We all have expectations. Unrealistic expectations in parenting and other relationships can set us up for failure, discouragement, and depression. Can you think back to a time when you were really looking forward to something and it just didn’t quite live up to your expectations? Maybe it was a concert, vacation, or a date night. Or, maybe you can relate to my most recent “let down” – a colossal failure in baking what was supposed to be an award-winning birthday cake. My little girl (Ellie) asked me to bake her a “rainbow” birthday cake. Generally, I stick to buying cakes from the local bakery; however, this time I was feeling all “Pinteresty” and so I ventured out of my comfort zone and decided I would try to bake. I could hear the approval of my daughter and other family members as they told me how I am Martha Stewart on steroids, so talented in so many different areas, etc. I have heard that box cakes (this is as about as homemade as it gets for me, so stop judging) generally don’t go wrong since everything is basically spelled out for you. The box cake let me down. A day before the party my sister and I baked the layers (which I thought was a brilliant time saver). The day of the party, I was expecting a beautiful cake – perfect in every way. Then I began to add the second layer, only to see my beautiful cake crumble into countless pieces like the Tower of Babel. I tried to reconstruct the pieces together with the icing but it was of no avail. The cake was a total disaster. My expectations were not met. So, with only an hour before the party, I had no choice – I sent my husband to the bakery.
Last week, Pleasant Valley Community Church had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of pastor and church planter Michael Crawford. One of the things Michael taught on was parenting. I truly appreciated that this talk did not consist of a ten step program on how to be a better parent. I do not need any more steps or formulas; after all, they never seem to work. Quite simply, he told us to look in the Bible, study the attributes of God (our Father) and essentially seek to imitate that. Now, obviously God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and therefore He loves perfectly, disciplines perfectly, listens perfectly, comforts perfectly. So, no, we can’t love and parent perfectly; however, God gives us the grace to generally have the ability to love and parent like Him. However, I’m fully convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to us parenting like our Father is the sometimes unrealistic expectations that we establish for ourselves and our children.
We all have expectations for our children, and we typically grow discouraged when they fail to live up to those expectations. Michael encouraged us to list our expectations for our children. Here are mine:
1) No whining or complaining. I expect my children to wake up in the morning with smiles on their faces. Then, after breakfast, I expect them to tell me how thankful they are that I served them a hot bowl of oatmeal with orange juice. When they ask to watch another episode of Spiderman and I tell them, “no,” I expect them to say “Okay mommy! You are so wise and know what’s best for me; I will trust your decision!”
2) Love Siblings. I expect my children – all under that age of 5 – to always enjoy being together. I expect sounds of laughter coming from the playroom at all times, not shrills of annoyances and imitations of a UFC cage fight. I expect James to tell his sister He forgives her immediately. Yes, she bit him and body slammed him, but Jesus hung on a cross for us so he can get over it. Ellie should want to share her new Barbie golf cart with her baby brother. I mean why can’t we just all hold hands, skip, and sing songs all day long?
3) Desire to learn about God. When we sit down to read The Jesus Story Book Bible, I expect an eager desire and determination to learn about their Creator. There should be no random and unrelated questions about how many frogs are in the pool or what snacks we will be eating tomorrow. I expect full attention. After I have disciplined one of my children, I expect their hearts to be deeply moved by my amazing ability to recite the Gospel and how Jesus has paid for their sin. I would appreciate tears of repentance and gratitude for my effort. While reading through the Bible in the morning I expect my preschoolers to sit still and not ask for any drinks or cereal refills; after all, the real Bread of Life is being served to them. Basically, I’d like for my kids to be kind of like little junior John Pipers.
4) No interruptions during “Mommy time.” “Mommy time” consists of daydreaming, Facebook, Pinterest, television, bath time, phone time, exercising, etc. If mommy is involved in any of these activities the children should take a mental note not to engage in sibling battles, screaming, writing on furniture, potty breaks, jumping from couch, climbing up walls, or putting toys down toilet bowls. I expect them to know that the text message that mommy is sending is of the utmost importance and has to be sent in a timely fashion. Also, if mommy is on rep 34 on her crunches it is best not to ask her any questions.
5) A Happy Heart all the time. I expect my children to just “act right!” If I am going to be completely honest, sometimes I don’t care if they really believe in Jesus and want to obey Him. I just want them to act right in front of people so I look like I have done a good job as a mom. I expect them not to show anger outwardly. Just put a smile on your face! I expect them not to be scared when I leave the room or leave them in the church nursery. I expect my children to dress nice with matching clothes – no left over peanut butter from lunch on their faces. And for goodness sake, just put a smile on your face when a church member asks you how you are doing! I expect them to control their emotions. Emotions are hard to deal with and mommy can barely deal with her own emotions, much less teach you how to handle your anxiety. Kids who obey all the rules make us look good; that’s what I want. Sometimes while praying for my kids’ attitudes, I am faced with the ugly truth that I am not praying for them simply because I am concerned about their well-being, but because I just want my life to be easier.
