I believe that one of the biggest contributors to stress in parenting a QuASIE (Quirky, Anxious, Sensitive, Intense, Excitable) kid revolves around expectations — specifically our expectations of ourselves and of our children. Those expectations begin forming from the time we are quite small, and are woven deeply into the fabric of who we are. There are explicit ones, implicit ones, ones rooted in our own childhood. Our fantasies about what parenthood ought to be, our family traditions, the culture we choose and the culture that bombards us all play a role in setting our expectations. Which would be fine, if we had a typical child….
Enter our atypical, QuASIE, awesome, frustrating, joy-inducing and exhausting offspring. Some of us knew from the moment we set eyes on our progeny, others of us realized it over time, but all of us who parent one of these kiddos have to deal with the gap between what we were expecting and what we actually have. These expectations are insidious things. They sneak up on us and kick us in the shins when we are not looking. They come sit on our chests and keep us awake at night. They rob potentially joyful experiences with their “yes, buts” and “what ifs”. They get in the way of us seeing our child clearly for who they are right now, and they wreak havoc in our relationships with our spouses, parents and friends. They get all twisted around inside, so we find ourselves starting to believe that we have done (or left undone) some vital thing and caused our child’s difficulties. And of course the nastiest bit: We frequently don’t even realize that we are operating from a place of expectation, because we aren’t used to questioning our assumptions (psst: that’s why they’re called assumptions; because we just assume without thinking critically).
But here’s the good news: Expectations reside in our minds, and we can choose to change them. With a bit of work, and a bit of support, learning to shift our mindset is entirely possible. The first step is to uncover what those expectations are. Discovering our unspoken assumptions about our child, our relationship with them, and our beliefs about parenting allows you to make choices.
Here is the thought experiment I alluded to earlier. The purpose is to give you an opportunity to discover what those unspoken expectations are. Consider the following sentences:
Of course my child will ______________________.
I can’t wait until I can ___________________ with my child.
In our family, everyone learns to ______________.
Or answer this question from a family member:
Don’t you think it’s time for (your child) to start ________?
The beginner level exercise is just to complete the sentences. More intrepid explorers could compare how you would have answered in the past (maybe even before parenthood), versus how you’d answer now. Also worthy of consideration is how your experiences with one of your children influences your expectations for another of them. Finally, after having each explored your own personal answers to these questions, you might want to discuss them with your spouse. Once you have uncovered those assumptions, you can then evaluate if it is helpful to continue with these expectations, or whether it makes more sense to adjust them (hint: if what you are doing now isn’t working, try something different…) I have a couple of other tips to help with this process:
Be very choosy about where you get your parenting information. If you have a habit of combing every book, internet site, friends’ opinion, mommy blog or magazine for ideas or feedback about what to do — STOP! Most of the information you will glean from generic sources will miss the mark entirely, and probably make you feel worse in the interim. There are a few, specialized groups, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum among them, which can be good resources, and please DO go there for help and support.
Consult with a knowledgeable professional if you find you are struggling hard with changing those expectations. Some outside support can be very validating and helpful in making the shift in how you relate to your child.
Permit yourself (or on the hard days, order yourself) to spend some time every day simply being with your child — no agenda, no multi-tasking, no worrying — just meeting them where they are. This exercise is an important complement to the work of uprooting old expectations. It helps replace the fantasy pictures with real experiences of how your child is.
Shifting your mindset about your child, focusing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do, and consciously choosing how you form your expectations probably never were on your mind when you were considering being a parent. But this work on our part can translate into significant increase in ease and harmony in our relationship with our children and our family. In my book, that counts as self-care!