Handling Unfulfilled Expectations, Disappointments, & Failure

unfulfilled expectations | parenting through meltdowns and anxiety

Disappointments are a part of life.  Unfortunately, we have to face that reality pretty early in our existence.  If I could pinpoint the number one reason for meltdowns, anxiety, and emotional outbursts with my kids, it would be unfulfilled expectations. From my oldest to my youngest, they each have certain expectations of what the day will be like, how their siblings will play with them, where we will go, what we will eat, etc. And if any of those expectations don’t happen, it can get pretty ugly.

I can hardly blame them. After all, even as an adult it’s often not easy to process unfulfilled expectations. I know the usual advice is to set “realistic” expectations, but the reality is that no expectation is truly realistic.  After all, when I have to combat Murphy’s law, my own forgetfulness, people’s short comings (including my own), ADHD multiple times over, and all of the chaos that comes from parenting three kids, the only realistic expectation is getting up in the morning. (And even that occurs earlier than I expect most mornings.)  So how can I maintain my sanity and help my kiddos understand a healthy way to process and deal with life’s disappointments? The answer to unfulfilled expectations is not really what I am expecting but WHO I am expecting it from. 

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” ~Psalm 62:5

wait upon God | Psalm 62:5 | unfulfilled expectations

You see, it really is ridiculous to think that I can expect anything from anyone else when I can’t even meet my own expectations.  And while I could easily blame a number of people and miscellaneous factors for my unfulfilled expectations, the truth is I’m a sinner—and so is every one else, except for One.  That One is the only One who is perfect, holy, and unchanging.  He is the only One who can fulfill and even exceed expectation.  He is the only One in whom my confidence should rest.

When my expectation is in the right place, the tempest of my emotions can settle.  No longer am I expecting my children to realize I have needs or to be motivated to clean their rooms and finish the dishes on their own; no longer am I expecting myself to have everything under control and to remember the 1001 things I need to be doing; no longer am I expecting my husband to never have a bad day on the same day I have one or to come to my rescue and meet all of my emotional needs.  Instead, I wait for, rest in, rely on the One who knows all, controls all, provides all. 

I have to believe this and live this out with my kiddos. Together, we have to lay all of those expectations in His hands and trust Him to work out the details. So we’ve started praying a simple prayer together:

“God, this day is not going the way we expected.

Please help us to trust you with the day you’ve given us instead.”

Our only “realistic expectation” is that God will come through for us and provide us with everything we need for everything we will face. When He is our only expectation, we receive only fulfillment.  After all, how could we expect anything less from the One whose name is “I AM”?

Motivating YOU when your child is unmotivated

homeschool moms | encouragement | motivation

Nothing drains the energy out of a day like a sulky child. No matter how optimistic I feel at the start of the day, no matter how much coffee I consume, no matter how many Scriptures I quote to myself—pouty, sulky, unmotivated kids are rough to homeschool. So, how do I keep a good attitude? How do I stay motivated to homeschool when my kids are not? There’s no easy answer, but I try to keep 3 things in mind when I’m tempted to throw in the towel. 

It’s not my fault. 

This is such an easy trap to fall into. Maybe I haven’t made school enjoyable enough. Maybe I have the wrong curriculum. Maybe I’m teaching this wrong. Maybe I’m a terrible teacher. Maybe I’m failing at this. It’s such a vicious trail of defeat and lies. But it’s so easy to assume it’s my role to make everyone happy and my fault if they aren’t. It is my job to put learning materials and opportunities in front of them. And I do try very hard to match their learning styles and make school “fun.” But in the end, whether or not they enjoy it is their choice, not my fault. Some days, my kids are just bound and determined to not enjoy anything. I don’t prefer it that way, but their choice does not make me the “mean mom.” It doesn’t make me a failure. It just makes me the mom of a bunch of unmotivated kids having a bad day.

It is not my responsibility to keep them happy. 

It’s my responsibility to keep them healthy, to protect them, to provide learning opportunities for them. But to keep them in a constant state of happiness and contentment is not my responsibility. I fight this constantly. We can wear ourselves out looking for the next best thing, feeling as though it is our responsibility to make them love every moment of their education. I’m so guilty of this! And I have to reign myself back after some time on Pinterest and say, “You know, it’s okay that we haven’t used all of these super cool Lego Learning ideas. And it’s okay that I don’t have a cool acronym and song for everything we memorize.” My responsibility is to teach; it is their responsibility to learn. I have to consciously cast that back onto them: “I’m sorry you feel that way. That must be miserable. I would much prefer that we choose to do things this way, but I can’t be apart of your choice to….” Bottom line, my kids can choose to love learning (and I do try hard to encourage that), or they can choose to hate it all. But in the end, it is their choice. My favorite line in these moments: “If it were me, I’d prefer to enjoy learning. But if you’d rather be miserable, I’ll let you.” Most of the time, after they’ve calmed down those BIG feelings of theirs, they decide they’d rather enjoy it with me.