6) Thankfulness. I expect to hear THANK YOU . . . for cooking, cleaning, trips to Dairy Queen, etc.
7) Obedience. When Mommy asks you to pick up the toys I expect first time obedience. I should not have to count to three.
I expect. So, let’s review my list of expectations above and see how this thing plays out.
No Wining or complaining. I am a Christian and I still struggle with whining. My kids are not Christians; of course they are going to complain! The good news is that God is patient. Remember, Israel walked through the desert for 40 years complaining and whining, even after God has proven faithful and over and over again. Because I have Christ in me, I have patience, so I can love my children and relate to their struggles. Preach the Gospel to yourself and your children. Let’s remind ourselves what we have been given Jesus and Jesus is better than anything we are not getting. Jesus lived a life of perfect gratitude and went to the cross and died for our little ones. Let’s pray for our children and ask God to open their eyes to this great gift.
Love Siblings. How well do I love those around me? Am I quick to forgive when someone has hurt my feelings? Do I become impatient in the grocery store when the “coupon queen” is going through her portfolio? Do I enjoy sharing my wealth (“toys”) with others? Do I get frustrated when someone does not ask me to play? I am getting frustrated with my children for not loving each other when I am struggling with the exact same thing. Jesus loved those around Him perfectly, knowing we would not be able to.
Desire to learn about God. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the very power of God (1 Cor. 1). How can I expect my kids to desire to learn about God when their hearts have not yet been changed by God? Good parenting and getting out a chalkboard with catechisms does not save my children; it must be a work of God’s Spirit. Furthermore, I look at myself and I say I love God, and yet there are some days that I would rather turn on the TV than to tune into the book of Romans.
Do not interrupt mommy time. Yes, I need time to relax and take a breather. If I am not taking breaks, I am going to get all crazy on my family. However, I need to realize that when my kids are young there are many times they will still need me to do things for them. One of these days when they are older, I’m sure I’ll long for those days when they “need me” again. At the same time, I need to be reminded that God is available all the time. He does not need a break from being God because He is all-powerful. He is always listening. Waiting. Engaged. He does not check out. Father, help me to be like you.
Happy heart. What!? A happy heart all the time? They are not going to always be happy and “act right.” After all, we live in a cursed world. Even our emotions are all jacked up. Praise God for these moments of breakdown my kids have because they are humbling me and making me realize I cannot do this . . . I cannot do this thing called parenting apart from God grace. It is so revealing of my sin that it hurts, but it’s a good hurt.
Jesus is a man who knew sorrow and yet he never sinned. Jesus gave us emotions. One of our children went through a phase where they would say they “I am so angry at you!” They said this like 37 times a day. This got very annoying and I would get to the point where I would just say well “Get over it!” or “Oh, wow, angry again, huh?” God convicted my heart, and made me take the plank out of my eye. I get angry. When I do not get something I want or thought I deserved, I often get angry at Him. I must preach Gospel to myself and my children. God lets me come to Him all jacked up, emotions and all. He is redeeming my craziness. He does not tell me to “get it together” before I come to him. Do my children feel like they have to get it together, or else mommy does not love them? I want them to know they can come to me with their messes and I will love them through the grace of God.
Listen to Mommy. Of course our children should listen to us and we should teach them ways to be better listeners, but I need to realize that I have a listening problem as well. There are many times God is speaking to me and I am too busy to stop and listen.
First time obedience. I mean really!???! Sure, we should teach our kids to obey, but should we become angry when then continue to struggle with disobedience? No! First of all, I do this to God all the time. Secondly, much of the bible was written about people who just did not get it right the first time. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book on parenting entitled Give Them Grace does a great job of explaining this. Fitzpatrick says, “When you disobey, you are saying that what you want is more important than anything else. You have forgotten the most important thing of all: Jesus Christ was obedient unto death for the joy set before him. Do you know what that joy way? The joy that was set before him was redeeming you. Please see and know this love. His obedience is the most beautiful, important, satisfying thing in the world. As you lift your eyes to his obedience, you will be able to obey.”
We all have expectations. I think this exercise was so helpful and revealing. I encourage you to take the time to make a list of your expectations. I plan on doing a list for my husband and myself as well. Do not forget that the second half of the exercise is to place the list against the Gospel. I EXPECT God will use this in your life to bring about more of His glory.
PS: Please pray for me as I prepare to write a series for young women.