Yes, I Told My Daughter to Lower Her Expectations

My tween daughter had a lot of plans for Halloween: what she was going to wear, which friends were coming over, how much candy she’d collect, how she would also hand out treats, and how she’d simultaneously cohost a party with her aunt. 

She takes after me, a master multitasker. And she did an admirable job, getting in an hour of trick-or-treating, an hour of passing out candy, and two hours of partying before collapsing in bed. But then she started sobbing, because it didn’t all go perfectly.

“I forgot to put on my bat necklace!” was her first complaint. And then, “I forgot the spider ring too! And Alma never came over! And neither did Emma!”

At first I did the Mom thing of trying to negate every little thing she brought up. “No one would have noticed the jewelry. Look at the text that Alma’s mom sent, saying they were too exhausted to come. And you KNEW Emma couldn’t come.” Etc.

But there’s no stopping a tween tantrum, as I should know by now. So then I did another Mom thing, which is to get angry, and start being a little too honest.

“Grace, you can’t expect every event to be perfect. Lower your expectations! If you think it’s going to be just okay, and then it’s better than okay, you’ll be happy. But if you need things to be amazing, and then they’re just good, you’ll always be disappointed.” And then I sung her to sleep. 

Downstairs, as the party wound down, I recounted the story to one of my best friends, who doesn’t have kids. “You told your daughter to aim low?!” she asked in sort-of mock horror, holding her head in her hands.

I thought about it. Yes. I think that is what I did. “But you know, girls get worked up about things being perfect. Like expecting Prom to be some magical evening, which it never is,” I argued lamely. We are far from Gracie going to Prom.

At work the next day I checked in with a Mom colleague to get some perspective. Her daughter is only 1, but she’s thoughtful about raising a girl. “It’s not like you’re asking her to lower her life goals!” she reassured me.

That is it, of course. I want Grace to continue to say she hopes to go to Yale. I want her to continue to list about six professions she thinks she will hold at once as an adult. I want her to aim high for everything…except the little things. Halloween is supposed to just be fun. Teaching my kids to live in the moment and ride over little disappointments while also making life goals and recognizing the big stuff remains my toughest parenting challenge. When Grace was a toddler I would say, “that is not to cry” when something small upset her. Finding the right words now that she is 11 is more difficult. But I guess I’ll start with “lower your expectations sometimes.”

 

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