By Erin Brown Conroy, M.A.
I want life to be easier, don’t you? Sometimes that’s not possible. But many times, easier is possible, and we don’t know it yet. We just need more information, new thoughts, and new strategies that take us to that place.
Often times, making parenting easier depends on the way that we think about our kids—specifically, our expectations about how we think our kids should behave.
We think and act within the framework of our expectations. We measure our thoughts by what we think should happen. But what if what we think should happen is off base? Then what? Then we have unrealistic expectations. An unrealistic expectation with our kids means that we expect our child to do or to be something that they’re not capable of doing or being. Whatever we expect just isn’t going to happen. Period.
Unrealistic expectations are a sure-fire way to stir up stress, frustration, and anger and dump it smack-dab into the middle of our everyday lives. Unrealistic expectations create difficulty and unhappiness all around. In fact, unrealistic expectations will just drive you crazy. The good news is that our kid isn’t really driving us crazy. Most of the time, our kid’s behavior is “normal”—for a kid, that is. It’s our thoughts and expectations that are driving us crazy. Really. It’s true. Here’s an example…
Barbie(TM) Hair in My Brush
I don’t have blonde hair; my hair’s a deep brown color. So why is it that I keep finding blonde synthetic hair in my brush? My six-year-old’s simple answer: Barbie™ needed the brush first.
Never mind that I’ve created a “hands-off” drawer in the bathroom that holds my brush. The brush just seems to disappear into thin air, only to reappear a day or two later back in the drawer, down in the cushions of the couch, or in the car with strands of blonde Barbie™ hair twisted among the bristles. I think we have a transporter from Star Trek hiding somewhere in the house.
It’s funny—the same thing happens with my favorite throw blanket on the couch. And my favorite pen. And the baggie full of colored Sharpie™ markers that no one’s supposed to touch (because they’re full of permanent ink that ravages permanent damage). They all magically disappear and appear randomly. My hair spray travels around the house on its own. My socks, shoes, and scarves slink away. Even my favorite eye shadow pops in and out of existence. Like in the movie Toy Story, are these things coming to life when I’m not looking?
No one claims to use any of these personal items. But I know differently: It’s a conspiracy. When I’m busy upstairs and the kids are downstairs, I know they all race to the living room and gather into a huddle. The designated quarterback (probably the oldest) whispers the plan in concise detail: “OK. You—lift the brush and the blanket. You—take out the markers and pen. You—hock the hair spray. And you—you cover the stairs. When you hear mom coming, give the secret whistle. Break!”
On second thought, I don’t think they could pull off that kind of teamwork without me or my husband. Oh my gosh—maybe he’s in on it too.
There’s always the Black Hole Theory. You know—the one that says that everything eventually falls into the Black Hole when you’re not looking. Like socks in the dryer. Like a worm hole in space (here I am again, back to Star Trek). But that wouldn’t account for the items randomly reappearing. Could there really be Leprechauns?
All the funny stuff aside, when it comes to my things, my kids don’t appear to understand the concept of “owning.” Oh, they “get it” when it has to do with their things: “It’s mine! You can’t touch it!” But when it’s someone else’s stuff to borrow—well, sharing is a wonderful thing. Sharing is a wonderful thing.
But respecting others’ possessions is too. One day they’ll get it. In the meantime, the light hairs you see mixed in with my dark ones aren’t white; they’re blonde. I don’t need to spend money on highlights. Mine are free—from Barbie™.
The Realistic Expectation to Remember
Here it is: “My children will use my personal possessions.” That’s reality. Respect of others’ property is learned. Parents must purposefully teach their children to respect others’ possessions. But realize this: It takes time for children to learn those boundaries. Consistently take time to discuss what is “in bounds” and “out of bounds” in touching possessions.
Talking about boundaries gives our children the ability to determine how to know what to borrow, how to ask others for the use of an item, and when it’s appropriate to do so. When your child “borrows” something without asking, take the time to teach. Sure, you’ll repeat yourself over and over. Expect it. Like the tortoise racing the hare, calm repetition will get you to the end of the race—to win.