“You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”
I don’t actually know where this originated from, but for my children, it was their Auntie Tara, my best friend, who coined the phrase which became our mantra last summer, for the grandiose act of selecting a popsicle. If you pulled out a green, you get a green. If you pull out a red, you get a red. That’s just the way it is. You’re lucky you’re getting a popsicle.
And then it moved onto snack choices or the type of juice that came in the coveted drink box. My children would chant this phrase often to each other when one of them would snub an option that seemed lesser than what they were willing to accept. They were teaching each other the power of acceptance in times of disappointment, an invaluable lesson in the realities of life. You do get what you get and you don’t get upset. Actually, you can and often do get upset, but it’s not going to get you anywhere, another irritatingly valuable lesson.
With childrearing, this lesson is the same, yet can be quite challenging to accept. We begin with expectations for the pregnancy, what the symptoms are and sensations and then compare with everyone we know who is or has been pregnant. After birth, we watch for their steady progression in development and inadvertently start comparing each of their stages to every child we encounter and every chart our pediatrician has. If and when the next child comes, we are constantly comparing their development to the first and how one is so different than the other and how miraculous it is that they share the same genes. We are constantly comparing and contrasting our children to every child and “norm” around them, trying to feel out what characteristics, types of intelligences, and skills we want for them versus what we don’t want. At some point, we either acknowledge that they are who they are and we are okay with that or that they are not what we expected nor how we want them to be and we are hell bent on re-sculpting them. After all we did make them and we should be able to reshape them into our own works of art. If only the stork knew to deliver us clay instead of talking, thinking beings, we’d be all set.
In my professional experience as a counselor, the most frustration I hear from parents occurs when their children are not meeting the expectations they have for them. In my personal experience, the most frustration I feel occurs when my children are not meeting the expectations I have for them. Coincidence?
Let’s face it, when we don’t get what we want and expect, it’s annoying. If you were holding out for the red popsicle, but orange was the only color left, you’d be disappointed, but you really wanted a popsicle, so you take it. It’s still refreshing and gives you the gratification you were looking for, it’s just a different flavor than you originally requested.
When you opted to have a child, you asked for the star running back for the football team, you ended up with the president of the drama club, both with great leadership potential, but different. What makes one better than the other? How we choose to view it.
Maybe you asked for the salutatorian, because really the valedictorian has way too much pressure, so you lowered your expectations just for your child, after all you don’t want to ask too much. And then you ended up with the child who thought community college was a better match for them to strive for and they wanted to save you $120,000 in college tuition. Your child doesn’t want to ask for too much either.
I asked for a respectable member of the community who uses good manners and has excellent social skills. I ended up with a child who runs through the grocery store like a wild beast and touches every item on the shelves 35 seconds after promising he would choose good behaviors. But when he asks if he can have a treat for being such a good boy, he always says “please.”
I believe it can be advantageous to ask where our expectations come from. Are they social norms and standards we are striving for them to meet? Or are they dreams and goals we created for them that they don’t seem to share? Either way, they are still ours and not theirs. That doesn’t mean we should change them, it just means we can acknowledge where they came from and assess their merit and the level of effort needed to teach them if they are indeed worth it.
If you wanted your child to play soccer because you were a soccer player, but your child would rather sit on the side lines and draw, fine. Let them try soccer for a couple of seasons (sometimes they don’t realize what a great sport it is until 3 years later), and let all your relatives know that drawing pads and colored pencils are the greatest gift they could give. And when your child “accidentally” pops their soccer ball with a kitchen knife and they just can’t go to practice without it, call it a day and consider letting it go. You both gave it a shot. Feed your expectation, but don’t starve your child when they don’t want to pick out the same item on the menu that you want.
Speaking of food, I am super conscientious about what I buy and serve my children, but I must admit, my kids turned me on to popsicles last summer…even sometimes the ones with high fructose corn syrup…shhhh. Because of their insistence, I truly do not care which flavor I get. I do still have my preferences, but I am learning to adapt to all flavors and brands. And I am slowly discovering, that no matter what, popsicles are great and I’m lucky to get one at all.