How Fair Are Your Self- Expectations These Days?

Close up of pensive biracial man thinking having problem

Most of us have moments from our past that had a profound impact on us, on what we understood about ourselves, our children, how we parent, what are responsibilities are and how we deal with challenges. New awarenesses and clearer understanding can be powerful having both short term and long-term impact.

I had such a moment decades ago when my children were very young.  When thinking about writing this blog I remembered a book with information that caused me to pause, reflect and forever change how I approached my parenting and my life. It was one of those “Wow, this is big!” moments. I am now revisiting that a-ha moment to apply it to the events in our world today.

Curious?  The book, still one of my all-time favorites, is Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkhill Briggs. In describing how healthy self-esteem is nurtured, Briggs made the following points:

Child tells psychotherapist her experiences, mental health of children
  • Parents are psychological mirrors to their children (and to others I might add).
  • Based on our past experiences, personal needs and cultural values, we create a network of expectations about our children, which becomes the yardstick by which we measure a child.
  • Our expectations typically are influenced by how we were parented, the messages our culture transmits and the values of our society
  • Sometimes expectations for children are a reflection of a parent’s unfinished work from childhood
  • Children really question our expectations; instead, they question their personal adequacy.
  • What is critical is to have expectations that are fair and realistic, based on the knowledge of child development, keen observations and consideration of the child’s past and present pressures.

Briggs recommends that we identify our expectations and consider why we have them, where they came from and whether they are based on our own needs or the needs of our children.

Top View of Boot on the trail with the text: Whats Your Story?

I had not considered how much my expectations were driving my behaviors towards my children. Once I had this new awareness, there were many times when I paused to reflect on what I was expecting and how fair and realistic each expectation was. I often had to step back and modify an expectation because it really wasn’t fair or reasonable. I had to keep saying that my children’s sense of self was much more important than me possibly placing unfair expectations on them.

What also changed for me was thinking about expectations in general. I found myself considering the expectations I had for myself and examining them through the lenses of how fair and how reasonable each was. I discovered how often I pressure myself because my expectations are beyond what is reasonable.

I think we can apply an awareness for expectations to what is happening in today’s world. I think it is important to pause and consider what we are expecting of ourselves, our family and friends, our schools, others who somehow touch our lives, and even our politicians.

For example, are we expecting that we have the power to sustain a positive, upbeat attitude despite what has been happening in our world and in the world of our children and other family members? Is it fair to expect ourselves to function as we functioned before the pandemic hit, before the many racial injustices were brought to light, before all the unprecedented activities at our Capitol building and throughout the country?

Correcting unfair expectations has a lot to do with our inner self talk. It happens during those conversations we are having in our minds. A long time ago someone told me I had to be careful about “should-ing” all over myself, putting myself down for not meeting the expectations I was imposing on myself.

Pensive mixed race woman thinking makes decision, side view

These are times when we need to be kind to ourselves, not expecting ourselves to function as we normally do because these are not normal times. It’s not fair to expect that of ourselves. We need to keep reminding ourselves that today’s world is filled with toxic stress, where we are living with constant pressure, unpredictability and wondering if we are going to survive at all. We also need to encourage those we love to monitor their expectations and notice when they are being unfair with themselves. By expecting mistakes, moments of poor judgment, inabilities to fulfill responsibilities, we are actually setting much fairer and more reasonable expectations of ourselves and those we love.

Expectations are an interesting force in our lives and need to be monitored so they do not hurt us or others. This is so important in these times. We don’t need the added stress of mentally beating ourselves or others up for not meeting unfair expectations.

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. Where are you with the specific expectations you have for yourself these days?
  2. How fair are these expectations?
  3. What do you need to do to make unfair expectations fairer and more reasonable?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute