It has been clear through our parenting journey that our family’s expectations are always adjusting. Both lowering and raising these expectations depending on the situations and ages of our children.
Our society holds children to ransom on all sorts of social etiquette that we, as adults, don’t even abide by ourselves all the time. There is an expectation that babies and children should sleep all night, eat all the food on their plate, empty their bladder and bowels at convenient times in convenient places, be happy and co-operative all the time, especially when they are with other people…
As adults we need to remember that children are little people that deserve respect rather than control. I think it is here that our levels of expectation need to be lowered. With eating, for example, there is a unwritten rule (well probably written in some parenting book somewhere) that children should eat all the food on their plate. Now, if two friends went out for a meal at the pub and one of them said “You need to finish everything on your plate before you get down” 1) the other friend would probably say, “Don’t tell me what to do!” 2) what if the friend still eating is full? 3) what if they really don’t like what they ordered and it is making them feel sick? It is unlikely that they would continue eating and also an unlikely situation because we wouldn’t ask that of an adult.
In the back of my mind when I am requesting something from my children I ask myself, how would I feel? Why am I needing them to do/not do this?
I often relate this to the notion of ‘cry it out’. Firstly, how would I feel if I was hysterically crying and I knew my husband could hear and he didn’t come to me. Pretty crappy. How would I feel if I was alone in the dark and needed the one thing that always made me feel better and it wasn’t coming. Pretty crappy. If I would feel that negative about a situation then I would not want to put my children through that, whose immature emotions are unstable enough and who lack the justification that comes from experience.
So this is the hard part because society tells us that our children should be doing x,y and z and when they don’t we are ‘not in control’. Society needs to look at the expectations we place on our children, our families and our parenting because this continuation must be doing some damage. I think then, it takes individuals to make small changes to these expectations and bring back more respect and less control.
At the other end of the spectrum, society’s level of expectation for other situations regarding children’s behaviour, is low. It seems that there are certain situations when children are not required to behave in a certain way and when they do it is a surprise and a big deal is made of how ‘good’ they are. Here, in our family, our expectations are high and our behaviour as parents imparts this expectation to our children. For example, we have a level of expectation that our children will not shout and throw food on the floor (unless they are weaning but that is for another post) when we go out to a restaurant. We discourage that by modelling everyday at the meal table at home and when we are out and drawing attention to how people (adults and children) behave in restaurants. We have never gone out for a meal with the notion in the back of our mind that “well, they are children, we can’t expect them to sit still and be reasonably quiet”.
Isn’t society and the expectations that we place on children so confusing? On one hand they are reprimanded for not doing things that adults wouldn’t be made to do and on the other they are allowed to act in a certain way because they are children.
I think this is where the adjusting of expectations needs to be made by parents. It should be a continuous process that always has respect for the child at its centre and it can look different for each family. In doing this, perhaps the rigidity or society’s expectations on children and parenting can too adjust.