Standards, not expectations

dv2014042 Image by Army Medicine

We’ve all heard it said that our expectations ruin us.

We expect a “Thank you” and when it doesn’t come, we’re disappointed.

We expect an anniversary gift, and when it’s forgotten, we’re devastated.

We expect our child to be reading by age nine, and when she doesn’t, we panic.

About that time, someone comes along to remind us that we’ve set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting—drop the expectation and we can resume life happily.

But do we? Can we?

If you think about your homeschool, you might expect progress in a certain subject (reading, multiplication tables). When the child is slow to catch on, you worry. Is the right move to “drop the expectation” and not worry? When more time goes by without progress, is the solution to keep “lowering” or “eliminating” expectations until you have none?

Some of the criticism of unschooling is the idea that the parents have given up measuring progress in order to avoid foisting expectations on their children. Is that a fair charge? Should there be some expectation of progress—some measurable way to know that everyone is on track without the crushing weight of pressure and “expectation”?

Expectations are rooted in an “outside in” orientation to living—the notion that I can control what’s happening outside of me (my husband should buy me gifts, my child should learn to read by age 9, my 16 year old should thank me for making his sandwich) to make my insides feel better. When my loved ones fail to live up to my expectations, I feel out of control, which leads to anger or its less attractive twin sister: depression.

Instead of expectations, move to “inside out” thinking. You establish how you want to live, and seek to create a life that protects your well being, apart from how others react to you. You can’t control members of your family, but you can control yourself. It’s okay to have standards—ways you prefer to live, that are good for you.

For instance, when a 16 year old is careless in his gratitude for your sandwich-making generosity, you get to decide if making the sandwich is a happier experience than receiving thanks for it. If you feel generous, you make the sandwich. If you feel put out, you don’t. But making the sandwich doesn’t hinge on thanks.

The decision to sandwich-make comes from your standards:

I make sandwiches for my kids when they don’t take me for granted, or when I feel generous. Otherwise, I don’t.

If a child is not reading by 8 and a half, and you find your expectations playing tricks on you (such that you put pressure on your child to meet your need for her to read by age 9), you can be sure you will not help that child read. You’ll teach your child to be anxious about reading.

Instead, apply your standards of “helpfulness” and “protecting your connection to your child.”

You help your child as much as you can, you pay attention to your child’s energy and aptitude, you hold space for growth through caring, not worry—and if you can’t find the key to unlock the door to reading, you wait a little while more, or you find help.

You do measure progress, not because you want to stop your own anxiety about failure, but because you want to ensure your child’s happy growth in education.

You choose to live up to the standards of kindness, support, and valuing the child over the child’s ability to read, first and foremost.

Then, you find help for the reading issue that does not undermine your standards for your relationship.

When your husband forgets your anniversary, you get to decide if this is just “one of those forgivable moments,” or if this behavior is indicative of a partner that is not right for you. After all, you may weigh it all out and gifts for anniversaries suddenly mean less to you than everything else you get in the marriage. Or, you may not. Living in that space where you try to tweak the outside to fix your insides, however, is a painful, exhausting way to live.

You set standards for your life—for how it will be for you. You can’t control how other people will be.

It is possible to create a sense of well being through your choices about how you experience your homeschool and family.

And of course, to add confusion to the whole shebang, it’s easy to confuse a standard for an expectation and vice versa. The only way to know which is which is this:

Living up to your own standards feels good in the long run—you might feel like you are being selfish initially, but in the end you will have more energy for everyone.

Expectations wear everyone out, quickly, you included.

Know your standards, then keep them. You deserve a life of love, peace, and shelter; and you can have one. It’s up to you.

Cross-posted on facebook. Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms.

2 Responses to “Standards, not expectations”

  1. Sarah says:

    Julie, I really like this post! But it leave me wondering… when we set our standards, are we also creating expectations for others to meet? When people live together, when their lives are interdependent and intertwined, how do you differentiate between standards that are reasonable and healthy, and expectations that lead to resentment and toxic behavior?

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    The standards are about *your* life, not theirs.

    In the example of reading—Your expectations might be that your child read. You can’t control that. But what you can do is apply your standards of helpfulness, kindness, finding solutions, and being supportive.

    Your expectations might be that your children thank you when you do nice things for them. You can’t control that. You can decide if you want to do the “thing” for them, even if they don’t thank you. If you don’t want to do a “thankless” job, you simply don’t do it. You don’t say to the kids, “I’m not making your sandwich because you never thank me.”

    You simply don’t make it or say, “I’m not going to make it today. I’ll let you handle it.”

    In theory, it all sounds cut and dry—easy to apply. In reality, we have small children who whine and nag, we have older kids and spouses who push our buttons, we have our worries and fears. The best we can do is pause to consider if we are operating from a place of expectation of someone else, or from our personal standards for ourselves. Resentment grows when we violate our personal standards for ourselves.