I got to a place last week where I just wasn't focused on being present enough at home. Work life was out of control busy, and I needed to reign it in. I decided to have a Saturday focused solely on the kids, with no plans whatsoever. I thought we might play outside most of the day in the autumn leaves, they'd ride bikes and shoot baskets while I raked and put the garden to bed for the winter. Laughter would fill the air, and the birds would sing sweetly.
You see where this is going, right? I set my sights on a joyful, centered day where I got a lot done AND somehow still was present with the kids and everyone would somehow be perfectly happy with the plan I had unknowingly made without them. This all spells train-wreck ahead.
I was fairly well into my thirties before I realized most of my disappointment in relationships in this life were due to my expectations. Expectations of myself, of others, of situations... you name it. Just because I learned this lesson doesn't mean I practice it perfectly, and the busier I am, the more I seem to fail to remember it.
The day started well enough. Five kids in my care for various reasons, big breakfast and lazy start for the little ones, outside to start on the garden and the (forced) fun with a family basketball game. It was all going so well until Caroline got invited to go with a friend to the IU football game.
Sam was heartbroken.
“She ALWAYS gets invited to go to fun things. I NEVER do! She doesn't even like football!”
I was heartbroken for him. What he says is true. Caroline doesn't even seem to have to try-- her social calendar is nearly always booked, while Sam plans and cares, and struggles to fill even a play date a week.
This outburst of heartbreak, of course, was not in my perfect plans for the day. When the initial invite came, I stopped and talked to Sam-- hearing his heartbreak and helping to hear him out through some possible solutions. I agreed (reluctantly) to take him to the game myself. Heartbreak reoccured when Caroline got picked up to go to the game, and I once again needed to stop progress on my (im)perfectly planned productive day to listen, console and reassure. I gave up on both the yard and my vision of a happy, united family for the day. It was time to focus on the day as it was unfolding, rather than on what was not happening the way I wanted it. Frankly, I gave myself 5 gold stars for choosing to be happy with the way things were unfolding.
And then it happened. After giving up my plans to appease my child and give him what I thought he wanted, he raises the bar. Before we had even parked the car near the stadium he announces “Mom, you know what I really want for Christmas? The only thing I really want? If you could take a friend and me to a football game and get tickets in the suites. THAT would be awesome.”
This is what I heard: “It's ok that you're taking me today, but I don't really care about that. You're pretty much wasting these 6 hours because I don't care that you are spending time with me. I want to be with my friends in a super cool way. Maybe you can do better next time?”
I took a deep breath, and realized that once again my expectations were in the way. I wanted my kid to be overjoyed he was with me, thankful I'd given up my plans for the day for him. My expectations had gotten in the way of truly hearing him the first time, and rushing into a solution I thought might fix the problem. The challenge was less about missing out on football, and more about missing out on being with friend. Sam is perfectly tweeny, and while he loves me, his love language is peer contact these days. I decided not to be hurt, and to take a gander at the remaining schedule when we got home to see what I could do about fulfilling his Christmas dream.
We had a blast at the game-- tailgated with some of my friends, allowing him to meet a new friend and toss the football in my presence but just far enough away from me. He spent most of his time playing ball in the endzone with countless peers whose names are irrelevant, but whose presence was critical. We came home to an email from a friend inviting us to the President's suite the following weekend for the final game of the season-- four tickets, enough for Sam and a friend. What a charmed life we lead. I am astounded at the generosity of this friend, giving so freely without even knowing the true implication for our family.
Sometimes having presidential expectations works out. Heading to the game this week, I knew what the game was about-- Sam and his connection to his pal. They were treated like kings in the president's suite, which was a real treat for them both. More than that, the day was about them and their friendship-- with only a few boundaries, they were there to be kids and have fun together. We were mere chaperones to their wonderland.
I glimpsed at last where this parenting evolution is taking me. I am still their solace in the storms more often than not, but I am less and less their primary relationship and more and more expected to support their connections to others. And so it happens-- this is how these sweet bears will find their true primary relationship someday-- when their mothers let go and find fulfillment in their paths of joy, rather than in their connections to us. What a feeling of elation-- when I can be some small part of the conduit to my kid's happiness-- and in letting him teach me the evolution of new expectations of parenthood.