one you can keep striving for, without needing to hit a target. You don’t have to finish anything. You can make mistakes, again and again, and try again.
Make sure your aspirations are within your control, and that they are things that matter to YOU (not your mother, friend, boss, partner,…).
Some of my aspirations as a mother:
- Take care of myself, so I’ve got something to give.
- Listen to what my children say, and what they don’t say.
- Embrace emotions (my kids’ and my own, all people’s emotions really) without acting them out on the people around me.
- Create a home that is warm, kind, fun, nourishing.
- Show my children how I want them to be, through BEING rather than SAYING.
Just a few short ideas (which I will now print out and put on wall in the kitchen! I need a lot of reminders!)
For which roles do you hold unrealistic or contradicting expectations? Which role do you struggle with?