17 Jun Do I Have Realistic Expectations Of My Child?
Are you a perfectionist? If you are a perfectionist and a parent, it will give you and your child a hard time. Because you are going to deal with many imperfections while raising children.
A long time ago, I was obsessed with cleanliness. I spent so much time cleaning my house (every day!), wanting everything to be tidy and beautiful. I got cured of this obsessive-compulsive habit when I started traveling as a cook assistant of my husband with our Guru Maharaja. I could not keep up with the everyday cleaning anymore because of my busy schedule and because I had no anymore my own house to take care of it. Very soon after, I got my first child and cleaning the house became the last thing of my everyday duties with the newborn baby. And today, I am so happy that I got cured of this urge to make unnecessary effort to achieve a very temporary goal.
I can say that I was an idealist and perfectionist when I was young, and today I am a realist with an optimistic spiritual vision. I do not lose my vision at any cost – it is a precious inner gem of my heart. But, I do not have high expectations of the people around me, including my children. Being realistic to me means knowing the possibilities and accepting the limits. As a parent, it means recognizing the developmental stages my child goes through, the specific nature of my child, and feel comfortable about it. Having that knowledge, we can have realistic expectations from the child, based on its rhythm of development and personality.
Many times I have witnessed how parents have unrealistic expectations from their children because of lacking that knowledge. They expect children to have good social manners at an early age when children still cannot understand the rules of social behavior. They expect children to be obedient in the stages when the children feel the urge to confront the parent to build up their separate identities. In other words, they expect mature behavior from the children who are not yet mature to exhibit it. This can lead to frustration on both sides of the parent and the child, and even damage their relationship in the long run.
Childhood is the time of rhythmical changes
The one thing that can help us to stay calm during turbulent years of the child’s growth is to remember that whatever difficulty the child faces right now is going to change (in 95% of the cases). The very nature of childhood is a rhythmical change that growth forces dictate. The truth is that we humans are prone to change throughout our whole life, but the most intense and visible changes happen during childhood, up to the age of 20. Whatever is the problem today, tomorrow will be forgotten – for little ones, this is literally happening. We can see some children who were shy becoming bold later or the children who were unsocial becoming very much friendly. Of course, some major character traits will stay, but many likes, dislikes, feelings, and ways of expression are going to change, sometimes even drastically. As parents, we should not be carried away by these temporary manifestations, trying to control every one of them. My advice is to be patient, skillfully swimming side by side with our child carrying the lifebelt for it whenever is needful. Amid changes, sometimes frightening for children, it is so important for them to have someone stable and wise, who can provide shelter, with enough space for them to feel comfortable to grow.
To be the wise and stable parent that our child needs, we have to give up perfectionism – to come back to the initial point. Perfectionism is a kind of rigidity that does not allow life to flow but wants to stop it in the image of perfection that does not exist in reality – in the material reality in which we live. Perfectionism does not accept the ever-changing nature of life and fights with the forces much stronger than its illusionary static-image-keeping attempts. That’s why perfectionists are usually people who try to over-control the material nature which inevitably leads to anger and frustration.
As religious practitioners, we tend to be a perfectionist because we expect to reach a spiritual reality much sooner than we are actually ready for it. We have high expectations from ourselves and others. We wish to be a pure devotee and try our best to show up ourselves in that manner to others. We expect the same from our children because we see the children as just an extension of ourselves. In reality, we still have a long way to go to reach that goal. The goal is perfect, but we are still not and we should accept that. To be on the way to perfection is already a great, the most wonderful thing. But, we should not pretend to be perfect (pure devotee) already. Pretending is not going to give us the desired result, nor our children would benefit by learning this, in the long run. The greater the difference between our real state of being and what we pretend to be, the greater the inner suffering we feel. That is one of the reasons why we have many frustrated people among religious practitioners.
Make a difference between the child and his behavior
I do not mean that we should stop trying to purify and perfect ourselves. But we should be gentle with ourselves and others when we face mistakes and imperfections. It is especially harmful to label the child for his mistakes, calling him lazy, stupid, foolish, mean, and similar. If we label the child like that, we fix the certain propensity on its personality and the child starts to believe he or she is really like that – and there is a lot of chance that a child will absorb that character trait more deeply into his or her being. Instead, we should separate the child from its behavior and address it accordingly. Instead of telling the child: Why are you so rude? we should say: Why you acted rudely? In this way, we give a child the possibility to see his behavior separate from himself, recognizing what was right or wrong without identifying with it and ultimately change the behavior.
If this simple way of addressing the child becomes our habit, it will make a huge difference in our relationship and our influence on a child. It gives a strong message to the child: I still love you as a person, even though I do not like your inappropriate behavior. Both messages are important and should always go side by side – I do not approve of your wrong behavior and expect you to change it, but I still love you unconditionally. The child should not feel the threat of losing our love and acceptance by not fitting to the standards of our expectations. This can lead either to an open rebellion of the child or to the suppression of the child’s emotions while pretending to be up to standard, which is even more harmful. Our expression of unconditional parenting love and correction of a wrong behavior must go hand in hand, for the ultimate benefit of a child and our relationship with him. But it means that our perspective has to change – that we as parents, in the first place, have to be detached from the mistakes and imperfections that we may notice in a child’s behavior and not allow it to compromise our parenting love.
There is a saying in the tradition of my country: Please my Lord, give me the strength to change what I can change, the peace to accept what I can’t change, and the wisdom to make the difference between these two.
I wish a lot of strength, calm, and wisdom to all of you. Be the loving guides to your children, accept their imperfections, give them enough time and space to grow, change, correct and perfect themselves on the way to the spiritual reality, the goal we all hanker for.