It is my choice.

Just like my child has a choice about his or her attitude, I have a choice about mine too. It is not my child’s fault if I join his pity party. It stinks when kids are unmotivated or in a bad mood. All the negativity can be very draining, which is why it is ultra-important (and not a bit selfish) to do some self-care. 

  • Step away (even if it’s to the bathroom). I make a point to let my kids know that I need a time-out to control my attitude and reactions. It teaches them, by example, that this is the correct way to handle those BIG FEELINGS, and it teaches them to respect others feelings. I also let them know the consequences. “I may become a Momster, and I don’t want to act that way. So I’m taking a time out.” Some times, they still don’t get the point, and I have to be a little more specific: “I feel like I’m going to either cry or scream, and I don’t want to do either. So I need you to be completely quiet all the way home.” (And unfortunately, they know I mean it. Because, yeah, I’ve done both.)
  • Supply your time-out space with what you need to regroup—an inspiring devotional, some battle verses, a cup of coffee, some chocolate, whatever it takes! I have a playlist of “Battle Songs” that I use for times when my emotions need to be redirected. I keep my Paul David Tripp devotional handy. And yes, there are times I take chocolate with me.
  • Do something shocking. Think of a car that has a dead battery. It doesn’t need a gentle nudge; it needs a giant shock! Sometimes my day needs a shock, too. Mondays tend to be our horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days. To shock our week into action, I’m trying a couple of different things: (1). taking school to a different location or (2). canceling our normal schedule to do a big learning project that we’ve been meaning to get to. Other times we’ve gone on a nature hike, watched educational movies, or taken an impromptu field trip. Make the kids do their schoolwork under the table, in a tree, or in a pillow fort. SHOCK THEM! And maybe even shock yourself. Most of the time, the thing I feel least like doing (leaving the house) is absolutely the thing we need most.

In the end, for my kids and myself, it’s a heart issue. And these days take lots of prayer—for my kids, with my kids, over my kids. I have my kids pray for me. And then we inch forward, in the Lord’s strength and sufficient grace. Because most days, when I’m unmotivated and losing momentum, it’s because I’m doing it in my own strength. I’m not enough for this job, even on a good day. But He is. Thank God, He is!

I’m Not Enough (and that’s okay)

feeling not good enough | depression | overwhelmed | encouragement

I’m not enough. It’s one of those feelings that can knock the wind out of you and leave you feeling sucker-punched. I’m not enough when my kids are crying and heart-broken, when my husband is facing discouragement, when a friend is losing everything, when dinner doesn’t turn out, when homeschooling hits a rough spot, when a thousand other things go wrong. I’m not enough.

I cannot make someone’s pain disappear or take away suffering. I cannot give the ones I love all that they need or all they are missing. I cannot take away someone’s consequences or make them want to be rescued. I cannot fill the emptiness or resolve all the conflicts. I cannot. I’m not enough—and that’s okay.

I’m not enough because I’m not supposed to be. I’m supposed to point to the One who is. I’m supposed to point others to the Savior, not be their Savior. I’m supposed to point them to Christ, not become their Christ. I’m not enough because I wasn’t created to be. I wasn’t created to be Christ to the world, to provide ultimate healing and satisfaction and life, to reconcile broken relationships and to bring peace and goodwill to all men. But I was created and redeemed to be salt and light, to make others desire for more, to make them crave Christ who does satisfy.

If I try to be enough, to be the Savior for my friends and family, I’m robbing myself of my true purpose and I’m robbing them of true restoration. I can’t do what God can do for my kids. I can’t be what God can be for my husband. I can’t provide what God can provide for my friend. I am not enough—because God is! And only He can be.

Let’s allow that truth to set us free! It’s okay to recognize and embrace our limitations. It’s okay to agree with a friend who says, “I’m not enough.” Because only when we recognize that do we find the truth of Who is. Yes, friends, we will never be enough. But Praise God! He always will be.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Embracing Limits (and finding freedom)

limits | accepting limitations | finding freedom

We don’t like limits. In fact, most of us either push the limits or pretend they don’t exist. And if we are honest, we are made to feel ashamed if we actually accept them without a fight. So when someone makes a statement about children or family or homeschool or Christianity limiting us, there’s often a surge of emotion. It’s not even that the statement is false; it’s that we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that limitations are evil.

The fact that children change our lives is a pretty established and accepted fact. It is a fact that there are things I am no longer able to do while my kids are young. It is a fact that kids determine to a large extent when I sleep, when I get up, how much sleep I get, and when and what I eat. And for many of us, our kids determine how long we have in the bathroom and whether or not we get a shower. 

But this principle also holds true in so many other areas of our lives. Marriage limits us and rearranges our lives. Career choices limit us and rearrange our lives. Money, or the lack of it, limits us and rearranges our lives. Homeschooling and sports and drama club limit us and rearrange our lives. Even God limits us and rearranges our lives. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

You see, limitations are not the evil. But if I live in denial and try to arrange my life as though those boundaries aren’t there, I’m miserable. And if I stand with my nose pushed against the fence, wholly focused on it, then I miss the freedom within the space I’ve been given. Limits are not the evil; living beyond our limits is what brings dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and burn out.

