Lower expectations make for a happier mama

A few times throughout my life, I’ve learned that to be happy my best bet is to lower my expectations.  I know.  That sounds like the wrong thing to say.  We ought to always be trying our best and attaining the best and all that junk that people say.  But, sometimes what you really need to do is lower your expectations and be realistic.  It makes for a happier outlook.

I first starting learning this in dealing with a wonky bladder as a young adult.  Because despite good intentions of taking medicine and eating only IC friendly foods and drinking only white milk and water, my bladder would still randomly rear its ugly head and leave me clutching my heating pad on my couch in yoga pants.  In fact, this still happens.  I just don’t get nearly as much couch time as I used to thanks to my two little kiddos, but they also serve to distract me from my misery so perhaps it balances out.  My plans could change just like that.  All of a sudden a day out of town with friends turned into a monumental task that seemed impossible and I’d have to cancel or muster through.  Heck, even a trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items would become insurmountable.

However, I have learned this way more as a mother.  My children are even more unpredictable than my bladder — and that’s saying quite a lot!  I feed them healthy food.  I refer to myself as the Schedule Nazi when it comes to maintaining a consistent routine and sleep schedule for them.  You seriously don’t want to encroach on that.  I am slightly obsessed with germ management and make everyone clean their hands usually as soon as we are back in the car from visiting a public place.  At the grocery store or Target, I wipe the cart down with cleaning wipes then cover it with a cart cover for the toddler.  Yet, I still clean his hands when we’re finished because you never know where germs lurk!  When we dine out, I use a high chair cover and a self-adhesive disposable placement.  I do everything in my power, short of making us all live in a bubble, to avoid germs.

But, you know what?  They still get in.  My kids still get sick.  It happens.  It has happened a lot more in the past year as my daughter started preschool.  I’m pretty sure that building is a petri dish for cold germs and random viruses.  In spite of all my good intentions, in spite of all I do to keep my children happy, healthy and safe, I can’t always do that.  And sick kiddos change plans.

For example, over Memorial Day weekend, we were planning to head to Ohio with my in-laws on Sunday to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle.  I looked forward to the day away and to the visit.  I planned and thought and figured out how to best manage a nap for my son in the middle of the afternoon.  I had ideas for how to get them both ready and out the door by 8 a.m. when I knew I’d have to wake up them both, but even the Schedule Nazi can be flexible sometimes.  Then my son started in with a fever on Friday.  Uh-oh.  Plans changed. He ran a fever the whole weekend and was quite miserable.  He broke out in some spots.  We determined it was a reaction to his chicken pox vaccine the week before, but it didn’t change facts.  We were staying home.  Traveling with a toddler is tricky enough.  Traveling with a sick toddler?  Forget it!

My weekend plans were out the door.  I felt a bit mopey.  And then I worked to lower my expectations.  So we couldn’t do what we planned.  Well, at least I was getting some downtime at home.  At least I was getting extra snuggles from my little dude.

This was my awesome homemade birthday cake this year from my mom. My daughter was excited for this cake and I didn't mind it being my birthday cake. I was excited for chocolate cake, which was fabulous.

The same is true for birthdays and holidays.  When it comes to life with kids, sometimes less is more and the less I expect, the happier I am with what I have.   This year my birthday was a truly happy celebration for me.  The actual day was spent focusing on my daughter’s dance recital, so we celebrated the day before.  In the past I might have thought a dinner out and big fuss would be nice.  Now?  I just think a dinner I don’t have to cook is divine.  And I know eating it at my parents’ house is way easier on all of us than getting both kids and my elderly grandmother in and out of a restaurant, especially since my birthday coincides with graduation day for the university in town.  I had a yummy spaghetti dinner at my parents’ house.  It wasn’t a huge fuss, but it was perfect.  Low expectations work well.  The toddler was still napping while we started dinner, so it worked much better than if we’d have planned to go somewhere.  (And I say all of this knowing that it was a bunch of extra work for my mom.  I don’t mean to downplay that one single bit.  I appreciate that lady!)  If I’d have expected to go out to a nice dinner, it would have been a disaster figuring out waiting for the toddler to wake up or risk waking him early and risk waiting forever for a table on graduation day and then hoping that the server brought food in a timely manner and that the toddler didn’t meltdown or the preschooler didn’t get grumpy or my grandma didn’t gripe continuously about how late we were eating or I didn’t spend 10 minutes setting up the highchair and placemat and all we do for eating with the kids at a restaurant.  I’d have been disappointed.  It would have been far from relaxing and enjoyable.  Right now dinner out with a bit of a fuss over my birthday just isn’t all that realistic.  I don’t expect it and so I thoroughly enjoy what I get.

The same worked on Mother’s Day.  I think there are times in life with small children, especially, where having lowered expectations of what’s going to happen is just necessary and realistic.  Life changes.  Kids get grumpy.  Kids get sick.  Kids change their nap schedule on you just when you’ve come to count on them sleeping at a certain time.  Kids take extra work.  Kids make some things more difficult.  Kids keep you from eating warm food.  Are they worth it?  Heck, yeah. But that doesn’t change the facts.  And the facts are that even on Mother’s Day or my birthday, I’m still going to have to change dirty diapers.  I’m still going to have to make meals.  I’m still going to have to continue on being who I am.  I can’t expect that I’ll have the whole day to just rest and relax and do nothing.  That’s not reality right now.  Do I need days where I rest, relax and do nothing?  Of course!  Do I get them?  Sometimes, with a bit of planning, I do. And sometimes those days I had planned to rest, relax and do nothing while the kids visit with grandparents change when someone gets sick.  It’s just the nature of this phase of life.

And that’s why for now, I’ll keep my expectations low when it comes to planning activities and doing things.  It’s less stress.  It’s less disappointment if things have to change.  And it’s more happiness if something actually goes right as planned.

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