Any commitment, any relationship brings with it certain boundaries and certain upheaval and change. Freedom is not trying to find a way out of this reality. Freedom is acknowledging and embracing that reality. Because a life without limits, a life where we are totally free to arrange our lives to meet our every whim, is truly an empty life. It’s a life of no investment, no sacrifice, no commitment, no relationship, no fulfillment, and no satisfaction.

Whatever the specific parameters of your life may be, understand that they are not bad. They simply give shape and structure and definition to your life. Your limits are not keeping you from doing something more important or robbing you of your identity or preventing you from being you. God sets our boundaries, and He has placed you exactly where He wanted you to be and given you exactly what He felt was most important for you to do.

Instead of denying that our limits exist or feeling shame every time we have to say “no” to something because of our limitations, let’s embrace them! Because pushing those limits distorts the mold and shape of the very things we love most.

Embracing my limits is also embracing the freedom to love and invest whole-heartedly in what God has given me.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing imperfections: we can’t do it all.

Embracing Imperfection (the beautiful mess of motherhood)

Embracing Imperfection

I had a bizarre dream the other night. My husband was being forced to walk the plank, and I was responsible for his rescue. Me alone. Just me. As in Pirates of the Caribbean style, with me starring as Elizabeth. Everything was ready for the rescue to take place when suddenly my four year old showed up. “Hello, momma!” he chirped cheerfully, just as I was supposed to swing in and save the day. And right before I woke up, I remember thinking, “Great! Now, how am I going to pull this off?” (Think Elizabeth with a four year old on her hip.)

I woke up, and thankfully my husband’s life did not depend upon me. But the reality of the dream made me chuckle. Is this not our life? Here we are in the midst of life’s demands, juggling multiple worthy tasks, maybe even attempting heroic rescues, with our kids riding piggy-back. 

It’s the storyline of every day:

  • I’m making dinner (or trying to eat dinner) with three kids and a dog all over me.
  • I’m trying to give my Oldest instructions while my Littlest is interrupting every 30 seconds to ask me for a piece of paper, his yellow crayon, and am I listening to his art show.
  • I’m completing a project for our church while Littlest begs for every snack in the pantry.
  • I’m on the phone with my mom making holiday plans and stop in the middle to tell “someone” to please stop playing in the dishwasher soap; no, you can’t squeeze the bottle; please don’t wipe that on your jammies because it has bleach in it—Agh!

I’m confident you get the picture, and could add another 1,000 “you know you’re a mom if” scenarios. And honestly, in the grind of it all, the whole “oh, you’ll miss it one day” comments only go so far. I need perspective. I need hope. I need to know that my husband will not be executed and the world will not fall apart because someone CAN’T FIND THEIR SHOES. (Oh, my poor husband.)

The answer is that we cannot operate as a One Mom Show. We can’t do it all, and we can’t do it alone. There is no guilt in admitting our imperfection. There is no shame in asking for help and calling in reinforcements, even if you think you don’t have any. The truth is that most of us usually do have someone, but we are too busy ruling them out. “Oh, no—I couldn’t ask her; she’d think this about me. And not her, I can’t bear to think of what she’d say about the house if she saw it right now. And So-and-So, do you know what he fed the kids last time? And I can’t ask her; she’s just getting over the sniffles. And I couldn’t possibly ask So-and-So, knowing how busy they’ve been. And she probably wouldn’t be free anyway. I wouldn’t want to impose…” On down the list we go until we’ve convinced ourselves there’s no one left. It’s time to reach out, even if the situation is less than perfect.

Because, my friends, we can survive and even thrive on far less than perfect. Ugly meals still get the kids fed. Dirty socks that have to be re-worn are not the end of the world (there, I said it.) And running a few minutes late all the time to everything says more about my stage in life than it does about my character. Embracing imperfection is about keeping it real.

All that before I’ve even added God to the equation, ‘cause we know He can still make the world go round while we take a 15 second record-breaking potty break. He doesn’t need my perfection, and all He asks for is my willingness (Some days, I don’t have much more than that to offer.)

Bless him, when it comes down to it, my husband is cunning and resourceful enough to save himself or to at least force a delay, until I can extricate myself from my four year old’s peanut-butter hug.  Though dear hubby has said that he does appreciate my intent.

Bottom line, our lives will be so much easier when we accept that interruptions will make some things in life impossible, that children do limit us and rearrange our life and that’s not a bad thing, that we will need other adults in our life to do this parenting thing, and that an imperfect solution may be exactly the solution God is offering to us. So let’s be honest about our imperfection and even embrace it, and then let’s shout praise to a God who regularly delivers His perfect amazing grace through imperfect vessels.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing an imperfect home.